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Greenwich’s smart city benchmarking toolkit for adaptability and resilience

Allan Mayo, Smart City Strategist, DG Cities, outlines how DG Cities is using an evidence-based tool to ensure its smart city strategy has resilience and adaptability at the core. Other cities could replicate the methodology.


Cities are Darwinian: they need to adapt to the unprecedented changes – societal, technological, economic and environmental – that are taking place now and will continue for the foreseeable future.


Smart processes and the use of benchmarking are critical to helping cities analyse their adaptability and resilience to change – providing city leaders with not only a toolkit to focus their efforts, but also an evidence base for a stakeholder-led, holistic approach to providing solutions and achieving long-term goals.


In Greenwich, we have used Office for National Statistics (ONS) data along with other local authority/borough data to make meaningful comparisons about how resilient the boroughs are to the significant changes afoot, and to gain powerful insights into priorities and risks, with a view to developing smarter, more effective interventions that will ameliorate the situation.


We chose the boroughs of Greenwich, Lewisham, Newham, Wandsworth, Islington and Southwark to enable comparison with near neighbours, and also to include a few high-fliers. However, this approach could be applied to any group of UK towns and cities, using ONS data, and, in the developing world, the focus on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provides a timely and similar opportunity to benchmark adaptability and resilience.


Resilience on three axes


Three main themes underpin resilience:


  • The dynamism to cope with/capitalise on changing technology and globalisation;

  • The resilience to climate change and the contribution the city can make to a circular, low-carbon and healthier world;

  • The political and social elements which make for a peaceful, cohesive and vibrant community and the city’s ability to respond to the challenges their citizens face in a world of radical and perpetual change.

Measuring resilience to technology change and globalisation


In an ideal world, where productivity growth is closely associated with trade and globalisation, cities would have access to comparable data on the export performance of local companies but, unfortunately, such data is not available.


However, it is possible to compile a set of indicators which point to the relative business dynamism of different boroughs, towns and cities and their ability to cope with changes in technology, the shift towards knowledge-intensive business services (KIBS) and globalisation.


It is possible to compile a set of indicators which point to the relative business dynamism of different boroughs, towns and cities.


Figure 1 below shows how the different boroughs we assessed compare on a range of indicators. With the best performance forming the 100 per cent perimeter, boroughs, towns and cities need to focus on themes where their performance is close to the centre.


It is striking how Greenwich has very low scores related to infrastructure, with a low proportion of commercial space accounted for by offices and a low proportion of the community served by fibre to the premises (FttP) connectivity.


It also displays relatively low numbers of creative companies and start-ups in high value-added sectors. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Greenwich displays the poorest gross value-added (GVA) per employee of the six boroughs.


Islington and Southwark, by contrast, have a high proportion of commercial property as office space and a relatively highly qualified workforce, and they perform well in terms of the numbers of creative businesses and high-value start-ups clustered in their boroughs.


Greenwich has recognised these shortcomings and placed a particular strategic focus on the creation of office space, cultural and design districts, e-business programmes and a smart city strategy that is exploring how to transform digital connectivity in the borough.


It would be interesting to know to what extent Islington and Southwark companies are export-oriented, compared with Greenwich firms, which, with one or two exceptions, are focused locally. With this information, we could look at how to broaden horizons and attract more naturally global businesses into the borough.


Figure 1: Resilience to technology change and globalisation
Figure 1: Resilience to technology change and globalisation

Measuring environmental resilience


With urbanisation predicted to rise to 70 per cent worldwide by 2050, and an imperative to achieve sustainable growth that limits global warming to under 1.5 degrees, it is clear that many of the answers lie with cities.


Extreme weather events have increased significantly over the past 40 years, and the UN has been instrumental in developing and disseminating the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction to help cities develop resilience to such risks.


Furthermore, appalling traffic congestion and air pollution are blighting major cities around the world and, notwithstanding its highly praised integrated public transport system, London suffers from both. That is why, in his Transport Strategy (March 2018), the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has stressed reducing reliance on the motor car in the years ahead, both to reduce emissions and to promote more active mobility.


Figure 2 below shows how well the different boroughs are contributing to this agenda, as well as the volume of waste generated by each community and the propensity to re-use or recycle.


In addition, it shows the proportion of households with easy access to a local park, which is an important contributor to good quality of life. Unfortunately, data on water consumption, leakages and the take-up of metering by boroughs does not seem to be available.


Figure 2: Environmental and sustainability resilience
Figure 2: Environmental and sustainability resilience

According to the 2011 Census, Greenwich has the highest proportion of its residents working within the Borough. However, it also has the highest percentage (44 per cent) using private vehicles as their mode of transport to work.


Of course, access to public transport in the south and east of the borough does not compare with Islington in central London, where only 10 per cent use their cars to travel to work. However, this need to find new ways of facilitating access to public transport partly explains why Greenwich has been at the forefront of experiments with connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) and is one of only two live urban testbeds in the UK.


It also explains why the borough was keen to explore, through the EU Sharing Cities project, how to integrate new sources of renewable energy with electric vehicle/e-bike recharging and smart metering in residential properties to better understand how strategic energy management systems can transform energy efficiency and consumer behaviours at the community level and improve air quality.


Political and social resilience


The ability and the agility of local government to help its community to respond to the challenges they face is the hardest to measure and yet the most important.


In part it relates to creating a place that generates a wide range of employment opportunities and a healthy environment, as discussed above, but also to the challenges and resource costs of supporting an ageing population and, at a time when private rents are so high, offering housing to those in need.


Commentators point to the lack of autonomy of UK local authorities – the high proportion of local spending derived from central government grants – but funding models are changing, with experiments around retained business rates.


The ability and the agility of local government to help its community to respond to the challenges they face is the hardest to measure and yet the most important.


Figure 3 below reflects these potential costs and long-term challenges, as well as showing the degree of autonomy and the longer-term potential of employment capacity, i.e. business rates, to contribute to funding.


As before, local authorities need to focus on areas where they are nearer to the centre of the graph. For example, it is predicted that while Islington will have a population aged 65+ of around 30,000 by 2030, Greenwich’s over-65s will number 41,000 – the highest of the boroughs.


In addition, current expenditure on adult social care and public health per household is above those of other boroughs, and a longer-term challenge is looming in the form of a high incidence of diabetes among the over-17s.


Moreover, while the lowest quartile of income earners pay a lower proportion of their gross income on private rents – the lowest of the sample of boroughs the Council faces high demand for social housing, with 11.5 per cent of households on the housing waiting list.


In the longer term, Greenwich would seem to have much greater potential than Lewisham to generate business rate income, but Newham would seem to be best placed with a significant increase in commercial property development over the period 2020-2036.


Figure 3:  Political and social resilience
Figure 3: Political and social resilience
Figure 4: City Resilience Toolbox
Figure 4: City Resilience Toolbox

(Note on Figure 4: The size of the ‘lollipops’ is random; it does not relate to the size of the boroughs. The origin of the axes is 5 (or 50%) rather than 0, to provide space/clarity.)


Before drawing some policy conclusions, it is interesting to see how borough performance compares along these three axes by developing composite indicators, based on the results for each of the three themes, and presenting the results in the form of a 3D XYZ chart, as shown in Figure 4 above.


Whereas Islington and Southwark appear to be resilient to technological/global and environmental change, Islington may wish to focus on its ability to cope with longer-term political and social challenges.


Greenwich, Lewisham and Newham, on the other hand, might wish to focus on technological/global resilience as well as the steps they might take to address longer-term challenges.


Change is the constant


We don’t know what the future holds, but it is clear that further developments in digital technology will result in further disruption to business and society, and that radical solutions are needed to address the challenges of sustainable growth, environmental degradation and demographic change.


Cities provide many of the answers. While several have ‘vision’ reports out to 2040 or 2050, it is questionable whether they are evidence-based or have adaptability/flexibility at their heart.


To bring this into focus, I would suggest the following:

  • Cities, working as a network with central government and stakeholders (including business and universities), should develop scenario-planning approaches to analysing what the future might realistically hold. In a world of paradigm shifts, too much strategic thinking is based on linear trends.

  • Drawing on Sustainable Development Goals, cities should develop a series of indicators that will help them assess their adaptability to a range of scenarios, and to monitor which scenario is becoming the most likely.

  • This combination of benchmarks and longer-term scenarios provides the basis for developing (smart) city strategies and the priorities for investment.

  • These strategies need to be holistic, but digital technologies and the data that they generate will be key to developing adequate responses. The sooner boroughs, towns and cities develop the digital infrastructure and skills to manage that data, the more resilient they will be.


I welcome your feedback and questions on this approach. This article is an open invitation to contribute to the debate.


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