With the internet of things becoming a reality and a new age of innovation underway, cities are facing any number of problems to be dealt with. “Most cities are facing a demographic change and squeezed budgets but at the same time they are being allowed greater autonomy over their public services,” says Mark Prisk, Conservative MP for Hertford and Stortford and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smart Cities. “City halls are looking at how the new technology will enable them to deliver services and scale up from those low budgets and while the ranges of technology on their own don’t appear to be transformational, when they are woven together they will help city halls to do what they have to do for less.”

"Most cities are being allowed greater autonomy over their public services"
- Mark Prisk

Through the internet of things, hardware will both become more efficient and will make services cheaper through the lifetime of the hardware. “Look at burst pipes,” says Mark. “Pipes will have sensors that can detect a fault before a crack or a leak occurs, which will be enormously beneficial. Infrastructure can become so much better. Most of us don’t realise what kinds of benefits will be available, but we will do so when Crossrail is up and running as it will be an entirely digital railroad. Every piece of moving equipment that could force a train to be delayed will have sensors that will prevent a faulty train from going out to work while at the same time linking to and adjusting the timetable in real time.”

A new generation of remarkable civil engineers is making all this possible. “And these days a lot of core engineering is no longer invisible,” says Mark. “Look at the tube stations on the Jubilee line. All the escalators are open, which is a safety feature as Victorian enclosed escalators posed a fire trap. We are also seeing a new generation of architects such as Thomas Heatherwick, who is almost as much concerned with design as architecture or engineering.”

When Crossrail is up and running as it will be an entirely digital railroad

Another innovation has been in thinking of public realms as a totality, rather than focusing on individual buildings. “King’s Cross is an area that has a new tube station and a new train in the form of Eurostar,” says Mark. “The whole area has been regenerated and the developers, Argent, planned the whole space in the round, taking into account the overground, underground, motor, water and pedestrian needs. They understood what the public wanted and so made innovations such as incorporating wifi everywhere right from the start. And in other developments, when dealing with issues such as mobility, integrated growth taking into account roads, cycling and walking can cut down on congestion, too.”