Smart City Design Patterns
Whilst there are many visions for smart and future cities, and many examples of projects that have been carried out to achieve some elements of those visions, there is little prescriptive guidance to assist cities in defining and delivering their own strategies and projects.
Cities are not systems that can be controlled, or deterministically driven towards narrowly-defined objectives; they are complex eco-systems of independent people, communities and businesses, each pursuing their own goals using the resources available to them. Whilst some degree of “top-down” definition of strategy, objectives, policies and major programmes is required, to a great degree the role of city leaders and institutions should not be to “make the city Smarter” but to create an environment within which smart ideas are likely to thrive and succeed, wherever they occur.
As a result, some very different approaches to process-driven change have emerged from thinking in policy, economics, planning and architecture: the Collective Research Initiatives Trust‘s study of Mumbai, “Being Nicely Messy“; Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter’s “Collage City“; Manu Fernandez’s “Human Scale Cities” project; and the “Massive / Small” concept and associated “Urban Operating System” from Kelvin Campbell and Urban Initiatives, for example; have all suggested an approach that involves a “toolkit” of ideas for individuals and organisations to apply in their local context.
In the article “Do we need a Pattern Language for Smarter Cities” I suggested that “design patterns“, a tool for capturing re-usable experience invented by the town planner Christopher Alexander, might offer a useful way to organise such knowledge of successful approaches to “Smarter Cities”.
A “design pattern” describes an approach to a particular problem or domain that has been shown to work. Patterns are described relatively formally, in that in any collection of patterns, a consistently structured description is used throughout.
Most importantly, the description of each pattern includes the context in which it applies: including the driving forces that make the pattern applicable; the implications of using it; any pre-conditions or dependencies which must be fulfilled; and any associated risks. For a more complete discussion, please refer to my original article, or to the sources of information it references.
The structure I have suggested for describing Smarter City design patterns recognises that a successful Smarter City initiative includes a combination of technology, commercial and community elements:
- The city systems, communities and infrastructures affected; using a framework such as the “The new architecture of Smart Cities” that I described last year.
- The commercial operating model that makes the pattern financially sustainable.
- The soft infrastructures, hard infrastructures and assets required to implement the pattern, perhaps described using the categorisation I suggested in “Pens, paper and conversations. And the other technologies that will make cities Smarter“.
- The driving forces that make the pattern applicable, such as traffic congestion; persistent localised economic inactivity; the availability of local energy sources; or the need to reduce public sector spending.
- The benefits of using the pattern; including financial, social, environmental and long-term economic benefits.
- The implications and risks of implementing the pattern – such as the risk that consumers will not chose to change their behaviour to adopt more sustainable modes of transport; or the increasing long-term costs of healthcare implied by initiatives that raise life-expectancy by creating a healthier environment.
- The alternatives and variations that describe how the pattern can be adapted to particular local contexts.
- Examples and stories of where the pattern has been applied; what was involved in making it work; and the outcomes that were achieved as a result.
- Sources of information that provide further explanation, examples of use and guidance for implementation.
A list of candidate design patterns for Smarter Cities is provided below; and will be expanded over time. As I write descriptions for each candidate pattern, I’ll provide a link from this list.
If in time this set of patterns evolves what seems to be a useful structure, it might develop into a more organised pattern language. If so, I will then attempt to link into some of the vast corpus of existing literature concerned with urbanism and Smarter Cities which contains descriptions of concepts and tools which could also be considered “design patterns”.
- City Information Partnerships - collaborations between city institutions, communities, service providers and research institutions to share and exploit city data in a socially and financially sustainable system. Example: the “Dublinked” information sharing partnership in Dublin.
- City Centre Enterprise Incubation - the provision of facilities to incubate technology, creative and social enterprises in an urban environment to stimulate innovative growth through cross-sectoral interaction and innovation; and to facilitate co-operative investment in technology. Examples: Sunderland Software City and Birmingham Science Park Aston.
- Local Currencies and Alternative Trading Systems – local trading systems using paper or electronic currencies that are issued and accepted within a particular place or region; and that have the effect of influencing people and businesses to spend the money that they earn locally, thereby promoting regional economic synergies. Examples: the Swiss alternative currency, the “Wir”; the Bristol Pound; and the Droplet smartphone payment scheme in Birmingham.
- Online Peer-to-Peer and Regional Marketplaces - communities and businesses using information about the use, availability and impact of goods, services and resources such as water, energy, land, transport and food to enable transactions and choicess that maximise sustainable, collective value. Examples: Big Barn, Shutl and Freecycle.
- Community Energy Initiatives - the formation of local energy companies to exploit “smart grid” technology, local energy generation (such as solar panels, wind power, wave power, geo-thermal power and bio-energy) and collaborative energy consumption to reduce carbon emissions and reliance on external energy sources. Examples: Eco-island and Birmingham Energy Savers.
- Social Enterprises – a collective term for models of business that audit themselves against social and environmental outcomes, as well as financial sustainability and returns. Examples: co-operatives, credit unions and organisations using “triple-bottom-line” accounting.
Patterns work best when they are created collaboratively; I would be delighted to hear from you if you would like to contribute a pattern, or if there is an existing initiative that you think I should be aware of.