Every week, 1.5 million people relocate to a city. While according to the UN, by 2050, 66% of the world’s population will live in a city. Growth in cities is not confined to population size either. Currently, 80% of annual GDP is generated in cities, a number which is only expected to rise. Cities, it is clear, are not only integral to the modern economy, they are global centres of political and social power.
But cities are also complex. The rise in population will create significant stress on housing, health care provision, transport systems, and energy networks. Never before has there been so much pressure for governments, companies and citizens to understand, in a meaningful way, the interactions that cause emergent phenomena in their cities: how a new transport system would impact the energy network; how the spread of disease can be affected by the density of population; or the complex variety of factors which can result in social inequality.
Complexity science has given rise to a new way of seeing the significance of the modern city. No longer viewed as “machines”, scientists are thinking of cities as organisms, consisting of millions or even billions of entities (cars, pedestrians, buildings). These entities interact in relatively predictable ways but create unpredictable outcomes. As they become more complex, cities become crucibles of exponential surprise, innovation and catastrophe.
Cities are both a product of their immediate physical environment and a global conduit. The communication networks between London and New York, for example, render parts of them closer to each other than the neighbourhoods which surround them. Their economies, their transport links, even their workforces, are becoming increasingly intertwined, and as they do so, the result of any kind of intervention (governmental or commercial) is becoming harder and harder to predict. Interconnectivity produces greater vulnerability; we need to get smarter about cities.
Yet this is only one half of the story: interconnectivity produces new opportunities. We can build smarter cities. We need applications and businesses that understand their complexity and can create new solutions for them.
We are excited to be partnering with the internationally renowned Wilton Park, a global forum for strategic discussion. “Disrupting cities through technology” is an event over two days where innovators, city governments, academics, and policy professionals will bring some clarity to the visions, reasons, and methods for creating smart cities. The forum will bring together people who rarely meet to share experiences and create new collaborations that could improve how we plan smart cities and engage digital citizens.
As the programme for the event announces, “Disrupting cities through technology requires more thought, more planning, and more effective policies than ever before.”
To find out more about the event see here, or watch our CEO, Herman Narula, speak about a new approach to cities at Bloomberg’s CityLab conference.