Croydon: The solutions aren’t political, they’re technological

By - Tuesday 8th April, 2014

Jonny Rose explains why you should look to #Croydon #TechCity instead of writing that angry letter to the council

Education, parking, debt, meals on wheels – a tech startup for every problem

Continuing the theme of the piece I wrote earlier this year – looking at how tech startups could solve Croydon’s homeless problem – I wish to extend this to other areas of our borough.

Let’s take the East Croydon Post Office move.

Local residents were up in arms because the sorting office moved from its highly convenient spot next to East Croydon Station to thirty minutes down the road on Factory Lane.

Understandably, many are concerned about the inconvenience and extra journey time to recover errant packages. Not to mention the burning sense of injustice at the lack of consultation over the move.

Fortunately, there are loads of tech startups that are attacking these kinds of logistical problems – TaskRabbit, PostMates and Sooqini, to name but a few.

All of these are providing technical interfaces to manage ‘fetch and bring’ requests to other members of the community or licensed professionals who are prepared to bid on a job for a price (in this case, “collect my package from Factory Lane sorting office”).

There’s no need to trek across town when TaskRabbit will find someone to do it on your behalf

Indeed, most hot-button issues in the borough can be ameliorated by some sort of tech solution.

I’m not a driver but it’s hard to ignore the 100% of local newspaper letters submissions that bemoan parking prices. Or, proposed new builds that don’t have enough parking spaces. Or complaints about constant congestion.

Photo by Andrew Brackin. Used with permission.

Croydon Tech City wunderkid Andrew Brackin’s fourth tech startup, Spot, aims to provide drivers a new option for quickly finding a short-term parking spot, choosing from a pool of inventory offered up by homeowners with spaces to spare.

Zipcar provides temporary, on-demand cars for those who may need the use of a car without the attendant costs – a solution for “car sick Croydon”? Croydon Council seems to think so; they used Zipcar to cut car travel costs by 42 per cent from £1.3 million to £756,000 with a drop in the number of employee car users by more than half, from 1,284 to 611.

Feel free to write impotent letters of dismay to your local newspaper about parking costs – I’ll just use Spot instead.

Debt is a huge issues for many Britons – and not a few Croydonians. Yet tech startups – including Croydon Tech City’s own QuidCycle (described by The Financial Times as “an antidote to Wonga”) – are applying their smarts to this very problem: from democratising peer-to-peer lending models to creating alternate currencies (e.g. Bitcoin) that aren’t regulated by incumbent banks with outrageous interest rates.

QuidCycle founder, Frank Mukahanana, helping families out of debt. Photo used with permission.

Remember when the government increased top-up fees? Remember that other time when the government stopped EMA in England? Sad times, bro. Don’t waste time standing outside Whitehall with placards for a few hours before withdrawing to the nearest pub – you can now get Oxbridge course lectures for free. Or check out Khan Academy. Or Video Tutor. Or Academic Earth.

Last month, FutureGov showed Croydon Tech City how they were hacking the problems that have historically been the preserve of councils. A great example is Casserole – a service that connects neighbours with spare portions of food to those in their community who need a good home cooked meal. As a community food-sharing network, Casserole is an excellent way to bring people together to tackle social isolation and loneliness; and a clear evolution of the comparatively soulless ‘meals on wheels’ provision.

Tech startup innovation fills the gaps left by government

We live in an era of unprecedented technological innovation with ingenious new advances for achieving clean energy, eradicating disease and providing greater wellness, more equitably and effectively delivering education, and improving the quality of human existence and expression. At the same time, we are experiencing clear deficits within centralized institutions of government and civil society: deficits of agility, innovation and capacity.

Our current system of centralized government institutions is designed for an earlier age of limited, one-way communication; our 17/18th century model of voting for representatives doesn’t maximize the flow of personal or community preferences from people to government; our 19th century addition of professional bureaucracy doesn’t maximize the flow of expertise, widely distributed in society.

In short, our political institutes are not fit for purpose. They are too sluggish, ignorant and indolent to compete with the rapid test, learn and iterate mentality of tech startups that are hacking the world’s problems – on a local and global scale.

Historically, we have turned to politics and politicians to make our lives better; expecting them to govern and mediate on our behalf and to create the kind of world we all want to live in.

Turns out, increasingly tech startups are able to do all of this instead.

Steve Reed (MP, Croydon North) and Gavin Barwell (MP, Croydon Central) will be discussing Croydon Tech City on Thursday April 10th at 7pm at Croydon Conference Centre.

Registration is required: either by signing up to the event on Eventbrite or  with your name to confirm your attendance.

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose is a committed Christian who has lived in the Croydon area for nearly twenty years. He is an active participant in his local community, serving at Grace Vineyard Church and organising Purley Breakfast Club, and was ranked "Croydon's 37th most powerful person" by the Croydon Advertiser (much to his amusement). He owns a lead generation company. He is the Head of Content at marketing technology company Idio, the founder of the Croydon Tech City movement, a LinkedIn coach, and creator of Croydon's first fashion label, Croydon Vs The World. Working on Instagram training and a Linkedin lead generation service. Views are his own, but it would be best for all concerned if you shared them. Please send your fanmail to: jonnyrose1 (at) gmail (dot) com

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  • Mario Creatura

    To play devil’s advocate – you say Tech City doesn’t need politicians and yet…

    ‘Croydon Tech City founder targets Cameron’s £50m Silicon Roundabout fund’:

    ‘Boris Johnson must invest in Croydon’s Tech City, says founder Jonathan Rose’:

    So you want them to give you taxpayer money without their involvement or a guaranteed return on investment for residents? If you were them, would you take that risk with no accountability?

    • Jonny Rose

      I’ve never said we don’t need politicians.

  • Tom Black

    Forthright as ever, Jonny. But what this article needed, in my opinion, as at least some acceptance of the things that government is necessary for. Without it, the piece comes off as more than a little naive, I think. The assumption that those most in need of local and national government services are also in possession of smartphones is particularly problematic, as surely the opposite is the case.

    All the apps you profile here sound like great ideas. I know I’ll be checking more than a few out myself. But I think your ideological bent against our democracy has got the better of you on this occasion. With the exception of Casserole, the problems you list (and the solutions you offer for them) are generally very middle-class and won’t help people who, for example, are on food banks or unable to look after their disabled family members due to central government cuts and failures. The suggestion that online courses are a substitute for university is also problematic – university is about a great deal more than rote-learning from a screen, as I’m sure a man who enjoyed his time at Exeter as much as you would agree.

    Law and order, infrastructure, healthcare, defence. These are pillars of our society that cannot ever truly be replaced by the work of lifehackers. I welcome the efforts of those who are making the tricky into the manageable – but I am afraid I remain unconvinced that anyone outside the public (or third) sector can make the awful into the bearable.

    • Jonny Rose

      Obvs. I’m not actually advocating that everything should be replaced by tech; just that tech is slowly eating away at many of the functions and processes historically mediated by politicians.

      “Croydon: the solutions are a tepid mix of technology and politics” isn’t quite as clickable is it? ;)