Daan Elffers spoke with Simon Mills, Head of Sustainable Development for City of London, about the work he has done over the past decade, and what he believes it will take for the city to meet the challenges of the future.
Today the London Underground celebrates its 150th anniversary. How does the London Underground fit in with the smart city concept, and how do you see this develop further in the future?
The London underground is absolutely essential to the success of the City of London, used by more than 3 million people every day. Currently, we only have a residential population of around 8 or 9,000 people in the square mile, but more than 300,000 commute into the city to work every day. Our projections are that by 2025, 450,000 people are going to be commuting into the city.
Within London, we face some significant challenges when it comes to the smart cities concept. Because we were the world’s first megacity, a lot of the infrastructure which we still use today is from the Victorian era, so it’s over a hundred years old. This is very different from the new megacities which are springing up in India, China and the Middle East for example, which have such a great opportunity actually to build integrated systems.
Still, for London today, there are tremendous opportunities for industry within this particular sector. We know that there are going to be all these extra people, we know that cities are going to have to expand and that there will be more megacities. So it’s the companies which are developing the new technologies, systems and professional services to address this which are set to make a huge amount of money.
The concerning thing that I’ve noted in recent years is that there has almost been an abrogation of responsibility by policymakers at a national level when it comes to the social and environmental issues around sustainability and climate change.
What we are seeing is this leadership vacuum being filled by corporates. When I talk to individuals in the corporate sector, they are incredibly frustrated because it seems to them that they are the only ones thinking long term about infrastructure systems for energy, water and waste management, which require investment over 20 to 30 year periods.
However they are unable to engage national politicians in any meaningful discussion about the types of policy stability which are needed to enable the investment in this infrastructure. We’ve certainly seen this in the UK with energy policy and carbon targets.
The issue is that, from the City of London Corporation’s perspective, we are competing directly with other global financial centres. The view is that if you’re a business and can trade anywhere – all you need is a broadband connection and a laptop after all – why would you want to locate in rainy old London?
Ideally, the answer has to be – for example – because the air quality is considerably better than Hong Kong, or that it’s easier to get to than Singapore, and that the quality of life and the health service are better than New York, and the crime rates are lower. These are factors with which we are competing.
However, the dialogue in the future is going to be between corporates and regional and city governments rather than corporate and national governments, because with the collapse of the public sector, it’s almost as though national governments feel powerless actually to deliver the infrastructure, investment and policy stability that are needed for economic development.