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It’s difficult to avoid the hype and the rhetoric around the phrase ‘smart cities’. It’s equally hard to avoid the subtext that somehow making cities smarter will make them more sustainable. Yet there are many good local and international examples that demonstrate the power of bringing together communities, businesses political leaders, academics, architects and planners to explore ideas of what a smart city could be.
For some it’s the evolution of technologies that have the potential to connect us across geographical, social, economic and political boundaries to share our thoughts and feelings on how best to improve urban living for everyone. Still more are of the opinion that it’s the capability of technologies embedded into web-enabled objects harvesting data about how we move around our city, or how we interact with the buildings in our cities, that make cities smart. They note that similar devices can and in some cases already do monitor cities energy use, control the flow of traffic around the city, help us plan optimal cycle or bus routes across town. For the technocrat, there are a variety of applications for technology in future cities.
Then there are those who’ve chosen a different starting point as theygrapple to define a smart city. They provide examples of smart cities that don’t require any digital technology which could happily exist without the Internet. In the centre of New York Communities got together to plan new forms of street markets on Union Square. The same groups encourage people to grow their own produce in their yards. Possibly not what policy makers were dreaming of when they coined the phrase smart cities – nevertheless there are copious examples of people powered innovation focused on creating a better environment and improving peoples well-being without high tech solutions.
The Media Innovation Studio team recently joined with colleagues from Lancashire Business School and UCLan’s Research and Innovation team to host its own future cities event. We started on the streets of Preston finding out from market stall holders, shopkeepers, pedestrians and school teachers what they thought smart cities meant. We followed that up by asking how they thought a future city might be different to the cities they live work and play in now. The video recordings taken on the streets of Preston fed into a lively and entertaining workshop bringing together health specialists environmentalists, archaeologists, town planners librarians, academics with expertise in planning, sustainability, creative technologies and community development. The workshop was originally prompted by Preston city council’s release of Plans for what Preston city centre might become between now and 2026. You can find Preston’s local plan here.
The timing seems right for this type of activity. Preston was awarded a city deal in 2014 providing much needed funding for infrastructure projects to support its economic and social development.
The Media Innovation Studio team and colleagues from across UCLan will continue to work with local groups the City Council, Lancashire County Council and those responsible for the wider region to assist in imagining what this corner of England could look like over the next decade or so. And we’ll continue to work with the people who live in and around Preston to ensure their voice their ideas their opinions and their imagination is always part of that vision.