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Student-led smart cities

Thursday, March 12, 2020 - 09:16

A fascinating Digifest talk by Westminster City Council suggested that students may have a key role in ensuring that smart city and intelligent campus projects deliver real benefits. Westminster have a partnership with two of their local universities – KCL and UCL – that gives Masters students access to the council's extensive datasets about use of the city. Students, who are familiar with city life, can choose the problems they would like to investigate using these datasets: their choices and conclusions can both inform the council about what policies matter to residents and provide a strong evidence base for how they might be addressed.

Three projects were highlighted: examining the distribution of AirBnB properties in both space and time and, in particular, those in multiple ownership; looking at how use of leisure centres is distributed across council districts; and identifying different patterns in the use of electric vehicle charging points. In each case, having students make choices about their projects mitigated against the problems – of smart city activities being driven by vendors, funders or deadlines – that have been widely identified in both research literature and news. The council also commented that the students' work was at least as good as that of professional consultants.

Westminster's experience suggests that intelligent campuses may be able to follow a different, and more successful, path than most smart cities. Let students lead…