When you go through your daily routine like walking through a park, driving a car through the city, or washing your hands, usually the amount of data you’re producing is the last thing on your mind. Yet to the burgeoning field of Urban Sciences, that data is crucial to creating more intelligent, sustainable cities.
On January 29th, the Gov Lab’s Ideas lunch series hosted Duncan Wilson, the Principal Investigator at Intel’s Collaborative Research Institute for Sustainable Connected Cities (ICRI) who is working to harness this data to improve the resiliency of cities. The Institute is based out of University College London and Imperial College London, is Intel’s urban research lab concerned with ‘how to enable future cities to be more connected and sustainable’
Wilson’s Ideas Lunch presentation focused on ICRI’s approach, using ‘Cities as a Platform.’ He centered his talk around the themes of the lab’s research, ‘Harnessing the Invisible City,’ ‘Enabling Connected Communities,’ and ‘Sustaining Sustainable Practices’.
To harness the invisible city, many municipalities, such as London, Enfield, and Brixton are beginning to measure and study the data created by civil infrastructure at a finer level. From tracking water usage to noise and light pollution, using the data collected from ubiquitous sensors allows researchers and planners to better understand and improve our urban environment. For example, by utilizing air pollution monitors at certain locations and auto traffic data, his team are investigating air quality at the street level, detail cities have never had before.
The task of compiling this data and empowering the next generation inspired Wilson to help create the ‘Internet of School Things’ project. Building off the institutes theme of ‘Enabling Connected Communities,’ the project brings data collection into public schools in the United Kingdom and gives students the opportunity to work with and analyse the data first hand. By placing public schools at the center, it not only provides information into environmental conditions nationwide, but allows students to use the data as a learning tool and gives the community the opportunity to use the data for their own benefit.
Wilson also raised two important challenges to the field. First despite the increased attention to the creation of “smart cities”, Wilson argues that cities are not nearly as measured as we believe and that needs to change. Cities need to invest in better monitoring, measurements and analytics of the urban environment to ensure they provide the greatest quality of life to their citizens.
Second, with big data comes big responsibility. With this wealth of data pouring in from the urban environment, it’s use and the anonymity of those producing it is paramount. Wilson strongly believes that privacy needs to be the field’s rallying point. Wilson compared it to the preeminence of safety for the airline industry. In that industry, every precaution is taken and communicated transparently to the customer. Airlines know that if their passengers do not feel completely safe, their business model would be in jeopardy. The same care with privacy needs to be taken in the urban sciences and open government.
Ducan Wilson, ICRI’s research and the field of Urban Sciences is proving that the rewards for measuring and opening this data is immense and only now becoming fully understood.