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Diversifying our spaces for stronger communities

By Phil Benson, Co-Founder & North and Midlands lead at UKBlackTech

Innovation cannot exist without diversity. As cities and urban areas look to build stronger, more sustainable communities, we must prepare plans that are suitable for every citizen. Local authorities and partners must dedicate time to consider what citizens need from their environment, designing smart cities with inclusivity in mind and thinking of the barriers that individuals could face. 

Looking back at buildings from the last century, it’s clear they were built to last. We must adopt this same view now, making informed predictions and choices that are clear in what they want to achieve in the long-term – ready to adapt and evolve.

Teaming up 

At UKBlackTech, we work towards innovating the UK through a technology ecosystem that is as diverse as possible. We believe that representation – meaning a wealth of insight– can maximise innovation and ensure the best outcomes for digital transformation. However, collaboration is key. Our partnership with IoT and smart cities provider Connexin is helping us further the mission to support diversity, tackle socio-economic problems and create opportunities in the Yorkshire region.

From sensors to apps, smart tech is elevating living and visiting UK cities. For many, it is easier than ever to live better thanks to such advancements. Yet, barriers remain which could be taken down with the implementation of smart technologies. This is especially apparent in urban areas where many are facing socio-economic and environmental issues, such as pollution and traffic management. In such circumstances, there must be different ways to combat this, so that every citizen feels the benefit.

Local authorities must look to local vendors to guide them in their smart city projects, providing the specialist insight to develop a holistic plan. Not only will it encourage councils to create more accessible cities, but it will help develop a more diverse, innovative supply chain. Local organisations, as well as government, have the tools to reach communities and promote decisions best for them.

Rapid developments in how we live

Rapid developments in technology surround us, from smart benches to self-service checkouts. The speed at which we are developing technology is creating a civilisation more efficient, and hopefully, happier and healthier.

However, technology has potential problems which could slow us down. As tech leaders and innovators, it is our responsibility to mitigate any possible unintended consequences. For example, there is the potential of facial recognition failing to recognise someone who uses the technology to clock into work, therefore preventing them from commencing their shift and penalising their income. An even more serious case would be the tech failing to recognise the correct person who committed a crime, instead working against an innocent person by misidentifying them as the culprit. 

The possibilities of innovating spaces can cause us to lose sight of what could go wrong for some citizens but we can’t be complacent. When developing cutting-edge technology, the risks must remain at the forefront. 

The citizens hold the answers

Whilst vendor relationships are essential to smart cities, communities shouldn’t be overlooked. Smart cities need participation to thrive, and the feedback of citizens will help prevent wasted effort or negative consequences.

Feedback must contain voices that represent the community. This means diverse voices presenting many life experiences and priorities to form an inclusive outlook for decision planning. 

Accessibility plays a key role in building smart cities. In the UK, there are currently 14.1 million disabled people – with more than one in five to be affected by disability in their lives at some point. Improving the standard of services and products must involve equity so everyone experiences the outcomes. How can we adapt technology to be as accessible as possible? What are the main struggles disabled people are facing with the current design of their cities? 

Engage everyone in the smart city revolution 

Involving the community in transformation can pledge greater trust around data collection. In a topic often met with skepticism, a dialogue can help citizens understand why their data is being collected and how it is being used to benefit their lives. 

As an innovation consultancy, we research the UK technology landscape across sectors and applications. This means ensuring all skills are harnessed to foster home grown talent and encourage the next generation to embark on technology roles. We need to illustrate why young people, especially those from minority groups, should join us in creating a technologically mature society that benefits them. Through research, we can, and will, implement our findings into action that is transparent and representative.

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