AUSTIN—Like most major cities, London has dedicated itself to being a smart city, and is looking for new ways to leverage its infrastructure and datasets to improve the lives of its citizens.
In England’s capital, delivering on these promises is the job of Theo Blackwell, the city’s first Chief Digital Officer. At SXSW 2018, we discussed the evolving definition of smart city, the digital value of street lamps, and the increasing scarcity of bootleg cassette tapes in Camden Town.
“There is no canonical definition of Smart City,” Blackwell says. People generally talk about the integration of systems like traffic lights, water, and electricity, and how they are all connected to each other, but Blackwell says that is changing.
“Now it is moving on to the data behind those systems,” he says. “How we manage civic data for innovation encapsulates what we mean by a smart city now.”
London was one of the first cities to deploy an RFID-based platform for paying for public transportation, the Oyster card. The card made paying easier, but it also gave the city a huge amount of data. That data was essential for crafting its congestion pricing plans, which had a huge impact of civic life. “The public sector became a massive innovator in this,” Blackwell says.
Making more public data available to citizens and private industry is just the first step. “Although we have made great strides with more than 700 open datasets on a citywide level, this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Blackwell says. “How do we mobilize public assets for the the installation of 5G infrastructure?”
The key for London and other cities will be matching private and public datasets and then aligning them around the public interest. Take ride-hailing services as an example. “There are private operators who have invested quite a lot in moving people around in cars, but we have a lot of information on how to move people around on mass transit,” Blackwell says. “Imagine what we could do if we came to the right terms about mixing the two bits of data together.”
Watch our complete interview with Blackwell in the video above.
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