You know how it goes – you wait ages for a good conference in London, and then four of them arrive together.
This week I spoke on London’s economy at the Centre for London/Brookings/JPMorgan citiesfest on Tuesday and participated in a panel on Smart Cities at the World Islamic Economic Conference yesterday . Had I but world enough and time, I could also have attended the Economist Infrastructure Summit on Future Cities, and also the first conference of the Open Data Institute.
The ODI gets my vote in the Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously Award by having the humility (or perhaps confidence) to have a key session entitled “Open Data, So What?”. It would be a better world (or at least a better conference circuit) if that kind of self-referential humour were more widespread.
Does this confluence of conferences indicate something important? I think it provides evidence, along with the current contents of my inbox, of an acceleration of interest in the policy issue of how we encourage and manage the economic growth of cities in a way which is sustainable in all senses of the term, and is also informed by a richer understanding of the scientific and technical challenges and what solutions might be possible. I think we also have a naming problem at present: there is increasing consumer resistance to ‘Smart Cities’ on the part of many policy-makers and budget-holders who have been on the receiving end of some hard selling recently on single solutions to complex problems. ‘Future Cities’ is the term preferred by our own Technology Strategy Board for the Catapult. This avoids some of the connotations of ‘Smart Cities’ but often puts me in mind of jetpacks, 1950s science fiction, and the wonderfully inspired if slightly-bonkers 1960s visions of groups such as Archigram with their walking and plug-in cities (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archigram) – perhaps no bad thing.
This policy debate sits close to, and overlaps with the debate about “Big Data” – with that term itself being contested of course – and whether this is the Next Big Thing or just the Next Big Hype. My own view: these developments are significant, and will have important and profound consequences, but at a policy and government level, we are still struggling to come up with workable models that make measurable real impacts on people’s lives. This one, I believe, will run and run.
On the narrower, but endlessly fascinating topic of the London Economy, my slides for the Centre for London conferences are attached here: