Cleaner Air: Our cities are already smart enough

by | Jun 4, 2020 | Article, Featured Article

We just need to connect them

The quest for Smart Cities increasingly resembles a new goal with an old solution. As Ashley Bijster, Managing Director of Imperial, explains, we already have the tools to solve the air quality crisis; we just need to collaborate on bringing them together.

It sometimes feels as if we have been talking about Smart Cities forever. But while we have been talking, our cities have continued to get busier, prompting an air quality crisis that threatens the health of communities and children all over the country.

As we look to address this issue it is important to recognise that we actually already have a range of tools that can deliver better air quality today. We can already digitally manage every aspect of clean air zone enforcement. What we need to do is pull them all together.

So yes, we need to get smarter. But not in terms of technology; we need to get smarter at collaborating. And the good news is it is already happening.

Connecting Technologies

Nobody should underestimate the complexity and operational challenges associated with any initiative to improve air quality. However, it is precisely because of this complexity that the adoption of radical new technologies should be avoided. We simply cannot afford to compound the inherent risks.

While we clearly need to innovate to address air quality, the required innovation relates to our thinking rather than our solutions.

This should not be surprising. In truth, the most successful modern innovations rarely source from isolated bubbles – they invariably exploit existing strengths and proven solutions. Indeed, there is a term for this: ‘recombinant innovation’ describes ideas being taken from different fields and fused together to create new solutions.

When it comes to addressing air quality through the implementation of Clean Air Zones (CAZ), we actually don’t need to invent a range of new solutions. By utilising the existing parking and enforcement technology solutions we have been able to achieve a breakthrough in the delivery of CAZ.

And, crucially for the cities involved, because we have been able to make use of existing tried, tested – and trusted – technologies, these innovative solutions reduce risk, delivering required results with reduced costs and greater reliability in relation to delivery and project success.

Making CAZ a Reality

City authorities in Birmingham, Leeds and Bath are all currently in the process of introducing CAZ schemes this year.

While each authority tends to have specific requirements, the range of components can include parking spot location tools, emissions-based permits, real-time assessments, and digital payment and enforcement.

In delivering these solutions we have found effective collaboration to be the real key. Not only has this helped to overcome seemingly insurmountable procedural and operational obstacles; it has also created new opportunities to share data and insight to deliver practical, cost-effective and reliable solutions.

Recognising the need to leverage relevant expertise wherever it exists, we have found great benefit to working in partnership Siemens, whose camera systems are vital to enforcing CAZ implementation via automatic number plate recognition to assess vehicle movements and emissions.

A collaborative future

This collaborative approach is already proving of great value in providing progressive responses to both the specific requirements of CAZ as well as wider road tolling and smart mobility initiatives.

Indeed, it is helping our clients to find the right balance in all areas – from ‘on-the-ground’ enforcement and compliance with legislative demands right through to the real experiences of the urban public.

And as we move forwards together, this focus on collaboration to meet customer needs is a platform for not only tackling our current air quality concerns; but also for transforming every aspect of our communities. Together we will ensure that cities finally deliver on the Smart Cities promise.

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