Using today's technology to create tomorrow's cities

Big data is big business. Simple activities from shopping online to taking a bus to work generate a treasure trove of information about how we go about our daily lives

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It is this information, or big data, which is used by businesses to predict the next big trends and market their goods.

But beyond the commercial possibilities of this information, there has been a quiet revolution on our streets which is slowly coming to the fore. National and local governments are now using our data to design and improve how we use our city services and ensure they are run more efficiently. This is what has come to be known as the  Smart City  agenda.

The concept of how we plot and service our cities, based on simple assumptions and observations on human movements and needs, is not something new. But with the advent of new technologies, we are now able to harness this for wider benefit.

As the notion of the smart city hasslowlyemerged over the last decade or so, we have seen a fusion of ideas about how information and technologies might improve the functioning of our cities, create competitiveness, and even provide new ways in which problems like poverty, social deprivation, and poor environment might be addressed.

For many this may sound like science fiction, but cities such as Barcelona, Copenhagen, Masdar in Abu Dhabi and even London are making it a reality by developing innovative ways to use data and technology to reduce traffic, create city-wide heating systems, map employment opportunities and collect refuse.

Embedded in this is the ambition for the smart city to deliver more people-centric services, but we at RIBA believe that this is only the beginning for smart cities. By bringing big data together with planning and urban design there is real opportunity to extend the economic, social and environmental benefits of this movement to transform the physical shape of our cities and take place-making into the digital age.

In November 2013 we launched a joint report with Arup -‘Designing with Data: Shaping our Future Cities' to show how big data and the volume and speed with which it is now becoming available gives us the chance to understand people and places more deeply in order to inform the design of our cities.

The report provides a starting point for smart architecture and planning, but is also a call to action for Government to take place-making into the digital age.  If we are to meet the challenges of tomorrow, then we have to get smart to the ideas of the future.

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