Meraki Fast-Forward: Culture, Innovation & the Smart City

Published on
October 17, 2022
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This is a recording of the session "Culture, Innovation & the Smart City" at Meraki Fast-Forward: Make every space a sustainable smart space event in Singapore, 6th July 2022. Brought to you by Cisco Meraki.

A closer look into some of the world's most renowned smart cities, such as Songdo, Bandung, and Amsterdam. Explore how they combine technology, culture, history, and tradition to make them smarter and more efficient.

Presented by Professor Jason Pomeroy, award-winning architect, academic, author, and TV presenter, regarded as one of the world's thought leaders in sustainable design.



[00:00:00] Good morning everybody. And I say good morning. It's 2:30 AM here in Cambridge University.

[00:00:15] I'm delighted to be here, albeit on a cold summers morning. And what I'm really passionate about talking around is the concept of smart cities and smart spaces. Now oceans cover 71% of the Earth's surface. When you think about deserts, they take up slightly over 10%. And when you think about cities, they only cover 3% of our planet.

[00:00:47] And what I find particularly remarkable is that since 2007, 50% of the global population have been living in that 3%, and by 2050 number is gonna be about 70%. So naturally, when you have these remarkable figures, you start to see why we constantly are threatened by these urban challenges, overcrowding, waste pollution, traffic congestion.

[00:01:19] And ultimately, if we want to continue enjoying life in cities and not live in gridlocked urban slums, then cities have to become more efficient, more sustainable, and ultimately cities have to be smarter. And that is my quest as a, as an architect and as an academic at Cambridge University and as a presenter of a TV show that looks at smart cities.

[00:01:48] So what is a smart city? I think it's easy to kind of separate the word smart for one second. And when we think about smart, it's often related to the tech, the smart machine, the weapon, the uses of computers, so on and so forth. Smart has become this ubiquitous word that we wanna stick onto everything.

[00:02:13] Now, when you think about it in the context of the city. The traditional city in Rome, for instance, cities used to be these places of social interaction around the street and the square, but by the modern ages of the 20th century, all of a sudden it wasn't the streets and the squares that are important anymore.

[00:02:37] It was equally important to think about the buildings. And ultimately from the traditional city of spaces through the traditional city of objects, we saw this quest for modernity and technological advancement, which brought us now to the network of cities. I wouldn't be able to have this conversation with you guys if it wasn't for technology.

[00:02:57] We are living in a world where we can quite literally live, work, play, learn wherever we are, whenever we are now. When we think of the concept of smart cities, it's very easy to start getting caught up in this notion of it all being about the tech. I mean, I just remember many moons ago doing a TV commercial for LG and basically I was trying to promote a talking fridge just waving my foot in front of the door just to open it.

[00:03:29] Bicycle sharing schemes, surveillance, driverless cars. These seem to be kind of those elements that we kind of associate with these new smart, modern, sustainable cities. So in my TV show Smart Cities, I, I actually went around the world trying to understand what a smart city really is. Is it all about the tech smarts?

[00:03:53] Or is it about the people smarts? Is it a government driven series of initiatives, or is it a people driven citizen co-creation thing that makes the city smart? So I went to Songdo, Shenzhen, Higashimatsushima, Bandung, Barcelona, Amsterdam, as well as others like Ahmedabad and Singapore on a quest to really try and find out what a smart city is.

[00:04:19] And what I realized was that actually smart cities mean different things to different people in different geographies and different climates, and it's not all about the technology.

[00:04:34] Let's start with a few examples of definitions. The academic Batty said that a smart city is very much about the city in which ICT is merged with the traditional infrastructures coordinated and integrated using new digital technologies. Caragliu says that urban performance depends not only on the cities endowment of hard infrastructure, but also and increasingly so on the availability and quality of knowledge, communication, and social infrastructure.

[00:05:09] And Peek and Stam said that knowledge and innovation can act as an economic stimulus to the broader city in order to grow a new base of jobs, adjust to industrial change, or leverage technology to address sustainability, resilience, and social cohesion. In the current cycle, cities are focusing investment and promotion on new innovation districts where the innovation economy may develop and expand.

[00:05:38] Now, what we see in these definitions is this gradual shift away from a smart city just being about the technology. By increasingly embracing concepts of citizen co-creation to create these cities that are innovation hubs for the local economy to grow and then influence the broader system.

[00:06:02] Now, what I wanna try and do now is bring this in the context of three particular smart cities starting with Songdo. Now, Songdo I find remarkable. I mean I shouldn't call it this, but for me, it's almost like the instant noodle city. You know how you just add water and then within three minutes you've got a ready meal?

[00:06:22] Songdo was a remarkable city built from scratch. This city, which is 12 kilometers from Incheon International Airport, was seen as an opportunity for the Korean government to create a North Asian economic hub. And central to Songdo is this remarkable international business district about six square kilometers, which really was the test bed for new technologies and new ICT innovations, and it formed part and parcel of the Incheon free economic zone.

[00:07:03] Now, what's quite curious about Songdo is its use of big data. When you've got a city that's being built from scratch, this instant noodle city, just add water and voila, there it is. What I find fascinating is that you can start bringing in so many of those new technologies right from the get go. And what the city did was deploy a whole series of sensors placed throughout the city that collected extremely large data sets of information that can be computationally analyzed to reveal patterns, trends and associations, especially relating to human behavior and those interactions.

[00:07:46] Now this included the trialing of motion tracking where vital information pertinent to missing persons is readily available for officials. We could also see that this had a layer of surveillance, and surveillance has been often a very hot topic to discuss, particularly when it comes to data privacy.

[00:08:09] Now, in the case of Songdo, the surveillance would allow opportunities to identify infrastructure malfunctions or traffic collisions, and ultimately, all of this big data from sensors that was collected in real time was a means of being able to manage incidents happening in the city in real time. Abilities to check waste and electricity and water quality and traffic, crime, violence.

[00:08:42] And ultimately, the authorities were then able to respond quickly with an accurate plan of action to remedy the incident in an efficient more economic manner.

[00:08:53] So what about other smart technology that were employed. What I love about Songdo is this notion of the connected city that uses the big data and was championed, in fact by Cisco.

[00:09:07] And what I think is also quite remarkable is that the way of embedding those technologies into the day to day lives, whether it is self diagnosis and health applications all the way through to the control of your lighting and water and energy in a smart home. All basically brought the technology to the fingertips of the people living, working, playing, and learning there. It also had quite remarkable views as to how to manage waste.

[00:09:39] By 2020, the city thought to recycle 40% of its water and 76% of its waste. And what was quite remarkable was the seven collection points around the city that received collective rubbish that was then distributed by this remarkable 55 kilometer pipe network. Now the waste was separated. You had the the recycled waste from non recycled, the wet from the dry, even the wet waste could be compacted and used and using anaerobic digesters to generate energy.

[00:10:16] So the ability to start thinking more creatively about how waste could be used as an energy source also help to offset the energy demand of the city. And then there's smart and remote learning. Songdo has become a bit of a knowledge hub through the establishment of secondary and tertiary education facilities such as the international school where coding and ICT feature heavily in the curriculum.

[00:10:48] And I found it quite remarkable walking around these secondary schools and seeing eight year olds and nine year olds actually learning coding and being kind of the next Dyson.

[00:11:01] So what can we learn from Songdo what are the observations of this particular smart city? Well, I guess Songdo could be seen as the ubiquitous first generation smart city where the investment of private developer, in this case, Gale International and Posco, and also a big technology corporation like Cisco, supported a strong government mandate to transform its national economy from a manufacturing based economy to a green, low carbon based economy was effectively this platform for a very technology focused smart city. And ultimately, I would say that this is something that we see very typically in a first generation smart city. Technology becomes an enabler. Technology can be seen as the savior, the panacea of our carbon woes.

[00:12:02] But it also can be tinged with this notion that the technology to spur economy may be something that is more government driven. And in the case of Songdo, that was certainly the case. The whole notion of build it and they'll come; having the government set forth a smart plan to deliver the ubiquitous smart city does come across as a very top down sense of control, a top down sense of implementation and administration.

[00:12:39] Now, this sets the scene then for the second generation smart city. If we can acknowledge the importance of technology to enhance people's lives and the operation of the city and its prospects of enhancing the economy, then where do the people fit in?

[00:12:58] That's where I think Bandung is a classic example of citizen co-creation and listening to the people that is still being enabled by technology. Bandung is the Paris of West Java, and what I see in many city is the fact that it's still has the popular growing pains as any other. Its population is literally growing. And with that, you have all of the other urban challenges like traffic, congestion and crime and pollution.

[00:13:31] And when you think about the spatial constraint of Bandung, this was an early 20th century hub a Danish colonial city that has gone through a remarkable transformation. A young, intelligent, highly entrepreneurial population that has expanded from a 100,000 people in 1970 to a projected figure of 4.1 million people by 2030.

[00:14:02] So needless to say, when you've got the constraints of an existing Dutch colonial city that has incrementally grown, it also grows a lot of other problems and urban challenges that we often see in Metropolises. So what does that mean when it comes to management and operation of a city?

[00:14:23] Well, Bandung had to get smart, the Bandung way. And what I found remarkable is that it doesn't rely on big bucks and big technology to try and solve those urban challenges. The city reached out to its people. So let's think about the startup community as a great example of how the people who are able to solve some of those urban challenges.

[00:14:49] What I love is the fact that it has a very active startup community. Startup community, that's all about the hackathons and incubators, a real civic driven movement that hosts countless startup initiatives, hackathons and incubators by tech entrepreneurs, evangelists, and volunteers that aim to create a thousand startups.

[00:15:12] And it's a remarkable success story because a lot of these startups are then being able to influence the system. When I say system, I am saying the operation and the productivity of the city. Now, that's not to say that big data isn't playing an active role. Big data is playing an active role in the operation and productivity of the city.

[00:15:39] What I find fascinating is the fact that unlike Songdo which had significant budgets to use technology, the former mayor of Bandung, Ridwan Kamil thought: I'm gonna be using social media as a means to be able to get the people working to improve this city. And what he basically turned to was big data management via a command center.

[00:16:14] Now this command center is effectively a depository, a central monitoring facility that collects data in a variety of sectors in order to improve the city's operation and governance. Now, information is effectively sifted.

[00:16:30] Just imagine you've reached out to your constituents and said, tell me your problems. Tweet me, Facebook me, LinkedIn me, and tell me what the issues are. And so you'll have people kind of saying, well, do you know what? This place is flooded again. It's got crime, it's got congestion. But the algorithms that are sifting through these trending topics are picking up things like crime, congestion, pollution, and what that meant was that the digital command center will be able to identify those urban challenges that would allow the mayor and the municipality to assign the resources wisely, not necessarily blanket covering a whole city with lots of costly resources to try and solve those urban challenges.

[00:17:14] Rather, being more precise in real time using the data from the people who are crying out to say: I need these things fixed. And that element of data management was key to the success of this smart city, as well as an incredibly positive groundswell of social empowerment through smart apps.

[00:17:40] Now, when you think about Kiri as an example, Kiri is a public transportation application which provides people with convenient travel options by means of public transport, therefore saving both money and the environment simultaneously. Just think that this smart app that was on the phone that was created by someone at a a local Catholic university could basically think: You know what? I need to improve how people are moving through this city.

[00:18:12] And it's a wonderful demonstration of this civic movement of individuals wanting to find solutions to the urban challenges that Bandung was facing. And so Kiri as a social service smart app is just one of many that are basically keeping people moving and keeping people employed, or keeping people learning, and that's offering far more benefit to the city through that social empowerment.

[00:18:45] You then have e-governance, the ability for people to contribute, almost like a popular complaint service, if you will, which permits this two way communication between citizens and service providers with an emphasis on convenience, transparency, and efficiency. So ultimately it's a citizen online platform and ultimately it allowed the municipality to listen to the voices of the people.

[00:19:13] And what that means is that people felt they were being listened to and they could then see the benefits of their contribution to the city in real time. There's also a huge groundswell in community engagement. What we see in this particular city is the mayor's focus on social improvement projects as well.

[00:19:37] Creating a platform for architects to work with districts to create cultural activities, to reach out to the community, to think about how social practices, public spaces that could be activated with events and time tested rituals and other cultural activities and the building of libraries... all sought to enrich the flavors for the city and its community.

[00:20:10] So if we were to kind of look at this city in comparison Songdo, we can see a fundamental shift away from a very top down, government driven, tech focused, economy focused city to something that is more about the people. Bandung acknowledges the place of ICT and it builds upon the use of ICT, but puts the ICT and the technology into the hands of the people from the 7 year old child all the way through to the 70 year old grandparent.

[00:20:48] It skews that conventional government-driven approach of private corporation-backed technology companies in favor of citizen co-creation in a far more community-driven engagement way that seeks to employ the technology already in the hands of the people. More often than not, the mobile phone.

[00:21:09] So, between generation one and generation two, what we see in generation two is something that is far more socio culturally driven. What we see is this groundswell, this bottom up people movement to try and ensure that the smart city is as good for them as it is for the government's need to try and enhance the operational efficiency of the city. And this brings us swiftly and nicely onto case study number three, Amsterdam.

[00:21:43] Now I absolutely love Amsterdam. I mean, I, as an architect, I've designed many a building in Amsterdam. This is the home to 1.1 million people and a real smart bunch and a very creative bunch they are too. I would like to think that Amsterdam is the cool kid of the smart cities. And when I think about how Amsterdam acknowledges the importance of ICT, acknowledges the importance of governance to embed the technology to enhance the operation of the city.

[00:22:19] It also listens to its people and it also starts to factor in issues relating to the environment, issues relating to space. Arguably it starts to become this more sustainable, resilient, planned, circular economy focused city.

[00:22:40] Let's take the Amsterdam Arena as a classic example. Now, this wonderful arena is showing the true embrace of the circular economy.

[00:22:51] What we have is effectively 4,200 solar panels. That's generating enough energy to offset the demand of the stadium, as well as support the community, and it's stored in 148 used Nissan Leaf car batteries. Too degraded for automotive use, but having plenty of capacity for energy storage. I find that's quite remarkable, the ability to look at the products that have already gotten to the end of their life only to be salvaged and reused and adapted for another purpose.

[00:23:30] What we can see is this remarkable plethora of innovation labs as well. Look at this thing here, right? This is actually, it looks like a bird box, doesn't it? It's actually a sensor that basically monitors the air quality in Amsterdam. Now, basically what it was suggesting is that you can get free WiFi throughout Amsterdam, but if in any chance the air quality dips below a certain level, that free WiFi vanishes. What a great way to empower people to kind of do the right thing and be green so that they can get free WiFi.

[00:24:05] I guess we're all data junkies, right? I won't explore data technology and in particular a technological sustainability to drive down our data consumption. But as the notion goes of having these innovation labs that are testing unique ideas that can offer social benefit, I think is great.

[00:24:28] When you look at the Advanced Metropolitan Solutions Institute, the Amsterdam Institute for Metropolitan Solutions, it's a wonderful example of an intersectorial exchange of ideas where in science, education, government, business partners and societal organizations come together to collaborate on solutions that will offer immediate benefit the city.

[00:24:55] And that has translated into a plethora of unique, sustainable, and smart solutions. Let's think about the resilience planning for one second.

[00:25:07] Take water net. This technology orientated water management agency maintains an online portal called My Waternet, where citizens can pay tap water bills and keep informed. Or flood protection initiatives such as Amsterdam's Rainproof program, a scheme that uses Polderdak roof gardens, which serves as an efficient space for water storage in order to reduce the storm water load in the drains at the ground level.

[00:25:37] Why not green the rooftops, absorb excess rain water, and also help cool the urban habitat, reducing urban heat time to effect, reducing noxious pollutants in the atmosphere by the incorporation of these green rules.

[00:25:54] I think they've also got a wonderful way of looking at mobility. In particular, the remarkable Canal Network.

[00:26:00] After all, 50% of Amsterdam is made of water. And when you think about rowboat, which is a joint five year project conducted between the Delft University of Technology and the MIT Senseable City Lab and Wagneningen University as well. What we can see is this wonderful test bed for automated boats that could be brought together, clipped together to create bridges, but then deconnected in order be these floating platforms that can be moving various products or people around the city in a smarter, greener way.

[00:26:41] They're also looking at waterborne urbanism. And when you consider the fact that two thirds of the surface area of the earth is actually made up of water, and ultimately with climate change and rising sea levels, we can see the threat of increased flooding. Why not turn a threat into a positive? Why not turn water into a positive platform, a dynamic platform in which to regenerate a city?

[00:27:10] This. What you see here is IJburg. And IJburg is a case study of waterborne urbanism. It's a fantastic opportunity to redevelop docks, and old docks in particular, as a place to live, as a place to work, as a place to play. And ultimately, with rising land prices in the center of Amsterdam being what they are, the ability to look at these old disused docks and breathe a new lease of life into them by these floating platforms that can offer places and new homes is a remarkable way of being able to start to regenerate parts of the city that was already in decay.

[00:27:53] So what can we learn from Amsterdam? Amsterdam, I would say is a third generation smart city and it embraces ICT and big data, but it augments it with citizen participation with the inclusion of academia, private corporations, governments, in fostering a city specific innovation platform. Its ability to enable multiple stakeholders to use the city as an innovation lab, a living laboratory, has allowed this culture of innovation within the city to flourish.

[00:28:28] And for me, it has learned the lessons from generation one. It acknowledges the importance of ICT. It acknowledges the importance of governance, but it also listens to its people just like in generation two. But here, we also see the active role that space plays in the city. In the case of Amsterdam is the space that is the water, how to use water wisely, how to use it as a regenerative tool. And also the environment is an increasingly important issue globally. And Amsterdam as a center of excellence for the circular economy and climate change related resilience planning has also characterized this third generation smart city.

[00:29:22] And so in conclusion, what have we learned from this?

[00:29:25] We can see that in generation one, we have Songdo. A smart city that is the instant noodle city, the startup city, just add water and it will grow. Very technology focused to enhance the North Asian economy. Very top down driven, very policy driven.

[00:29:49] And then by the time you get to Bandung as a second generation smart city, it acknowledges what happened before, but it builds upon it. It starts to think: how do the people fit in? How can ICT shape people's lives? How can the technologies in the hands of the people allow the people to contribute to the success of the city? All of a sudden becomes very socio culturally driven, meeting the demands of the people in order to move it forward.

[00:30:23] And then by the time we get to Amsterdam is that next generation, that evolution, the acceptance of the past, but building upon to think about the qualities that open space and then the environment can bring. And ultimately a balance between the needs of the people as well as the needs of the government, but also balancing the inputs from academia and corporation, these four spheres of influence.

[00:30:57] I want to dwell on this for one second. In the past, cities were forged out of the jockeying of position between civil society and state. Civil society would say: This is what I need. And state will often say: Hmm, perhaps let's chat. Increasingly, what we are seeing in the most successful smart cities is the inclusion of the corporation and academia.

[00:31:26] Civil society can certainly define their needs and aspirations and say what they want. Academia could potentially turn around and say: Do you know what? You have a pretty good idea here. Let's think about researching, developing further. Let's try and create a proof of concept. Corporations and industry can turn around and say: Hmm, we can actually fund this proof of concept because we know that it's going to be making money for us further down the line.

[00:31:55] And when these three spheres of influence come together with an idea, with an innovation, it can be ratified by states. Policy and governors have a role to play in bring it all together. And so ultimately, the most successful places sees the active collaboration, cooperation. Not just between civil society and state anymore, but the active role that academia and corporation play.

[00:32:20] And when these four spheres of influence come together through a culture of innovation, that's where magic starts to happen.

[00:32:29] And naturally when you look over the garden fence to see what your neighbor is doing, that peer benchmarking, yeah, you always wanna keep up with the Jones. You always wanna think: Hmm, how are we doing in comparison to say Vienna, or Hmm, London. And that spurs you on. That then starts to allow you as a player to start influencing the broader system. Many of these concepts that I've just covered today were not only covered in my TV series, but they're also covered in a book that I wrote a couple of years ago called Cities of Opportunities: Connecting Culture and Innovation.

[00:33:05] And ultimately I would say that the cities of today that are all about innovation, that are all about the tech smarts and the people smarts, tomorrow, that'll be a new culture, a new heritage. And ultimately what we think is innovative today will be cultured tomorrow. With that ladies and gentlemen, I really, really thank you for your time.

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