Raising the standard

4th October 2018


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Linda Dolby

David Fatscher introduces the new international standard for sustainable cities.

Just over four years ago, the United Nations declared that 54% of the global population was now living in urban areas. In May 2018, the UN updated its own forecasts, projecting this proportion to increase to 68% by 2050 – so adding a further 2.5 billion to the urban population, with 90% of this growth taking place in Asia and Africa.

How can those charged with managing and designing cities best respond to the economic, environmental and social impact that these trends place on city users? What can these planners learn from each other? These were the questions that experts from more than 50 countries sought to answer when they convened to develop the new international standard for sustainable cities and communities, now published as BS ISO 37106: 2018.

Citizen-centric cities

At the heart of the standard is the idea that cities are looking to transform the way they operate. The traditional model has been based around functionally-oriented service providers that operate individually, with minimal cross-sector interaction. Budget-setting, accountability, decision- making and delivery have often been independent of one another, and might never be designed to cater for the needs of the user. Given urbanisation trends, future cities clearly need a more strategic approach that drives innovation and collaboration between service providers. This international standard provides guidance on how to make that transition.

A smart city operating model should: be focused on end outcomes; enable cross-silo governance; change the way services are delivered to users; and unleash city data for interoperability and integration purposes. This means moving from an inefficient, disjointed, producer-focused model to one that is citizen-centric, digital, agile, open and collaborative.

Through collaborating across different areas and embracing technology, city leaders can deal with future challenges in a cost-effective and sustainable way.In Barcelona, for example, city parks use technology to sense and control irrigation and the water in public fountains. This alone has increased water conservation by 25%, saving around €480,000 (£430,000) annually. Closer to home, Peterborough has saved £5m by creating a fibre network that connects 107 council, education and health sites across the city.

Thinking local

Of course, the appropriate solutions for Barcelona are likely to be different to those suitable for Peterborough. Los Angeles, Lahore and Lagos may share similar challenges in terms of air pollution but they all have very specific capabilities in, say, energy generation, distribution and storage. Mindful that guidance on becoming smarter must begin at a local level and meet the unique requirements of residents, the new standard is not prescribing a one- size-fits-all model. Rather, a framework for collaboration is provided for a city to apply flexibly.

When it comes to delivering on smart city goals in practice, four main areas of guidance are provided in the standard for city leaders to apply to their jurisdiction:

  • Delivery principles: for city leaders to use to steer decision-making
  • Key cross-city delivery processes: practical guidance to help different divisions within a city work together better Benefit realisation: clearly linking smart city investments with the economic, environmental and social outcomes the city aims to achieve
  • Risk management: a checklist of issues which a city should regularly monitor.

More than 150 years ago, Charles Dickens’ social commentary painted a portrait of London that is unrecognisable today but provides a fascinating historical window back to the capital before Victorian visionaries devised a mass transit system, a vast underground sewage network and the world’s first public drinking fountains. Similarly, the UK has consistently led thinking internationally on smart city standards, beginning with BSI’s Publicly Available Specification (PAS) 181, which provided a smart city framework – adapted in part by the new international standard.

How today’s city leaders deal with the challenges of urbanisation will shape more than the immediate infrastructure needs, as was the case in Dickens’ London. It will lay the foundations for the cityscapes of the 21st century.

David Fatscher is head of sustainability and energy at bsi.

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