Looking Global: Croydon Smart City

By - Wednesday 11th September, 2013

Following his look at how Croydon can learn from the green initiatives of European cities, Tom Lickley explores the cities of the future, and the role Croydon can play

The mayhem of Rio de Janeiro. The city is incorporating Smart Technology into its development – could Croydon do the same? Photo by Frank Kehren. Image used under Creative Commons License.

Recently the BBC News site has been running a series of articles exploring the technological developments being undertaken in cities worldwide in order for them to become leaner, more efficient and sustainable. Some of the advancements are fascinating and belong to utopian – or dystopian if you like – science fiction movies.

Witness for instance Masdar City, within the Emirate of Abu Dhabi in the UAE. The entire city is being built on a floating platform, which allows the city itself to be vehicle free, with services running underneath the city. Proposed also is the use of driverless pods, and the city is close to being carbon free. Understandably it is a logistical nightmare - and perhaps some of the highly technological initiatives proposed are ahead of their time. Whilst Croydonians can fantasize about the town being a car-free utopia, we do at least have a raised platform (the flyover anyone?). However, there are cheaper, lower level initiatives which our town may be able to take advantage of – with potentially significant benefits.

In contrast to the title of this piece, Looking Local – specifically London – would provide a good example for Croydon to follow. Within the office of Mayor Boris Johnson is a wall of iPads, collecting information from how much pollution the city is producing, to the weather, to what is trending on Twitter. This information is also available online. A simple initiative perhaps. Imagine being able to access all the information you’d need to know about the day’s events in Croydon integrated into one website; being able to access traffic cameras, the weather, how bus services are running. All are available anyway, but spread out over a number of websites. A Croydon information hub would clearly be a benefit, and the costs would be relatively minimal. Something for the #Croydon #TechCity people to look into?

For example, there is the existence of a platform that allows neighbours and friends to safely rent their cars to each other

Traffic, already an issue in some parts of Croydon, is a growing concern for many with the forthcoming retail development in the heart of the town. Aside from obvious traffic easing measures – using public transport for one – there are certain technological advances Croydon could feasibly implement. IBM, along with other high end technology companies such as Cisco, is one of the main drivers of finding global Smart City solutions. Rio de Janeiro has notably benefited from these solutions. The most feasible solution for Croydon to deliver would be looking at historical traffic data in order to build a model for future traffic flows. If the traffic will increase specifically with the development of a new retail centre, then looking at traffic flows surrounding Shepherd’s Bush would be an obvious measure.

The flow of people is important; if on a Saturday morning for instance the number cars driving into town is superior to the number of cars exiting the town, then a traffic control system which allows traffic signals to stay green for longer would be obvious. Real-time traffic analysis is another small and cheap measure which could have great effects on easing congestion, as well as reducing pollution (given cars will be on the road for less time if they get to their destination quicker).

Amsterdam is perhaps the prime European example of a Smart City. There are several realistic proposals which Croydon can be inspired by – and the measures would also engender a greater sense of community. For example, there is the existence of a platform that allows neighbours and friends to safely rent their cars to each other; an app has been developed to alert drivers to drive with caution if a school is nearby, and another app which gives cyclists the safest routes through the city. Other apps have been developed to alert people to the best spots for a night out. A Croydon app for nightlife would be great – hidden gems would soon be uncovered and like-minded people could easily find a location to meet. Simple, effective solutions.

There is a wider debate around smart cities, with arguments suggesting that cities may choose to push the concept too far and thereby control our daily lives. Whilst Croydon Council does not exactly have the budget to measure our every movement, there is certainly a case that the town should not want to become ‘too Smart’ and hence become a sterile, predictable yet super-efficient town. What gives a place its character is usually the sheer madness of it; the sense of something unexpected. However, Croydon can certainly benefit from cheap, sustainable initiatives as it looks to become a modern, medium-sized, open city, a place in its own right as well as part of the wider London network.

Tom Lickley

Tom Lickley

Contributing a variety of roles to the Citizen since early 2013, Tom now focuses upon regeneration, urbanism and real estate writing. He is a strategic communications consultant specialising in the real estate sector, and counts a number of the world's largest investment and fund management companies amongst his clients.

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