EPFL (École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne) founded on 2014 a no-profit organization called IGLUS (Innovative Governance of Large Urban Systems). The latter has always had the goal to help the bigger cities in the world to better understand the strengths and the weaknesses of the governance of their infrastructures with respect to the dimensions efficiency, sustainability and resilience. In order to comprehend what they consist in and in order to delve into the basic concepts, #EnergyCuE recommend to attend one of the following online FREE courses: Management of Urban Infrastructures and Management of Smart Urban Infrastructures.
After those, the IGLUS program could allow the participants to apply for the Executive Master that the organization arranges every year: a priceless opportunity for the people who want to perfect – or feed – their urban knowledge and not just that.
Starting from this point, we decided to write several articles on the pillars of the concept of Smart City, beginning from opinions and ideas of some of the IGLUS participants.
Second guest is another of IGLUS students: James Speirs. And we are going to talk about one of the topic of great interest in the field: the TRANSPORTS. We talked about ICT in the previous article.
What do you do exactly at the moment and why did you decide to attend IGLUS master programme?
I am based in Kuala Lumpur as a researcher. My focus is on pedestrian infrastructure as it relates to urban mobility and well-being. It is clear that many cities lack adequate pedestrian spaces and have become victims of the automobile. This is a crucial issue as it pertains to social equity and who has access to the city.
IGLUS provides an incredible opportunity to experience global cities and get an inside view as to how they are run. A city’s decision making is often opaque and inaccessible which is frustrating. IGLUS gets us inside the mechanisms which govern and shape a city. It allows us to see how different cities make choices.
What makes a city “SMART” in your personal opinion?
Green cities, social cities, sustainable cities, safe cities – these buzzwords establish a clear goal. They orientate us towards an aspiration. “Smart cities” does not give us an objective, it gives us a method. Having a technologically based city is not the goal – but technology can be how we achieve our goals.
I consider a city smart when it identifies the most pertinent issues and the best use of resources to address those concerns. Globally, I consider poverty to be the most pressing urban problem as millions of people are excluded from the basic services needed for a dignified life. When we leverage technology to assist the most vulnerable and build inclusive communities we are smart.
What do you think – according to your career – are the differences in the mobility sector between a “smart” and a “not-smart” metropolis?
Urban mobility is a central concern for cities. Policy makers need to identify what has worked and what has failed. Private mobility, especially the car, has created problems that will take decades to dismantle. Shared and active mobility are the only way to move millions of people efficiently. Investing in public transit, bike lanes, and pedestrian amenities make cities habitable. Highways, overpasses, and parking lots are the obvious antithesis.
Yes, technology has a role to play but it is possible to have an organised and efficient transport network using technology from the 1950s. Land use planning, policy, and regulation lie at the heart of the issue. We need governments to take bold, and potentially unpopular, decisions to redirect our cities. Seoul’s Cheonggyecheon River and Seoullo 7017 projects provide brilliant examples: removing elevated highways through the centre of the city was a daring move that has vastly improved the city.
When we apply technology to transit we need to ensure that it is optimally used. Technology must be leveraged to augment the user experience. Ticketing systems need to be interoperable and integrated: commuters shouldn’t be penalised for changing between busses or modes. Comprehensive route planning apps helping people plan their trips are easy develop. Real time data on bus locations should be standard – if Uber can do it why can’t cities? Smart cities that encourage public transport and focus on improving residents’ lives will benefit the most. Researching and promoting private transport, regardless how “smart” or “green”, is a misallocation of resources.
Can you give to our readers a pragmatic example of “city’s smartness” that you think is valiant in the mobility sector?
One of the most exciting developments is the rise of dockless bike-sharing. Traditional bike-sharing depends on fixed locations which users must locate to access and return the bikes. Under the new model, users can find a bike via their smartphone and leave the bike anywhere. This is far more convenient.
Further, it allows incredible data to be generated. This information helps cities plan and roll out infrastructure in the areas it will serve the most people while avoiding developing infrastructure which will be underutilised.
There are of course problems which arise from such a disruptive industry. Just as Uber and AirBnB disrupted their respective industries, dockless bike-sharing pose new challenges. I lived in Beijing and regularly used the city’s excellent bike-sharing network. When I heard dockless bikes were being introduced I didn’t think they had a chance. When I visited Beijing in March, the city’s bikes and stations were being dismantled while thousands of colourful dockless bikes roamed the streets.
Regulation is crucial. Without it, bike-sharing companies flood the streets with bikes in an attempt to crowd out competitors. This is a far from optimum situation which clogs pavements and creates new problems. Careful policy, however, can ensure that the efficiency gains provided by this technology serve the city.