Smart recovery for London — How can smart infrastructure contribute to the London’s Recovery plans?

London has a long history of events which have caused a whole or partial lockdown of the city. The Great Fire, the plague, the Blitz — these all have a place in the fabric of London’s culture and identity. The current lockdown and economic downturn will undoubtedly be remembered as a significant event in the history of the capital and as a shared experience with other cities across the world.

Moments like this tend to see an acceleration in changes to science, technology and culture. Before the 2020 pandemic we were seeing a real transformation in the way that we live and work to become more digital and technology-reliant.

The last three months have put this transformation on fast forward. It will now be very hard for employers to insist on face-to-face meetings, or to refuse remote working. We have seen how pleasant it is to cycle when there are less cars. Companies are reviewing their approach to office space. And the city has woken up to the need for real time, coordinated data across sectors in order to respond to and predict future challenges.

This is where smart infrastructure comes in. There are many examples of smart infrastructure in London, from smart lampposts to CCTV, electric charging infrastructure, energy management systems and smart buildings, to name a few. However, the COVID-19 crisis has shone a light on how this infrastructure has been adopted in an uncoordinated and ad-hoc way over time, demonstrating a need for better city-wide collaboration.

The adoption of smart technologies is complicated by a wide variety of tools, approaches and use-cases across the city; making it difficult for boroughs to know what good outcomes look like, or understand how they can implement smart technologies to meet those outcomes. Now is the time to review how, and what, smart infrastructure is rolled out across the capital, and how it can be done in a way that is ethical, equitable and transparent.

As a result, at the GLA, the Smart London Team have been exploring how smart digital infrastructure can effectively be deployed across boroughs in a joined-up way, the role that technology can play in supporting London’s recovery plans, and how we can use this opportunity to stimulate an active and vibrant digital marketplace in London. Much of this work is a result of the Sharing Cities programme, an international test bed for smart innovation led by City Hall.

More liveable, connected neighbourhoods

Well-connected and adaptable boroughs are much better placed to react to the current crisis and any future crises that may arise. ​Through the work of Sharing Cities, the team has gained access to investment-ready solutions in urban data infrastructure that can help to create more resilient neighbourhoods.

For example, getting people back into our town centres once restrictions have been lifted will involve thinking about how they serve as cultural centres and hubs as well as retail centres. Smart technology can play a key role in this from the look and feel of a street, to wayfinding and safety.

By combining information from public sensors with key data sets, we can build a much more detailed picture of how people are accessing services and ​make more informed decisions on how best to stimulate the local economy; helping small businesses to not just recover, but also become more market-proof in a fast-changing consumer landscape.

Using technology to promote healthy lifestyles

We have been exploring ways in which smart technology can support vulnerable people to become more independent when they are out and about on the street. This includes providing a constant connection to family and careers, or more effective wayfinding to help people navigate the streets. We can also use this technology to better support those who need to be shielded from COVID-19. ​

There is also a challenge to try to ensure that good behaviours learnt during the lockdown continue once restrictions are lifted. Through Sharing Cities, we have successfully tested ways to engage with people digitally and encourage greener choices. These can be used for a wide range of outcomes, such as encouraging the use of public transport or engaging with residents to help reduce peak electricity demand.

​All of our learnings have been captured in the Digital Social Market Playbook, part of a series of resources available for boroughs and city managers who wish use this research to reduce barriers, speed up processes and ensure a more consistent approach.

As London returns to normal, more people will resume their commutes and travels into the city. The work we have done around smart and electric mobility in Greenwich can support the rise in active travel and also play an important part in maintaining London’s improved air quality.

Powering London’s green recovery

As Londoners are encouraged to spend more time in their homes, the quality of those homes becomes more important. We have retrofitted a large public housing estate in Greenwich with the latest in energy saving technology and connectivity to make these homes more liveable and sustainable. The results have been impressive, with great satisfaction rates and 40–60% energy savings. Looking at a district level, the Sustainable Energy Management System (SEMS) developed by Sharing Cities provides intelligent algorithms that can manage energy inputs and outputs across multiple buildings, resulting in further significant energy reductions. This could provide significant benefits for large scale housing providers engaged through the Mayor’s London Power initiative.

Moving forward, we are thinking about how we can share the learning from the projects mentioned above and work with boroughs and developers in London to implement different combinations of smart technology that are right for the people who live and work in the area. This will be key to helping London to recover effectively.

To do this, we have been working with London boroughs through the London Office of Technology and Innovation to develop a framework that supports boroughs to commission Internet of Things (IoT) technology with more confidence and with more consistency.

With a focus on measurable outcomes, IoT infrastructure can be more closely aligned to achieve pan-London goals.

Stimulating the market for innovation, improving connectivity and enabling low-carbon energy solutions is at the heart of realising London’s vision for a smarter, future-proof and digitally inclusive city that benefits all Londoners.

@MayorofLondon CDO & Smart London Board putting data & technology at the heart of making London an even better place to live, work and visit