'Smart and Sustainable': Using Big Data to Improve Peoples' Lives in Cities

We live in the age of the city. More than 50 per cent of the world's population lives in cities - a figure which is set to grow to 66 per cent by 2050. Recently the 'smart city' model has gained support, as commercial companies have seen a growing market for the future development of smart city technologies, and the supply of 'big data' (or huge, dynamic datasets) has increased. Proponents argue that technology can be leveraged to enhance economic development and the quality of life, and that the increasing availability of big data and its integration, can be used to underpin this.

dixon-smart-and-sustainableDrawing together expertise from across the University of Reading (including the new Institute of Environmental Analytics) the School of Construction Management and Engineering has recently launched a new position paper in which it is argued 'big data' and 'smart thinking' both provide powerful potential benefits for cities, but on their own they do not provide valid solutions for today's urban problems.

Key messages

  • 'Integrated approach': Cities need to develop an integrated approach to smart and sustainable thinking which joins up the best elements of smart technologies and sustainable practices. Developing inclusive visions for cities is fundamental to this goal, and putting people at the heart of any future vision for a city is critical to success.
  • 'Innovation is vital': Cities need to recognise the benefits of using big data to improve the quality of life for its citizens through improved decision-making and better information and customer service. This needs to recognise the challenges around privacy and security. Urban innovation is a critical concept which lies at the heart of the big data revolution.
  • 'Interdisciplinary thinking matters': We need to develop better R & D to help provide solutions for today's urban challenges. Developing partnerships between civic society, business and academia is vital and these must also connect through to the SME sector. Interdisciplinarity, or interweaving different disciplinary approaches, must be at the heart of our R & D in smart and sustainable cities and big data solutions.

This paper builds on some of the ideas explored by Professor Tim Dixon on 'future cities' in the Westminster Sustainable Business Forum's essay collection on 'Building Better - Recommendations for a more sustainable UK construction sector', which was launched in January 2015.

Tim Dixon, Professor of Sustainable Futures in the Built Environment in SCME said: "We need to recognise the key challenges associated with these concepts, and ensure that we use 'smart and sustainable' thinking and innovative big data to improve peoples' lives in our cities. Projects like our Reading 2050 work and the new Thames Valley Vision project both show the importance of big data and smart and sustainable thinking in the built environment of cities."

Download the paper 'Smart and Sustainable': Using Big Data to Improve Peoples' Lives in Cities (pdf) here

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