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Urbanists, technology experts and representatives of governments from over 60 countries around the world met in London to discuss the smart cities of today and the future cities of tomorrow.

Gemma Ginty, Urban futures Lead at Future Cities Catapult, sharing her user engagement expertise at Smart to Future cities event in London.

London: How can we make cities smarter and how can we prepare urban agglomerations to face the challenges today and in the future was up for debate at the two-day ‘Smart to future cities’ conference held in London recently.

Everyone agreed on ‘citizens first’, and then ‘the economy second’ concept. Representatives of city governments and organizations working to improve urban services shared their experiences and explained what worked in their cities. A host of sessions on Big Data in Big City, Cities for Citizen, Safe City Healthy People, Securing the Smart City, and Standards Governance and Interoperability were held to present innovations and case studies for improving urban management systems.

Eldar Tuzmukhamedov, head of Moscow’s smart city lab, talked about convergence of 200 public services in one place for bringing efficiency in urban system and generating more money for public coffers. “Smart measuring systems have changed the services Moscow can provide its citizens and has increased revenue for the city,” he said. “Having all vehicles connected, for example, allows us to tell when there is a free parking space in the city and we can tell citizens that to optimise their experience. It also allows us to know which roads are used the most and therefore we can work out which roads need clearing first when it snows.

“From an economic standpoint we can use the same technology to keep a watch on services. For example, our CCTV cameras will take a picture of waste disposal units at the time they are supposed to be collected. If the bin men are not there when they are supposed to be, then we can fine the subcontractor for failing to meet their contract. This is not to control citizens but to increase service efficiency.”

In Moscow, city governments have introduced an E-voting app to allow citizens to decide on local issues. They have also implemented an app to report damage to public property. The point is to drive up citizen engagement, so that they not only see the benefits  but actively contribute towards them.

At the event, talking about significance of citizen engagement in development of smart and efficient cities and how it can be achieved, Veera Mustonen, head of Smart Kalastama explained: “We have to engage people in the concept of smart cities. We do this by allowing our citizens to design and develop their smart city. We have a panel of designers from all walks of life. It is very important to get the feedback of people using the solutions and technology.”

Michael Mulquin, of the British Standards Institution, believes that the way to build on what we already have is to borrow the best bits from what has gone before. “There is no one plan for every city,” he continued. “So far, each city has done its own thing, which is great. It means future smart cities can pick and choose which part of existing smart cities to replicate and tailor it to their needs.” 

However Nick Chrissos, chief technology officer, CityVerve, believes creating a ‘blueprint’ for smart cities is the future. “A successful model has to be sustainable, replicable and scalable,” he claimed. “What we want is to see a city completely replicate exactly how another smart city is set up, using the same vendors, the same services and products.”