REPORT | Saturday Morning Planning School 5: The Future of Planning
20 Dec 2017
The last in the Planning School series of lectures – The Future of Planning – was held on 18 November at the Building Centre in Store Street with Zoe Green – Strategic Urban Planner at PriceWaterhouseCooper. Jo East was present.
Zoe Green advises cities across the globe on how to prepare for “4IR” – The Fourth Industrial Revolution that many believe we are entering right now. Promising to tackle broad themes, Zoe did just that taking in all the new technologies from synthetic biology, through 3D printing to the “Internet of things” (machines communicating directly with each other) unpacking these buzzwords as she went. The good news is that by looking at various indicators her recent report believes that London is 59% ready in preparedness to implement these technologies – Only Singapore scores higher although this drops to 42% on a Matrix of Social Readiness.
One of the key technologies identified is Blockchain. Borrowing an analogy from a colleague Zoe slapped her driving license on her phone. The identity details marry with the technology to make contracts and transactions seamless. Either with no checks (think contactless) or with heightened security checks such as retinal recognition. If we consider how much financial work involves checks and movement of details the implications for The City is vast.
Touching briefly on the downsides – Including potential job losses, increased energy use and electronic waste. - Zoe also highlighted the gender bias that was observed in tech with a dearth of women leaders at the top of business.
Brought together under the banner “Future Urban Systems” three strands could be identified: Biological, Digital and Physical and these were useful groupings to understand the new landscape.
Zoe considered both the implications of these technologies and also the opportunities afforded if London can maintain its pre-eminence as a tech leader.
On the wider implications, Virtual City Modelling (headsets giving a 360° view of new developments) could improve not only the planning, design and approval process but also citizen engagement. Increased connectivity shortens on site timeframes and project management. The 3D printing of whole buildings becomes a possibility.
London specific, Zoe looked at Silicon Roundabout- The cluster of tech firms around Old Street that developed about 10 years ago. Already this has been a victim of its own success. Larger firms have moved in increasing land values and forcing out smaller start-ups. There’s a irony here in that these firms - many of which specialise in Virtual Reality and technologies that have enabled our current “work anywhere” model - only seem to thrive when close together. Clustering around ideas and synergies.
The British system of public/private financing was an aspect that kept appearing throughout the talk and the subsequent questions. On the Public side good prototypes of innovation disappeared when the need to scale up occurred and this - along with citizen engagement - was seen as crucial if London was to thrive. In the private realm, leadership and investment was identified as vital. A permeability between the two worlds needed both in terms of finance and collaboration.
Brexit was touched on (thankfully!) briefly with the news that a European fund that had assisted a third of all Start-ups had been “turned off” with the current uncertainty over Britain’s relationship with the rest of Europe.
Due to the nature of all such crystal- gazing this talk was more speculative and less conclusive then others in the series. However what was clear is that the current modus operandi is not best suited to the challenges of this new 4IR age. Without change in our ways of doing things other cities (Dublin was cited as an example), might be better placed and steal London’s high tech crown.