Forget smart cities – think simple

No matter how smart you want your city to be, if you don’t concentrate on what people care about, you won’t be able to move forward.

In today’s society, there are plenty of incredible “smart” technologies on the horizon that feel like they have been lifted straight from a science fiction novel.

But at Grid Smarter Cities, we think that before embracing the technology of the future, we need to get the smaller stuff right first. If we focus on getting the things citizens actually need working harmoniously, that will provide the perfect foundation for thinking that all this might really be on the horizon.

Recently I watched a fantastic presentation of a drone delivering an iPad to a farmer in a field. Impressive? Yes. Commercially practical? Absolutely not.

Our cities are crying out for practical, common-sense solutions to real-world problems, so let’s come back to how we can make improvements with carrots rather than sticks, and how commerce and interactions take place that can benefit all the stakeholders.

What Grid Smarter Cities has done is look at how we “enable” the kerb space. The kerb space is the gateway to most commercial activity that takes place in any city.

With the world’s urban population set to grow by 2.5 billion by 2050, the way cities are managed from a delivery and servicing perspective will need addressing sooner rather than later.

This is where Grid enters the equation: a smart city ecosystem of smart but simple solutions, connecting communities and people with transport, parking, goods and services. It is about making everyone’s lives easier and making cities smarter, more efficient and inclusive.

Funded by a combination of private investment and contributions from InnovateUK, one of the applications Grid is developing is a kerbside management solution called, appropriately, Kerb.

In short, Kerb will revolutionise how cities manage their kerb space, allowing freight and commercial operators to book slots to load and unload rather than circling and competing for kerb space and causing entirely avoidable congestion.

We wouldn’t consider building an airport and allowing planes to land without a slot. We should therefore look at congested areas of cities in the same way, where the kerb space is dynamically managed through the use of a booking platform, enabling the authorities to offer permissions for commercial activities at times that least impact the network, helping the city to seamlessly transition from a chaotic free-for-all to a better managed approach.

This kerb space is a massive but finite piece of real estate that is badly managed – if it’s managed at all – in a holistic way. The chaos creates congestion, leading to pollution and air quality issues, reduced traffic speeds and frustration. Get it right and all the stakeholders win.

If we want to realise the potential of smart cities we need to watch the kerb.

Currently, smart city solutions seem to be “siloed” approaches rather than holistic ones that are being nurtured. There seems to be a lack of understanding that the kerb is one of the most under-used pieces of real-estate we have in our cities.

The commercial actors in any city circle the kerb, risking and accepting fines, ducking and diving to avoid penalties, and all competing for space that is restricted and limited. The congestion creates extra emissions that lead to poor air quality. Everyone is now quite rightly focusing on improving air quality and reducing congestion, and yet with simple technology and practical, intelligent management of the kerb space we can make serious and impactful inroads into achieving the marginal gains required by using the aforementioned carrot approach.

The authorities make available their kerb space at specific “hotspot” locations at times where permissions will have the least impact on traffic. Even though the amount of kerb space is finite, permission doesn’t have to be. Kerb enables the allowing of “permissions” when they are most acutely needed (in advance or in real-time) with previously approved protocols.

Local authorities are able to nudge behaviour through incentivisation and charging. A clean-air zone, for example, would be able to create differential charging with pricing preference for zero-carbon or low-carbon vehicles without having to resort to massive infrastructure costs.

By dynamically using the kerb space, what is used as a courier bay in the afternoon could become a taxi rank in the evening.

Kerb is ready to go live in a number of London locations and provincial cities and a number of commercial freight operators are in a similarly advanced position.

In conclusion and to reiterate, if you want to see how cities become smart, watch the kerb.


You can find Grid at @gridsmartercity on Twitter, or gridsmartercities.com.

More information on Kerb can be found at kerbuk.com.