Create and enable change in the built environment

Stephanie Bentley

Prop Tech Product Executive, Data and Information Products Group (RICS)

With ultra-fast broadband being listed as almost as important to home buyers as water and electricity, it should be of no surprise that digital connectivity is creating and enabling change in the built environment. We explored the challenges and opportunities posed by the increasing pressure to create a fully digitally connected economy at our recent Telecoms Conference.

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Transforming citizens and cities

Digital connectivity underpins some of the most fundamental aspects of society today. It is needed to access many public services such as online education, health and council services as well as creating communities by connecting people with their environment, assets and each other.

Most human activity relies on knowing where things are and how they relate to each other.

In fact, digital connectivity is now being treated as a key public utility by London’s mayor due to the implications it has for improving the quality of life for citizens and the profitability of services.

Being able to access the wealth of information and services available online is but a small part of the story. A connected digital economy allows us to create unique reference points and accurately describe geographical locations. This brings with it a whole host of political, economic and social benefits to cities and citizens, including:

  • Reducing response times of emergency services
  • Improving property transactions
  • Improving public security
  • Creating sustainable transport
If places are for anything, they’re for people.

Some challenges and ways of overcoming them

However, there are some challenges that need to be overcome before real changes to the built environment and the quality of life for citizens can be implemented.

To enable change requires improved connectivity.

Improving connectivity requires standards, not simply for the sake of compatibility and consistency but also for interoperability. Currently, there is little co-ordination across political boundaries resulting in different London boroughs taking different approaches to digital connectivity. This brings with it major regulatory challenges and causes poor connectivity and an inconsistent experience for people living in certain areas.

Furthermore, capturing data above and beyond what we are already doing to create a truly connected digital economy makes the task of ensuring the quality of data and maintaining data sets even more important.

Standardised documents should be used as a tool for industry that aren't necessarily prescriptive but can help in negotiations.

Other challenges include commercial sensitivities resulting in providers being unwilling to share the data they have. Collaboration is key before real improvements can be made. Existing infrastructure was labelled as another challenge as building facades, vegetation and bus stop shelters all affect digital connectivity. Can we plan this better?

What's in it for you? 

Despite these challenges, using technology where appropriate can drive improvement and help us rise to political, economic and social challenges that exist today.

Some examples where using technology and new business models to improve communities include:

  1. Manchester CityVerve – using technology to improve healthcare, transport and public security and better engage citizens
  2. Adopt a hydrant – launched in Boston, users can adopt hydrants to help keep it clear of snow after a snowstorm, taking the pressure off local councils and building a community as users share their good deeds

Location, geography and improved digital connectivity have a key role to play in creating and enabling change in the built environment. Open data, collaboration and standards are the first steps to transform cities and improve the lives of citizens everywhere.

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