While the Government continues to argue over the ‘aviation crisis’ and strives to make the case for HS2, public spending on transport in London was revealed to be more than double that for the whole of Yorkshire. Though such a disparity between the two may be shocking, it is perhaps not surprising to many Yorkshire folk, who have already been let down last year when the Government’s plans for infrastructure reform extended to only upgrading the broadband service and some paltry road maintenance.
As many Middle Eastern cities – notably Qatar – race to become ‘Smart’, even the grand plans for London transport – Crossrail, only ever whispered in hallowed tones – look more than a little insubstantial. Like the smart phone, on a much larger scale a Smart City is one that excels in its connectivity, storage of data, adaptability, and maximisation of productivity. The smart city reduces public expenditure while offering faster and smoother services, from transport and traffic, to security and waste disposal.
Smart cities primarily run on the development of machine to machine technology. For example, a vending machine might ‘tell’ the provider that it is out of cola, or a train might report back that it has sensed damage on the rail tracks. What makes a city smart is its subsequent ability to react to this data; to alleviate or minimise the disturbance, malfunction or complication.
Recognising a problem early on can save time and effort and by tracking data, such as congestion patterns for instance, steps can be taken towards prevention in the future. Expenditure can be reduced, the time of the citizens saved, and their good will accumulated.
The UK, like other developed countries, is at a disadvantage as the infrastructure of its biggest cities is already established. Literally set in stone – and metal. Considering that it celebrated its 150th birthday this year, it is a miracle that the London Underground faired so well during the Summer Olympics. Now it is time to look ahead. HS2, plans of which are habitually beset with opposition, is not set to reach Yorkshire until 2033.
When today one can conduct the everyday business of the office on a train – read reports, reply to emails, conduct conference calls – one wonders whether slicing a bit of time off the journey is worth the expenditure. Perhaps if David Cameron is serious about closing the economic gap between London and the North, as it claims to be, the answer lies not in getting fast, but being smart.