Issue 8: January 2014

CO-ORDINATING INVESTMENT TO DELIVER 'SMART PLACES'

By Derek Halden, Consultant - Integrated Transport Services, Derek Halden Consultancy

Leading towns and cities are showing how to deliver intelligent sustainable environments by connecting and combining investment in people, communication, transport, energy and infrastructure. These new smart approaches may be more complex to deliver than many of the narrower programmes of the past, but they also unlock better value by making better use of resources. Smart places are becoming one of the big new opportunities for economic growth. However, the investment needed to secure these opportunities is currently too low and fragile.

When the Scottish Government and CoSLA launched a competition for demonstration ‘smarter choices smarter places’  projects in 2008 they said they wanted to influence travel behaviour to help save people money, make them healthier, reduce emissions and develop more cohesive communities. Our research reviewing the demonstration projects showed that these aims were all achieved, but it is not yet clear that the learning points from these smart places and other parallel initiatives have been as widely adopted as they could be.

Although people often associate smart places with new technology, the demonstrators showed that success with community planning, and partnerships between public agencies and business, was much more important than any specific technology. When partners work together to deliver more sustainable communities, residents receive common messages from multiple sources. Communication of community aims is achieved by each person listening to the people and agencies they trust.

Smart places are becoming one of the big new opportunities for economic growth… However, the investment needed to secure these opportunities is currently too low and fragile.

There is no common language to describe the complexity of smart places so branding has been essential to give an identity to these new community partnerships. Where local authorities, local businesses, the NHS, and other organisations promote shared marketing services under a common brand the communication is much more successful. One of the greatest current hurdles is the weak track record of delivery by community planning partnerships, but the government’s commitment to strengthen these processes through the Community Empowerment Bill should overcome many of the current obstacles, enhancing opportunities for smart places.

The added value for communities derives from better communication and joint action. This includes more shared space, joint service centres, more shared transport, communal services, and managing the transition of local centres from failing retail destinations to attractive local centres for leisure, culture and business hubs. For the last 20 years, too much of the sustainable development agenda has been bogged down in an ‘economy versus environment’ debate with conflicting messages holding back progress. Economic and environmental progress requires social support and this support needs investment, it does not just happen.

Our research showed that the values and aims of society vary quite markedly across the country. People in Kirkwall had very different social goals from those in Glasgow and, to respect this, transport, economic development and environmental improvement also need to be approached in different ways. Achieving change is a gradual process, building ownership amongst stakeholders in an area. The role of national government in smart places is more about enabling each local place to succeed, than in delivering national investment programmes.

Smart delivery is interactive. Working incrementally towards shared goals can be a big challenge for employees familiar with current top down planning processes but the rewards are much greater. The smart approaches make better use of resources such as goods and services in local shops and leisure facilities, road space, leisure activities, car parks, and other opportunities. Our research into the demonstration smarter places revealed that residents saved an average of more than £60 per resident per year on car travel, spending more of their household budget locally. The shop local campaign delivered under the GO Barrhead programme included vouchers from local retailers and it is this mix of community networking and nudging of behaviour that is proving to be most effective across the country. Joint working programmes like this deliver benefits many orders of magnitude greater than existing single sector government spending programmes.

There are rich opportunities available in most local places from smarter engagement. Industry has been good at adding value through larger scale production and consumption, but the subtleties of adding local value require more personalised local relationships between providers and users. By enabling two way communication an appropriate balance can be achieved between supply and demand.

These smart communication systems do not necessarily need new technology but the viability of smarter places is greatly enhanced through technology systems. The Dundee demonstrator established the personal relationships using low technology approaches and progressively linked these with electronic communication methods. In Dumfries there were greater aspirations for technology delivery than were achieved, but simple practical technology systems such as the smartcards for the Bike2Go scheme and car club use, could in the future progressively be linked with other transport, business, leisure and retail opportunities. The readily available technology is a tool to serve smart places and technological capabilities should not be a determinant of community priorities.

Successful globalisation needs to be matched with successful localism. In a smart place, individuals and businesses become more social, and local authorities start to work with the grain of local society, respecting both diversity and consensus. Some local places are struggling as international companies like Google and Amazon now know more about some residents of Scottish places than their local authority or local shops. Online social networking services have proved to be successful tools for local networking showing that the new technology is more of an opportunity than a threat. However all places need to enable more local supply chains and marketplaces where local authorities, businesses and organisations can capture more of the local value from smart working.

Although people often associate smart places with new technology, the demonstrators showed that success with community planning, and partnerships between public agencies and business, was much more important than any specific technology.

Wider co-production is enabled through smart places. Local retailers need smarter control over the use of public assets like car parking, just as local authorities need to be able to share increased profits to be able to fund the promotion of sustainable behaviour to citizens. Partnership agreements, service level agreements, Business Improvement Districts and wider community ownership of assets are all needed to manage costs and benefits within smarter places.

Many of the greatest opportunities come from making more of current assets. Investment to enable these solutions requires more than just political support in Council Chambers, but a broader support across society. Smart places show how better communication systems build better trust between public, private and voluntary groups, moving many types of delivery from the ‘too difficult’ basket to practical action.

With a big change in direction to planning and investment, the opportunities from sustainable development unlocked through smarter places should be some orders of magnitude greater than attempting to squeeze more value from top down efficiencies driven from economies of scale. The experience over the last five years, not just in Scotland but across the UK, shows the untapped potential of these approaches. Public and private sectors have an opportunity to do much more by working with communities on shared social goals.

Author
Derek Halden, DHC, www.dhc1.co.uk, derek.halden@dhc1.co.uk
Derek Halden has delivered many smart travel and smart places projects over the last decade and managed the Scottish Government research into the national ‘Smarter choices smarter places’ programme. He has written national guidance on topics such as improved access to services, transport and land use planning and transport appraisal.

Further information:
Monitoring and evaluation of the smarter choices smarter places programme for Scottish Government at http://www.transportscotland.gov.uk/files/SCSP_-_Goingsmarter_-_Final_version_-_Do_not_edit.pdf
Examples of the DHC smart places toolkit are shown at www.loopconnections.org.uk

By Derek Halden, Consultant - Integrated Transport Services, Derek Halden Consultancy

Issue 8: January 2014

Issue 8: January 2014

SMART CITIES: SMART SERVICES: SMART WORKING

Smart Cities: Smart Services: Smart Working Editorial

In focusing on 'Smart Cities' let's start with a few teaser questions (answers at the foot of this column)...

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