40 Cities signed the Smart City as a Platform Manifesto at the conference in Yinchuan, China

Smart cities worldwide sign up to ten technology development promises

Image credit: E&T

40 major cities across the world have agreed to a new set of development principles to improve how technology will work for their citizens. They were joined in signing up to the ‘City as a Platform Manifesto’ by many technology companies.

The manifesto was launched last week by the conference organiser and trade association TM Forum at this year’s Smart City InFocus conference in Yinchuan, China. Cities signing up to the manifesto range from Atlanta in America to Yinchuan in China and from Milton Keynes in the UK to Wellington in New Zealand.

“As the world’s population expands and cities become denser, smart city programmes are contributing to a better quality of life,” said Carl Piva, managing director of TM Forum’s smart city initiative. “However, technology by itself will not solve the challenges facing urban centres around the world. Instead, a shared, collaborative approach between the public and private sectors is needed in the development of local data economies to create services that will improve lives.”

“By signing this manifesto,” the signatories agreed, “we are committed to drive this future by adhering to the following principles when deploying city platforms managing the vast reservoir of data offered by sensor networks, enterprises, city agencies and residents.”

The manifesto then lists its ten common principles for developing smart cities, declaring that city platforms must do the following: 

  1. Enable services that improve the quality of life in cities, benefiting residents, the environment and helping to bridge the digital divide.
  2. Bring together both public and private stakeholders in digital ecosystems.
  3. Support sharing economy principles and the circular economy agenda.
  4. Provide ways for local start-ups and businesses to innovate and thrive.
  5. Enforce the privacy and security of confidential data.
  6. Inform political decisions and offer mechanisms for residents to make their voices heard.
  7. Involve the local government in their governance and curation and are built and managed by the most competent and merited organisations.
  8. Based on open standards, industry best practices and open APIs to facilitate a vendor neutral approach, with industry-agreed architecture models.
  9. Support a common approach to federation of data or services between cities, making it possible for cities of all sizes to take part in the growing data economy.
  10. Support the principles of UN Sustainable Development Goal 11: Making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

Martin Brynskov, chair of Open and Agile Smart Cities (OASC) said, “At OASC, we know that a thriving global market, that really caters for local needs, is only wishful thinking without a strong common ground: open standards, open APIs, open architectures. We support TM Forum’s focus on the City as a Platform because of their deep commitment to these principles.”

Interoperability is also key to the FIWARE Foundation, its CEO, Ulrich Ahle, said, “Open standard APIs are crucial to foster a sustainable investment by solution providers, particularly SMEs and start-ups, who can target a digital market where their solutions can be interoperable with others' and portable across cities. We are proud that FIWARE NGSI has been recommended by TM Forum as the API unleashing the potential of right-time access to information describing what is going on in cities. We are also collaborating with TM Forum in delivering the components that support the transition from traditional Open Data approaches to advanced Data Economy concepts, transforming cities into engines of growth.”

TM Forum said the City as a Platform Manifesto was inspired by the technology ‘platform’ models such as AirBnB and Uber, which have few physical assets themselves but provide digital services that allow others to easily buy and sell their spare capacity. “We have taken the best of these approaches we can see in the private sector and adapted them to use in the city,” said Piva. 

These disruptive platforms are proving to be controversial in some regions where they challenge existing suppliers and can face accusations that they don’t always properly comply with local rules and regulations. 

Transport for London (TfL) announced last week it had decided not to renew Uber’s private hire operator’s licence for London, for example. It said Uber demonstrated a “lack of corporate responsibility” over a number of issues which have "potential public safety and security implications”.

These included Uber's approach to reporting serious criminal offences, its approach to how medical certificates and criminal record checks are obtained and its explanation of the use of Greyball in London. The New York Times reported in March that Uber developed a program called Greyball to evade authorities around the world attempting to enforce local regulations. This technology attempted to identify customers suspected of working for law enforcement bodies so they would not be picked up by drivers, according to the newspaper.

The controversy for London is indicative of the local problems that can come from the application of global but disruptive new technologies. The agreement on smart cities aims to set up a framework that avoids such problems and makes the technologies work for local citizens.

The Manifesto’s key principles are open to interpretation by cities, according to local conditions and cultures. One example is the privacy principle. Delegates to the conference in Yinchuan were given a tour of smart city projects there. Smart street furniture ranged from smart recycling bins in the Future City residential estate to a smart street lamp complete with air particle monitors, WiFi and USB charger. Larger-scale building infrastructure ranged from a Citizen’s Hall, where people and businesses can take care of all their administrative dealings with the Yinchuan government in one place, to an integrated Smart City Operations Center for government departments to analyse data and centrally manage the needs of a smart city.

Many of these smart city developments in Yinchuan also include CCTV with face-recognition software. The Operation Center, for example, continually identifies people appearing in CCTV feeds from Yinchuan - a degree of intrusion that would be controversial in many Western societies but is seen as part of everyday life in China.

Yinchuan Smart City Command Centre

The Smart City Control Centre in Yinchuan, China

Image credit: E&T

The Citizen’s Hall allows government departments to share citizen data with each other to cut the number of appointments and approvals the public have to obtain when their circumstances change due to, for example, housing or employment. A government spokesperson said this had cut the paperwork needed to, for example, start a new business, from weeks to hours and emphasised that the data is only shared within government, not with the public. Data protection rules have made even this restricted level of sharing difficult in other states.

The Manifesto was signed by cities and government organisations including Atlanta, Belfast, Chicago, Dublin, Las Vegas, Leeds, Limerick, Liverpool, Medellin, Miami, Milton Keynes, Tampere, Utrecht, Wellington and Yinchuan, as well as technology firms including Orange, Tele2 and NEC. Associations and institutions such as CABA, FIWARE Foundation, Fraunhofer, Future Cities Catapult, Leading Cities and the OASC also signed up. 

The Manifesto won high-level support from international bodies like the United Nations and the European Union. “The cities that use modern digital technology to create a better experience for each and every citizen are the true smart cities. TM Forum’s city platform principles offer great guidelines to achieve this goal,” said Suvi Linden, member of the United Nations Broadband Commission and former minister of communications in Finland.

A Smart City could include everything from private transport to traffic control, waste collection to street lighting. 

An industry panel discussed what cities should do to plan for autonomous vehicles and the evolution of ‘Mobility as a Service”, in which car ownership will increasingly give way to hiring different modes of transport on a journey-by-journey basis. 

Ron Zimmer, president and CEO of the Continental Automated Buildings Association, said cities should plan for less traffic rather than more. Private cars in cities lie idle on average for 80 per cent of the time, which is low use for an asset that is rapidly decreasing in value. Ted Ross, general manager and chief information officer for the City of Los Angeles, said attitudes to cars are changing dramatically. To his generation, he said, owning a car represented freedom and independence, but a new generation just see it as a cost. The emphasis is moving from car ownership to car usage. “It’s an issue that’s yet to drop, so to speak,” he said.

Refuse and recycling trucks usually collect waste from bins too early or too late, said Antoine Kassis, managing partner of Kurrant, which produces systems including smart sensors in the bins and software to optimise collections. They need to be collected when they are 90-95 per cent full to optimise costs, the number of trucks, gas emissions and offer a good service because they won’t be left to overflow. “Who will ‘Uber-ise’ waste collection?” he asked. “Cities or vendors or collectors?”.

“In addition to a relentless focus on citizens, there is a huge untapped economic agenda to consider for city governments. According to a recent study by Frost & Sullivan, the smart city market alone is estimated to be worth $1.5 trillion by 2020. Cities are, and always have been, the largest marketplaces on earth and the time is right for cities to also develop digital marketplaces that benefit people living in cities. Cities are where digital ecosystems collide,” Piva said.

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