Words by Julie Alexander
“Fawley Waterside is being planned for a digital future. There’s nothing there today, but it has the potential to be genuinely smart when it’s complete”
For me, smart is the ability to connect people, places and things digitally — not only for efficiency, but for better communication and information so people are empowered to make choices. Connecting people allows them to participate. Digitalization acts as the foundation of that connectivity.
On many “smart city” projects, people often look at the technology available today and base early design decisions on that. Then it’s fixed. Once a scheme has planning consent, key features such as roads, accessibility or densities are very difficult to change. But if you can buy a technology today, it’s already behind the innovation curve. By the time the site is fully developed, it’s no longer going to be at the cutting edge. Some of the design implications of smart cities are critical from day one.
With autonomous vehicles and mobility as a service, we need to assess whether we will need the same amount of parking, with everyone having their own charging point, or if we just need spaces for a small number of cars. With decentralized energy systems, “pro-sumers” will generate electricity from renewables and sell it directly to their neighbours without the involvement of a power company. The business models and the technology for peer-to-peer energy trading don’t need to be in the planning application, but we do need to allocate land for generation and storage.
What makes Fawley Waterside different is that it’s being planned for a digital future. There’s nothing there today, but it has the potential to be genuinely smart when it’s complete. The project [on which WSP is a consultant] is the regeneration of an old power station site of 300 acres, near Southampton on the south coast of England, and the ambition is to make it the smartest, most connected city in the UK. It’s also being designed to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and to work for the whole demographic spectrum.
"The developer has had the foresight to get the companies that are innovating in this space — who are usually responsible for delivering at the end of the process — around the table early on"
For a smart project, you need multiple systems and multiple actors. At Fawley Waterside, the developer has had the foresight to get the companies that are innovating in this space — who are usually responsible for delivering at the end of the process — around the table early on so they can deliver the ultimate technology-driven connected place. This way, they can make informed decisions about what they need to do today to ensure that they are set up for a fully connected, digital future.
They’re thinking about what living and working environments will look and feel like, and what technologies might be available. Just by asking questions like “where’s your R&D money going today? Is it going into induction charging for vehicles or vehicle-to-grid connections?”, you know where the industry is going and you can begin to allow for that within your design.
The team is looking at things like how you could use gamification within a local community to improve health outcomes or environmental outcomes, by incentivizing people in particular ways and encouraging them to be part of a connected community. They’re also looking at how the design can deliver long-term health benefits and what sort of healthcare facilities the residents will need — not just doctors’ surgeries, but what kind of connectivity will ensure people can be cared for in their homes, and how residents’ health could be monitored remotely.
With this project, it’s about the potential of the site and the excitement around that. This approach does take more time, to network and make the right connections, but it’s an investment into having eyes on the future. They’re thinking about what’s going to be next, rather than just building houses and selling them quickly to meet demand. It’s about the long-term sustainability of the site, and digital sits at the heart of that.
Julie Alexander is director for urban development at Siemens, a member of the core technical group at Fawley Waterside
Image: Chris Draper Illustration, Ben Pentreath