The London Meeting – What next?

The Urban Systems Collaborative held its annual meeting on 10-11 September 2013 in the Skempton building at Imperial College, London on the question of “How do the increasing flows of information in cities impact citizens’ perceptions of quality of life?”  This was our first meeting outside the United States and over the two days some sixty people from ten countries took part in a series of workshops to debate the above question.  The workshops were divided over the themes of the Adaptive City, the Configurable City, the Supportive City, and Perceptions of Quality of Life.  Prof. Richard Dawson, University of Newcastle, Shane Mitchell, Cisco director of Urban Innovation, Prof. Marjan Sarshar, Nottingham Trent University, and Rick Robinson, IBM UK leader for Smarter Cities had the challenging tasks of facilitating these workshops.

As Colin Harrison, one of the meeting’s co-leaders together with Jurij Paraszczak and Stan Curtis, observed: “These are very broad themes.  For technologists they seem very fuzzy to discuss, whereas for urbanists and social scientists they seem very soulless.  And that is the central challenge that the USC was formed to address.  We have got to develop a much better dialogue among the many contributors to urban life – not least the citizens – about the appropriate uses of these new technologies.  This is what the USC does.”

Prof. John Polak, the USC’s host at Imperial College, summarized much of the discussion:  “We are in a time where our engineering capabilities (for information technology) exceed our capacity to understand how best to employ them.  We are struggling to develop understanding of the totality of the city and urban life in any meaningful way.  In this matter neither government nor corporate enterprise can claim the trust and legitimacy that are needed to match technological capabilities to applications that are entirely endorsed and supported by the public.”

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In addition to the workshops, there were several talks by academic and industry thinkers including Prof. Michael Batty of UCL, Prof. Martin Rieser of de Montfort University, Michael Weinstock of the Architectural Association, Volker Buscher, director of Technology Innovation for Arup, Jurij Paraszczak of I BM Research,  Peter Madden, CEO of the Future Cities Catapult, and Samir Menon, head of Eco-Sustainability for Tata Consulting Services.

Audio and video of the plenary sessions are posted here (click on “18 Updates”).  The debate on the outcomes from this meeting will continue here on the USC’s blog and the USC’s weekly webinar series, which are open to all interested parties.

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