HomeGreening the economyHow Future Cities is demonstrating transformative economic opportunities

How Future Cities is demonstrating transformative economic opportunities

This post is by David Altabev, who was Future Cities Demonstrator Manager at the Technology Strategy Board until August 2013

With over half the world’s population living in urban areas, making cities work better is a critical challenge for this century. City leaders around the world all say they need the same three things for their city to be successful: a thriving economy, a great quality of life and a reduced environmental impact.

The Technology Strategy Board’s (TSB’s) Future Cities Programme aims to help cities integrate their systems and support UK firms in developing products and services to meet the needs of the world’s cities.

The Future Cities Demonstrator Programme has seen £24 million awarded to Glasgow and £3 million each to Bristol, Peterborough and London to demonstrate at scale the benefits of integrating services on a level not seen before in the UK.

In Glasgow, innovative demonstrator projects will address issues such as health, safety and sustainability through the use of open data, apps, portals and citizen science mapping. The public, academics and businesses will be urged to get involved both by using the data and contributing their own knowledge.

London’s ‘Intelligent Heat Pathways’ and ‘Neighbourhood Systems’ plans include deep retrofits of existing communities combined with innovative extraction and utilisation of rejected heat from London’s underground train systems, electricity substations and data centres. This will enable Londoners to live less expensive, more efficient lives through providing low carbon energy from wasted heat.

Economic opportunity and the drive for a low carbon economy are converging
Interestingly, most of the proposals submitted by cities during the course of the Future Cities competition were led by teams in charge of economic strategy, highlighting the increasing convergence of economic opportunities and a low carbon economy, and the subsequent need for infrastructure investment.

The promise of what low carbon initiatives can offer was shown by the breadth of submissions. Stoke-on-Trent plans to be energy self-sufficient by 2030. Although seen as a green play, for the city it’s about removing the vagaries of global fossil fuel prices from the local economy, increasing its resilience and tackling issues such as fuel poverty and global competitiveness.

There’s a recognition that councils need to become intelligent purchasers of future cities solutions, as highlighted by Swindon’s ambition to develop ‘local intelligent client’ capacity. Bringing together three key projects around hydrogen, district energy and 4G communications, the Future Swindon proposition is for an integrated smart district energy system supplying heat, cooling, electricity and hydrogen, utilising hydrogen as a storage device with a dynamic link to the buildings and vehicles it serves. In contrast, businesses need to become intelligent marketers, developing solutions that meet the needs of individual cities and their challenges.

Beyond the four cities that are being funded, we’ve seen evidence of increased collaboration and conversation in the market around the future needs of cities. There’s been a needed injection of momentum and cities are using the outputs of the demonstrator competition feasibility studies to guide, develop and implement their own plans. The value of these softer impacts shouldn’t be under-estimated and, to this end, the TSB in partnership with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is commissioning an evaluation study to assess the impact of the Future Cities Demonstrator programme across the 30 participating local authorities.

The Future Cities Catapult is nurturing solutions focused partnerships
The recently established Future Cities Catapult has been set up to help nurture collaborative partnerships across cities, industry and academia to find systemic solutions to the major challenges facing cities in the future.

The support, enthusiasm and momentum that the TSB Future Cities Programme and Future Cities Catapult have generated has been encouraging. The competition process has already increased collaboration and conversation around the future needs of cities. Together, it is hoped that they will accelerate the development of UK business capability to make the most of this exciting global opportunity.

Written by

Green Alliance is a charity and independent think tank focused on ambitious leadership and increased political support for environmental solutions in the UK. This blog provides space for commentary and analysis around environmental politics and policy issues as they affect the UK. The views of external contributors do not necessarily represent those of Green Alliance.

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