Smart city: In conversation with Volker Buscher

Smart city: In conversation with Volker Buscher

By Antonia Filmer | 5 December, 2015
Volker Buscher.

Volker Buscher, Director of Digital business at ARUP, points out that in the wake of Paris COP21, cities globally are refining their narratives, one of the big drivers of this is resource efficiency; carbon waste and air pollution management clearly have a material impact on the policy framework and engineering of cities. Buscher is impressed that Denmark is examining how the current metropolis of Copenhagen’s approach to digital policy framework can be scaled down to be applied to smaller cities and how the National Danish Government can help create policy frameworks and export a template for digital economies.
He says it is difficult to imagine the efficiency benefits required without digitisation but a digitally enabled city also has to be a humane environment. As well as clean water, reliable energy, less air pollution, job creation, affordable housing and transport, new cities have to offer good quality public spaces and emotionally attractive architecture. A new city’s resilience against natural disasters, terrorism and economic stresses has to be factored in, so that all the elements work on their own as well as part of an integrated system. Buscher believes that essential to the character of a city is an element of chaos and mess, from this disorder springs creativity and innovation from whence progress of all kinds is conceived. He explains a city exists for a comprehensive demographic, the super-rich, professionals, nurses and teachers, blue-collar workers, the homeless, single parents and everyone else. In a democratic society the city exists for the citizen, the city will become a lifestyle choice for the citizen because of the desirable and digital environment.

He says digitisation is no simple task as there are so many stakeholders in a city with 10 to 20 million citizens. Volker illustrates this point by comparing how difficult the relatively small task of a CEO trying to digitalise a company with just one stakeholder but 100’s of employees is.
Cities need to innovate and sustain themselves, at some stage they have to change the whole infrastructure. Cities of the future will have to face the question of how digitalisation changes the responses of their citizens, how will digitalisation affect their political engagement and the relationship between the citizen and the city? Citizens are not customers, they are voters and choosing to live in that place, who will be responsible for their satisfaction? Buscher believes some degree of political oversight is necessary, someone who is answerable to the citizen for providing social and commercial responsibility and economic stability.
He suggests the New York City idea of appointing a Chief Digital Officer who works in conjunction with the Mayor is a good model to implement the digital dimension, ultimately it is possible that nations/ states may choose to have digital manifestos as part of their political manifestos.
Buscher says India has understood the resource and efficiency challenge and how this requires a different way of managing cities. The Global Smart City market is estimated at £400billion, he submits that UK and Scandinavia have the savoir faire and want to build trade relationships to assist India with the transformation from traditional to smart city with a citizen led digital agenda at its heart.

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