London is faced with the problem of a rapidly growing population that is estimated to reach 10 million by 2030. London’s authorities are trying to find new solutions to maintain the same quality of life for their citizens. Over the past few years, there have been numerous regeneration projects of the town’s outdoor public spaces, high streets, estate etc. While the estate regeneration has received rough critiques, projects like London’s great outdoors and high street regeneration projects have been widely praised by the public. However, all these projects are criticised because of their top-down policy orientation. Government driven initiatives are believed to prioritise efficiency at the expense of the expectations and values of ordinary people.
A bottom-up approach has its flaws as well. Though it encourages innovation and spontaneous action, it still needs top-down support to create the right environment for innovation and creativity. Smart technologies can be the link between these two approaches. Combining the best of top-down and bottom-up, a concept of ‘smart urbanism’ might be just the one to make the difference. It proposes rigid, deterministic regeneration models to be replaced with condition-making models that will lead to more responsive environments. This gives us massive small change - widespread small-scale innovation.
In their new Smart London Plan, London’s authorities are encouraging people to cooperate with them in their mission to make the city a better place for all. Through an online platform ‘Talk London’, citizens have the option to be a part of the city’s policy making, and to express their opinions on subjects that concern them. The next step is to make free public Wi-Fi and 3G/4G connectivity more widely available, so that everyone can participate in the digital economy.
Regeneration and innovation
This change in the mindset is already becoming visible. Digital technologies are being used more and more in London’s regeneration projects. A great example of this is the regeneration of Bromley Town Centre, where citizens are able to use interactive town maps and way-finding signs. An important aspect of these outdoor improvements is that they are inclusive and useful for everyone wanting to use them.
Another interesting example of technology being used to improve public spaces is the crowdfunded project, Follow The White Rabbit. Created by A.L.I.C.E Ltd, the project offers a digital tour of town of Llandudno in Wales using augmented reality. Rabbit-shaped way markers and footprints embedded into pavements form a specific route inspired by Alice in Wonderland, to promote the town’s history and culture, based on its links to the famous novel.
Inspired by New York City’s High Line, which reclaimed part of a derelict railway to create a popular urban park, a similar project is planned for the Peckham Coal Line. The Coal Line is a community-led project that aims to create a 900m long park, which will connect Queens Road and Rye Lane. The park will be located on former coal sidings alongside the railway line running through the very heart of Peckham. The aim of the project is to encourage businesses and residents to engage with each other, building community groups and a stronger neighbourhood, as well as to expand on the regeneration in Rye Lane. Furthermore, the Coal Line urban park will include an off-road cycle and walking route that will reduce pressure on roads and public transport and provide a healthy alternative across the borough. The citizens of Peckham were encouraged to participate in creating the project through the Spacehive website where they could submit their projects and fund ideas that appealed to them.
Through these projects, some of London’s authorities have shown a willingness to cooperate and create a modern capital that will encourage innovation from the private sector, local communities and businesses. Working together they can create an environment in which fair, smart cities can grow from the successful innovations of people who live and work within them.
For more information about "Follow the White Rabbit" project watch the following video:
Author: Nevenka Rangelov
Nevenka is a student of journalism and communications at Faculty of Political Sciences in Belgrade. She’s planning on pursuing a career in communications and marketing. Ever since attending educational program “Public Policy Academy’’, she’s had a lot of interest in entrepreneurship and start-ups. An important part of her life on faculty is her activity in the Students for Liberty organisation, where she’s in charge of creating creative content. She practises yoga and loves skiing.
Strawberry Smart Bench is easily installable and movable street furniture powered by solar energy, that offers charging for mobile devices, environmental sensing, free emergency call and local info in public spaces.