Written by Henry Lawson Market Research Consultant - BSRIA
When it comes to smart technology, as elsewhere, we tend to abhor the average. Medium is often seen as a synonym for mediocrity. Could this be about to change?
Over the past 60 years BSRIA has become rather good at assessing the performance of building systems, which increasingly encompasses ‘smart’ buildings. This is despite the fact that buildings come in an almost limitless variety of ages, structures and functions, with the capabilities of building systems being similarly diverse. We know that a smart building will be one that uses technology to improve the efficiency, comfort, security and safety of a building in a cost-effective way, and most of these factors can, to some degree, be measured.
But what about smart cities? Over the past few years the term has become current. You can search online for the ‘smart’ capabilities of almost any significant city and find plenty of interesting information and often a designated programme. But to make sense of this information, let alone to measure one city’s ‘smartness’ against another, you need to answer some fundamental questions.
These include: What are the key attributes of a ‘smart city’? How do you score a city against these, and equally importantly, how do you weight the various attributes? None of these questions are trivial. Different factors may become more or less important over time. At a time of high energy prices and concern over climate change, use of smart solutions to improve energy efficiency will be key. If there are major concerns over cyber security or terrorist threats, then a smart city’s resilience against these will come to the fore. And in a financial crisis the ‘smart’ solutions will tend to be those which save most money.
In an area of shifting sands a few organisations have attempted to put stakes into the ground. The European Smart Cities initiative supported by several academic institutions, including the Technische Universität Wien, ranks European cities against six key criteria: the economy, mobility the environment, the people (skills), living (‘liveability’) and governance. Each of these is in turn broken down into a number of factors.
But how objective are the results?
Luxembourg, which comes top, just so happens to be the capital of the richest country in the world per capita. While the correlation between wealth and ‘smart cities’ is strong, the causal relationship is less clear. How much of a rich city’s smart technology is contributing to the city’s wealth, and how much of it is ‘nice to have’ froth?