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Thinking about the democratic city

August 2, 2022

Cities have always been hubs of innovation because of the high concentration of people bringing the brightest minds together. This is their superpower but it’s always within clusters around universities, government or certain business districts. We are interested in how technology can help spread these benefits beyond small areas within the urban environment.

Over the next 10 years, as cities expand, we are going to be increasingly living in blended physical and digital environments. This could be at an operational level as digital twins or something more experiential around entertainment, community, education or a core part of how we make our living. This is an opportunity to improve connections between technology with physical locations by building bridges between online communities and where we live and work.

There are going to be challenges along the way and probably the biggest of these is data.

Some of the arguments have been very well summed up in Exponential by Azeem Azhar. He describes the gap between rapidly developing tech and our lives, society and democratic systems. Lots of these challenges are universal but especially resonate with the tech enabled built environment we are moving towards, including:

1. Interoperability - the technical and legal challenge of being able to move your data between your personal digital devices and connecting with smart physical locations, whilst keeping it secure.

2. Transparency - who sees the data we all make in the public realm and how do we access it? How do feel about data being increasingly privatised at a government level?

3. Rights - what fundamental ownership do we have over our data? This becomes more important as data is aggregated over larger groups of people.

The challenges of ownership of private and public data is fundamental to our understanding of our relationship both at an individual and societal level to technology. As we live in a more blended society, cities should be leading this process for their citizens and helping to create an open, transparent and protected physical and digital realm.

With the right technology governance, the cities’ superpower can be expanded to locations that, due to historical, education or social factors, haven’t always fared so well. It’s an exciting opportunity and London should be leading the way.

By Jan Maarten Heuff, CEO and Co-Founder of SpaceForm.

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