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Convention 2017: No choice about change

Words: Simon Wicks
Dr Mary Keeling: Planning Convention 2017

Speakers: Dr Mary Keeling, global program director, economic analysis strategy and market development, IBM; Professor Peter Head CBE, founder and chief executive officer, Ecological Sequestration Trust; Professor Barbara Norman Hon MRTPI, director of Canberra Urban and Regional Futures, University of Canberra

Session title: Smart versus sustainable – is it a choice?

Chair: Corinne Swain OBE FRTPI

Planning has been slow to integrate into practice. What’s the potential cost of this? And is technology really an enabler of sustainable cities? Change, for planning is “not a choice” insisted Dr Mary Keeling. The tech is there to transform the way we plan. But “if you don’t do it, somebody outside your industry will”.

“It’s only going to be smart if we manage to do it in a sustainable way”

Planning, she said, has been slow to tap into the greater mass of data that is “unstructured”, in databases, audio files, photos and so on. Using cognitive computing and natural language processing to access and analyse this data could be a “game changer”.

“It’s possible to have both smart and sustainable,” said Keeling. “It’s only going to be smart if we manage to do it in a sustainable way.”

Professor Peter Head said smart and sustainable required two things – enactment of the Sustainable Development Goals; and open data for city builders.

“The goals are there and we have to start using them,” he said, stressing that they could “unleash more of our humanity”. Doing so means harnessing IT to assemble social data in ways that support evidence-based policymaking and financial investment.

A new open-source platform is designed to achieve just this. Resilience.io is aimed at policymakers and investors and had the potential to change billions of lives. Collaboration and IT was needed to achieve this – “That’s smart.”

Professor Barbara Norman noted that 60 per cent of the globe would live in cities by 2050. Cities were turning ever more to marginal land to house growing populations. But this strategy invites a different set of problems relating to climate change. How do planners house people while maintaining sustainable developments?

Tech can help – green precincts, micro-grids, natural ventilation, and localised energy systems. But more dialogue between science and planning was essential. ‘Smart’ means using technology and collaboration to “connect the dots”, she said.

“Our first priority must be reducing our emissions. Significant change has already been locked in. We need to be planning for change. To deliver this we need to work in partnership."

At a glance

  1. If planners don’t employ fresh technology to improve planning, someone else will step into the void.
  2. Creating smart, sustainable cities means assembling open data in ways that improve planning, policymaking and investment.
  3. Planners need to be talking to scientists and technologists as a matter of course.

What they tweeted

Freddie Bell @MPFreddieBell

Insightful (and exciting) #PlanCon17 panel comments: 5G technology enabling interaction between public & #planning


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