Reading the term smart city and Peterborough in the same sentence might seem odd for those who are familiar with the UK. Smart city is a term that comes with connotations of modernity and technology, while similar associations are not generally made with Peterborough. It was a transition town in the 1950s and is now a place that attracts corporations like Amazon and IKEA in part due to a combination of accessible travel networks into London and comparatively inexpensive land.
However, Peterborough is in fact an area with a large network of innovative SMEs and a group called Peterborough DNA is taking advantage of that coordinating a programme of smart city initiatives. The programme was initially funded by the future cities project run by the UK governments Technology Strategy Board (now Innovate UK). It takes advantage of new technologies and new thinking to encourage growth and increased prosperity in Peterborough. Notably, smart isnt only associated with technology and data, but with the idea of creating effective systems that maximise Peterboroughs assets.
This is also where the concepts of smart city and circular economy intersect. Complex, intelligent systems, with flows of biological and technical materials, are at the core of the circular economy. Cities are arguably becoming ever more important, already more than 50% of the global population live in urban areas and that number is predicted to rise to 66% by 2050. If a future global economy is going to be prosperous, it will need city systems that utilise flows of resources, energy and people effectively.
It is perhaps a micro example Peterboroughs population sits at under 200,000 but many of the initiatives currently happening in the city have that basic focus on creating a smart system prioritising integration and grassroots collaboration, and designed to be affordable and replicable.
In one project based in Fengate, a diverse business district close to the city centre, SMEs have been brought together to catalyse collaborations involving people, products and resources. The industrial symbiosis approach tries to break businesses out of silos, maximising the opportunities created by opening up communication channels between businesses. It creates an environment where companies under-utilised assets can be matched up with other businesses needs in mutually beneficial partnerships.
The collaborative opportunities are numerous including a connection forged between coffee company, Masteroast, and innovators Peterborough Re-Use. Masteroast receives its coffee beans in large hessian bags, which are typically sent to landfill (at a cost). The partnership instead creates a dynamic where Peterborough Re-Use collects the bags and re-processes them as a raw material to be re-purposed in a number of different products including bags for life and tablecloths.
The relationship has economic advantages for both companies involved one saves on landfill costs and the other receives a free material stream. Its a smart systemic solution where one business waste becomes the food for another.
It isnt just raw materials and products that are wasted, the aim of projects like Smart Fengate and the Peterborough DNA programme is to take a holistic approach to the complex city system creating circular flows of materials, products, people and skills/competencies that can be maximised across different businesses for economic advantage. Notably, besides utilising communication technologies to enable the network and create a database, the Fengate-based project does not involve significant technological investments.
The smart city concept has become synonymous with the development of new IT technologies and utilisations of big data. Thats what makes the declared desire to make a city smart without attachment to context or a systems perspective a flawed approach.
In reality, the idea of a smart city is only useful when it goes beyond technological innovations around the Internet of Things and advanced data analytics. At its core, the concept of a smart city is about utilising technology in an urban context to create more prosperous economies. Its value is reliant upon being related to and contextualised in a big picture framework, which acknowledges that the prosperity of cities relies upon the creation of positive flows of resources and information.
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