<This is an English rendering of a talk I gave on November 18, 2011 at the Paris 2030 Colloquium.>
As you might imagine, I will talk about urban information networks. Such networks have existed since the beginnings of cities; indeed they are one of the basic reasons for the existence of citiy: to enable the sharing of information among the inhabitants so that they may learn from one another. This is the same principle that enables millions of termites to federate their little intelligences and thereby create such amazing structures. Information networks are thus a basic element of life in a city. I am not thinking here of social networks, which deal with personal information, but rather of information concerning the how the city works, both in demand and supply of services.
Historically much of this information was hidden and circulated only among a small, spatially-limited group of people. It was in forms that did not easily permit wider transmission, integration with other information or mathematical analysis. But today more and more of such information is available in digital form that does enable easy transmission, integration, and analysis. So now we can begin to ask questions about the immediate needs of individual inhabitants and about the problems they face in exploiting the city's services. Equally we can ask questions about the real-time performance of the city's services, their immediate capacities and the operational problems that exist.
I will talk about three themes in this space: number one, The Invisible Rendered Visisble, number two, Information for Resource Management, and number three, OpenData 2.0.
On my first theme, I have already indicated the role that digital systems play in making information more widely and immediately visible. This is central to enabling the inhabitants to benefit easily from the services and resources of the city. It is also central to enabling city managers to make the best use of the capacities and resources that are immediately available. A recurring problem we encounter in urban system management is that decisions are made based on information that is minimal or incomplete or stale.
A common example is the sharing of water among multiple cities within a single water basin. Local city or utility water managers generally have no current information about how much water is available upstream in the system and about how much water their neighbours are drawing from it. As a result, they will sometimes withdraw too much water, resulting in environmental problems or they will draw less water than they could, resulting in local supply limits or, in exceptional cases, increased risk of flooding.
An example of how information enables the inhabitants to most effectively use the immediately available capacity of the total, multi-modal transportation system comes from our work with CalTrans in the San Francisco bay area. Here inhabitants with smart mobile telephones can subscribe to a service that enables CalTrans to observe their journeys based on the GPS reading from the telephone. From these observations CalTrans can determine the individual user's common journeys. When the system sees the user beginning a familiar journey, for example commuting from home to the workplace, it looks at the multi-modal choices available to the traveller and the operational status of each of those systems along the required paths, and then makes a recommendation to the traveller for the optimal way to make this journey at this time. The traveller thus makes the journey with the minimum delays and disruptions and the transportation systems' loads can be balanced.
On my second theme, I am thinking of a project in which I am slightly involved in Zurich, where the technical university, the ETH, has developed a set of principles based on One Planet Living (OPL). OPL seeks to define and encourage the adoption of a set of resource consumptions that will enable 9 billion people to fairly share the resources - water, food, energy, land - of the one planet we have available. For energy, this results in an annual consumption of 2,000 kW-hours per person, or an average of roughly 250 Watts per person. This goal has been adopted for an eco-district development in Zurich. Achieving such a goal requires that the individual is aware of his or her own energy consumption, just as modern cars give us feedback on fuel consumption, and also careful management of the balance between demand and various sources of electrical energy.
If we now think of individual consumptions in existing cities, how close is each individual to this goal? The question in most cases is unanswerable, because such information is not available unless the city or the utility has installed smart meters to measure consumption of electricty and water. This is a basic principle from Management Science - if you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it.
Another example of waste resulting from a lack of information comes from the construction industry. A large city such as New York has of the order of a million buildings. Since a building - depending on its purpose and how it was built and maintained - has a lifetime of 50 to 100 years, it follows that on average in New York some 10-20,000 buildings are torn down and re-built every year. Imagine how much that represents in thousands of tons of old materials that are carted away and dumped at some growing distance in a landfill or in the ocean and in new materials that have to be created and transported to the building site. How many hundreds of thousands of truck journeys on already crowded streets!
For the 2012 Summer Olympics in east London a different approach was adopted. When the London Olympic Committee issued a contract for the preparation of the site for the Olympic village, it contained a requirement that 90% of the materials in the existing buildings should be re-used. The management of this work went to an American engineering consultancy, CH2M Hill. CH2 hired 2,000 unemployed people in east London, taught them construction Health and Safety and how to deconstruct the existing buildings. Bricks and stone were cleaned up and prepared for use in the new construction. Steel was shipped to China - at a peak of 300 tons per day - to be recycled. Wood and other combustible materials were converted to energy.
The result was cheaper - CH2 completed the project on time and well under budget - than dumping the old materials and buying new and resulted in 94% of the old materials being re-used as well as a further 4% being used to produce energy. Why could not New York implement such a system? Because today there is no information available on supply and demand of such materials and hence no market for them. A lack of information again leads to waste.
On my third theme I point to the future of exploitation of urban systems information. You are no doubt familiar with the OpenData Movement, which is growing rapdily in popularity. OpenData 1.0, as I call it, begins with publishing documents - government reports including eventually management reports on urban systems operational performance. This is hugely valuable in developing transparency between government and citizens, something that is greatly lacking today in most cities.
But an equally valuable step will come when cities begin to expose their operational information in near real-time by allowing it to be federated into private services. The city in fact is the largest producer of information about what is going on, but today that information remains trapped inside the many agencies. By publishing it, as the government of Singapore is doing and others - such as Dublink in Dublin, Ireland - are following, that information is available to be tapped by the innovative capabilities of citizens and enterprises. While I strongly commend CalTrans' leadership in the example mentioned above, why should travellers depend on government to provide multi-modal transportation guidance? Why not allow innovators to compete for the most effective algorithms to optimise such systems? There are certainly some urban systems that are critical and whose operation should be reserved to the local government, such as water management, but in many other areas private enterprise is likely to be a more powerful source of innovation than public agencies. This is what I think of as OpenData 2.0.
I have written elsewhere of this approach - government as an agent for capturing and publishing real-time information about urban systems operations - as the Stupid City, a term that refers back to the Internet principle of putting intelligence around the periphery of the network, rather than in the center as was traditional in the telephone network.
So these are my three thoughts for today on the importance of the flows of operational information in cities and the enormous impacts that can be achieved when these flows become digital. This is a new way of looking at how cities work, a new way of helping the inhabitants to get the best use of the city's services, and a new way of engaging citizens and enterprises in making the city a better place to live and work.