How technology is shaping city planning

About this time of year, as the nights get longer, our streets become the backdrop for fantasy and theatre. Spirits unleashed on Halloween, spectacular pyro-technics on bonfire night and the gradual spread of Christmas lights across high streets. Under the artificial lights of winter, it is somehow easier to imagine futuristic cities, smart cities, controlled entirely by technology ... perhaps even a cheery robo-agent conducting a house viewing?  

And the reality might be closer than we think. Driverless cars are moving fast. The first tests in the UK were on private roads in Bristol, Coventry, Milton Keynes and Greenwich back in 2015. Earlier this year, a driverless shuttle operated on a two-mile stretch of the Greenwich Peninsula, connecting the transport hubs at one end, with the homes and businesses at the other. The operators expect to have paying passengers in 2019 with a roll out in similar locations across the UK. One of the arguments against driverless cars is the pleasure many people take from driving but few would claim to enjoy driving through congested cities.

But driverless cars are just one of many innovations that could improve the way cities work. Future Cities Catapult runs an ‘Urban Innovation Centre’ - like a science lab -  where businesses can test their new ideas on real city data. It will make servicing the city more efficient by responding to real time needs – everything from traffic light sequencing, to refuse collection, to environmental control, to social care.

Google has also strayed into the field of ‘smart cities’ with ‘Google Urbanism’. In principle, it will apply all it has learnt about human behaviour from collecting data on our search habits, to planning and managing city services. An unexpected new player in the property industry. Now Google wants to collect data from cities as part of a process it calls ‘data extractivism’ – using data collected from individuals to create artificial intelligence technologies.

Google’s parent company was recently selected to turn a waterfront area of Toronto into a ‘smart city’. Sensors embedded across the area will measure noise, traffic flow, air quality, energy usage, travel patterns, waste output. Cameras will gather data on moods and social interactions. All of the data will be analysed to improve the way the city functions. Google has promised to address high housing costs, commute times, social inequality and climate change no less, all through data-led technological innovation.

Not only will they plan the city based on data, it will continually evolve, reacting to changing preferences or new information. ‘Loft’ is the ultimate flexible building, with spaces that can adapt to whatever use they are needed for.

So what? 

So, much of this technology is coming to a city near you. Amazon has already launched the Amazon key system in USA. It combines an app, home security camera and a smart lock and it will mean that the courier can unlock the door to leave a package. The home-owner will be notified on their mobile and can watch the drop-off live on their smartphone.

Now that app really could come in handy for estate agents out on viewings!

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