Tag Archives: sustainability

Migration: the issue that goes away and doesn’t come back

4 Jun

Migration issues are rarely far below the surface in the current neverendum debate. Overcrowding is cited as an inevitable consequence of the migrant influx but no one questions the underlying causes of congestion.

Beautiful country area with small town and brightly colored fields

To what extent are overcrowded cities and the pressures on services and infrastructure the result of our own homegrown policies over which we have complete control?

Parag Khanna in his new book ‘Connectography[1]’ observes the growth of megacities – increasingly coastal megacities – and, like the UK’s Centre for Cities and the RSA’s City Growth Commission, regards that growth as inevitable – a long-term trend towards the supposed richness of culture and economic efficiencies of scale.  The drift within England from North to South and the consequential pressure on London and the South East has at least been recognized as in need of remediation – hence the Northern Powerhouse concept – but the remedy proposes further growth of great cities from Manchester to Newcastle via Leeds, and HS3 must go to the back of queue behind HS 2 nowhere near as important. The 2007 Treasury White Paper on subnational growth pointed in sensible directions but fell amongst the chaos of global economic calamity (and bonkers bankers) in subsequent years.

But what if our smaller towns and communities in the vastly greater hinterland were better enabled to be economically thriving without driving their citizens away to distant cities never to return? While we bemoan the pressure of overcrowded capitals do we spare any thought for the depopulation of vast tracts of land and market towns or the demands on road and rail travel for commuters who cannot find work near home?

This is our internal migration issue, the imbalance of rural and urban economies. It affects many countries – which is why you can buy a second home for next to nothing in rural Northern Spain or the middle of France. We read of massive effort and creativity being poured into solving the challenges of making megacities habitable. That’s no bad thing but let’s not kid ourselves; we choose to huddle together. That internal migration towards ever-more complex cities (mostly internally-displaced economic migrants) far exceeds any issue of a few hundred thousand refugees arriving from elsewhere.

Local Authorities can and should rise to the challenge. They may not have mayors like megacities have mayors but they surely know what is needed to bring the children (and jobs for the children) home. They understand the consequences of neglect.  It is time for Municipal Enterprise.  The issue that went away but now needs to come back requires a multi-year round of rural renewal.  The investment will pay dividends – not least in the greater resilience of cities!

Discuss.

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[1] Connectography: Mapping the Global Network Revolution, Parag Khanna, pub: Weindenfeld & Nicolson, 2016, ISBN 978-1-474-80423-9

 

 

Rural Prospects in Digitally-Enabled Economy

29 May

A theme paper for an Environment Management conference in Delhi has sparked debate about the underlying assumptions.

Beautiful country area with small town and brightly colored fields

The paper characterises city dwellers as materially rich compared to rural citizens described as ‘poor’ – but then considers the prospects for lifestyle values that would position rural citizens as environmentally rich and city dwellers as increasingly impoverished.

The author’s intent is clear – to challenge delegates with a potential reversal of fortunes – but the problems with these characterisations are two-fold.

Firstly, we are well aware of material deprivations in cities, towns and villages across the land – economic inequalities cannot be fully correlated geographically.  There is no doubt, for example, that rural areas may have a raw deal in terms of transport and digital infrastructures but it is, at the same time, far from realistic to assume that city-zens are much better served.  If you really want a life off-grid then 1 mile downstream from Tower Bridge in SE16 may be just the digital desert you desire.

Secondly, it is mistaken to assume that rural citizens value being less connected.  Some may well luxuriate in leafy glades surrounded by natural wonders and wildlife but making a living, having and creating gainful employment, being able to access medical care and education, and contributing to wider society are not absent from non-urban family agendas.

The key to reconciliation between different environments lies in the priorities given to issues of resilience.  You might imagine that cities need, for example, stronger environmental efforts and rural areas need better digital infrastructures – but those are a generalisations; policies based on averages are ‘merely average’ and, generally, unfit for purpose.

Places and peoples are different and have diverse needs.  The presumed-to-be unstoppable tidal flow of humanity towards major conurbations is as much in need of thoughtful management as migrations between countries.  The leadership effort surely needs to be directed towards ironing out the relative risks and inequalities that prompt these migrations.  Leaving them to grow and fester will surely only fuel future problems.

 

Sparks of Creativity as Energy and Digital Futures Collide

26 Feb

Digital technologies consume way too much energy and present an environmental and sustainability issue that demands a fresh design approach

Very few commentators link Energy and Digital policy topics. Even fewer policy developers understand how they are intertwined.

Each policy is on a single track but heading towards each other. Both engines of the economy urgently need collision avoidance. Knocking heads together now can circumvent an even greater mess.

Only now are the full consequences of strategic decisions made in separate silos decades ago becoming clear. Attributing blame and short-term attitudes for current and future shortcomings is, alas, too easy.   It doesn’t add up to a plan of where we go from here but first there’s a need for everyone to understand that we have a problem.

Basically the Internet will not scale – meaning that as demand increases, digital infrastructure performance will suffer and energy supply will become more fragile.

Regardless of which growth forecast you believe – and most insiders bet on a doubling of devices over the next decade – without radical overhaul, the predominant current and planned digital access technologies (how you get connected) will consume way too much energy. It is an environmental/sustainability issue that demands a fresh design approach to ensure resilience of these basic utilities.

The solutions are twofold – generate vastly more electricity or waste far less of it on inefficient forms of digital connectivity. No one is suggesting that we put the entire economy into hibernation.

The first option – generate vastly more – is decidedly unattractive and hugely risky in terms of the UK’s energy supply security. But current efforts to reduce demand need rethinking.

The second option – boost connection capacity but at the same time use far less energy – is technologically possible but demands a complete rethink by dominant suppliers – whether they are in fixed line or mobile markets or both.

Digital Management

It is simply not possible to envisage future energy sufficiency (Ref 1) to push signals down copper cables or send mobile signals over great distances – like more than 200 metres – given the sort of high frequency spectrum that is now available.

All mobile services are themselves ultimately dependent on fixed line connectivity to route to and from the wider Internet. Moreover, the implications of using higher frequency radio spectrum are that the much-vaunted low-power 5G designs will be dependent on fibre connections from millions of locations and will look like Wi-Fi on steroids – with demands way beyond the creaking copper connections of yester-year.

How many slightly overlapping 200 metre radius circles fit into the UK’s 65 million acres? That, of course, is a very hypothetical question – we live in a multi-channel landscape – but, as digital applications accelerate, the current lack of any mobile coverage on thousands of miles of UK roads illustrates the challenge.

Enthusiasts for maintaining use of legacy copper networks insist on pointing to technologies that seem to increase their capacity (if only in one direction) but these in turn exacerbate the energy challenges. Their application is misplaced. Sure, run fibre all the way to a building and then use the technology to push the signals a little way further inside the building – but even that local in-building distribution is inefficient compared to low power wireless technologies like WiFi.

Energy Management

At the same time, Energy Management systems have developed to render past infrastructures obsolescent. The top down view of energy – generators, the national grid, local distribution – is being turned on its head. Alternative energy sources – solar, wind, tidal, wave, ground heat pumps – are popping up all over the place.

Soon the complexity of managing demand will be further complicated by new local storage options. One thing that will not help lessen the load is the current and expensively failing UK Smart Meters project.

Collision Avoidance

So what if policy developers for both Energy and Digital better understood each other?

We don’t need to dwell on the past mistakes – but refocus minds on where they go from here.

For around the same investment cost as Smart Meters the Digital camp could reduce Energy demand by between 5-10% – depending on how quickly they buckle down to eliminating copper networks.  But, of course, much of that Smart Meter money has already been spent – some would say, wasted.

On the other hand the costs of fibre have been falling and the investment returns rising – a completely different investment scene to that prevailing 2 decades ago. The cost savings come from all aspects of network deployment.   That could easily be accelerated with liberalization of incumbents’ passive infrastructure – the ducts and poles,

And the net benefit of this silo-fusion?   Accelerated economic growth and greater energy supply security – massively faster connectivity and far fewer power failures.

If only it was that easy to knock government and industry heads together to avoid an unexpected collision. Maybe, in our newfound love of devolution, city mayors will be resolved to point out that the utility emperors are lacking decent underwear.

Brace, Brace.

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Notes/References

  1. Telecoms & Exponential Growth- Cochrane TJV8 Pt4  (PDF download)   Cochrane P, Telecoms and Exponential Growth, ITP Journal Vol. 8/4 Oct/Dec 2014 reproduced with permission of the Institute for Telecoms Professionals www.theitp.org

This article was first published by Computer Weekly 26/Feb/2015

 

Circular Economy – a natural evolution

30 Sep

Groupe Intellex logoMy blog for the RSA, ‘Circular Economy – let the market decide‘, was prompted by calls for some enabling legislation and stronger market regulation.  Great minds are devoting themselves to puzzling out just what that legislation might look like.

I suggest that the Circular Economy concept is part of a natural evolution and what is needed (if anything) is less disabling regulation – a clearing away of outmoded rules that can (and probably will) be used obstructively.

There may be a case for cautious consumer protection as we enter uncharted waters – but apart from nuanced nudges, long live the evolution!

 

 

2015 NextGen Digital Challenge Awards: Sharing Economy

27 Aug

 

This is the last in our series of blogs for each of the awards categories in the 2015 Digital challenge.   Earlier in the year the Open Call for nominations signaled that the Sharing Economy deserved to be recognized as a significant new category.

NGShortlisthi-resSo, in this final Awards Blog we are delighted to introduce contenders with a wide range of approaches to collaborative endeavours.

The Sharing Economy is all about better use of resources – enabling folks to utilize spare capacity, share talent and expertise, and help individuals and communities to work in greater harmony.

The digital connection is that these projects are often made possible by greater online engagement with systems and platforms to connect resources to needs – and those resources may range from intangibles like expertise and data to tangible assets like a redundant Hard disk Drive or the driveway to your house.

The six 2015 Shortlisted Finalists for our Sharing Economy Trophy are:

Fairsay with eCampaigning Forum – sharing the talent for debating skills and social action.

Just Park – Pre-Book Parking – utilizing the value of your home driveway.

MyNeighbourhood – the Smart City and Sharing Communities initiative in Birmingham

Circular Data Solutions – Large-scale 100% recycling of redundant Hard Disc Drives whilst ensuring that no stored data can be inadvertently recovered or misused and full compliance with Data Privacy legislation.

Roomlala – a flat and room-share platform new to the UK and very popular in student communities where the property rental market needs greater flexibility.

Made Open Monmouthshire from Monmouthshire County Council & Made Open Communications – creating the conditions for communities and businesses to raise challenges, start projects and play a part in tackling the challenges that impact their place.

Research suggests that the emergence of Sharing Economy is a significant step in the long transition towards a more sustainable ‘circular economy’ where resources are not wasted but are re-used or re-purposed – designed to be ‘made to be made again’.

The independent judging panel will review all the shortlisted contenders during September. The winner will be announced at a dinner in the House of Lords following the NextGen 15 event on November 5th.

For details of event sponsorship opportunities contact Marit Hendriks

( marith@nextgenevents.co.uk ) or call David Brunnen on +44 (0) 7714 325 657

 

 

 

Network Technologies & City Management: innovations in parallel

25 Jan

Following a week where Judith Rodin’s book The Resilience Dividend coincided with reports from ETSI on great progress in NFV standards development, it was perhaps inevitable that we’d find ourselves musing on their similarities.

Megan Wu - silicon cityscape

For Networks: getting our acts together we found that Megan Wu’s graphic captured a blend of cityscape and silicon.  Network technologists and Community builders –  different disciplines tackling much the same processes.

 

Lazarettos needed in Ebola-stricken lands

18 Oct

250px-Ithaki-VathySkippers sailing into Vathi – the deep natural harbour of Ithaca in the Ionian – nowadays steer well clear of the tiny square islet marked on the chart as Lazaretto, and those of us with larger yachts also know that a storage space at the stern is called the lazarrette.

In these times of Ebola, both references remind us that quarantined isolation has traditionally been the last defence against contagious diseases. The name derives from biblical references to Lazarus and the scourge of leprosy.   Another reminder will occur next week in Exeter.

The National Investiture of the Grand Priory of England and Wales – part of the Order of Saint Lazarus – takes place on Saturday 25th October in Exeter cathedral.

The Order of Saint Lazarus is one of the most ancient of the European orders of chivalry from the days of crusader knights but, with the exception of a brief period in the 17th century, it played no military role after 1291. From its foundation in the 12th century, the members of the Order were dedicated to two ideals: providing aid to those suffering from the dreadful disease of Leprosy, and defending the Christian faith.

The event in Exeter reminds us that Leprosy has still not been eliminated – a salutary thought as the world gears up to the challenges of Ebola – and the work goes on, not least in West Bengal amongst the elderly and children of affected families.

Even in Europe, in our lifetime, the Order of St Lazarus was the primary provider of medical and other aid to Eastern Europe and former Soviet Bloc CIS countries – delivering, for example, twice as much as then provided by the German Red Cross which ranked second in EU estimates.

Devotion to this cause is, of course, entirely voluntary and we’re delighted to report that one of our regular contributors will next week receive the Order’s Meritorious Service Medal.

This particular award is quite rare but Dr. Colin Coulson Thomas is well qualified having held one unpaid office or another continuously for 26 years. For 17 years his roles included being a Trustee of the St Lazarus Charitable Trust and he has also chaired the executive committee of the Grand Priory of England and Wales. More recently he has been leading the Order’s International Governance Initiative that is concerned with raising standards of corporate and public sector governance around the world, and particularly where corruption is endemic.

Groupe Intellex congratulates Colin on this recognition of his years of service and commends the Order for its continuing crusades in the 21st century.

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Notes:

Colin’s ongoing work on business governance is featured in our management editorials and will be discussed at the IOD (India) London Global Convention – 28th to 31st October, 2014.

Picture of Vathi courtesy of Wikimedia