ULI Tech Conference – 4th Revolution

Curious to know what London will look like in 2020?  Delegates at the recent ULI Tech Conference found the answer in startling resolution.

Data is the buzzword of the industry and everyone from start-ups to corporates are scrambling to harness it.  But what difference does the potential for connectivity and digitisation of our urban environment make to what, why and how we develop our cities?

Author: Alex Jezeph, JLL with input from Freddie Daley, Blackstock


Tim Stonor from Space Syntax opened the conference discussing the tools required to develop ‘Smart Cities’.  He observed that our access to data has dramatically increased but that the real power of data depends upon how we utilise it.  Space Syntax employ data to map the ‘invisible’ connectivity of the city and are of the view that the design of the street is far more significant than the design of individual buildings, when it comes to the future resilience of cities.  Tim illustrated this point by overlaying data maps showing for example how pedestrian hot-spots correlate with maps of property value hot-spots.  The degree of synergy between these, and the other examples he gave, was striking.  They use this data to predict the impact of new developments in an area with the aim of boosting ‘returns’ which range from increased land values to better street safety.

Tim described data as the ‘third axis of analysis’ for the Smart City – the first and second axis, comprising the traditional time and space dimension.  He argued that this third axis offers the opportunity to develop our cities more holistically and ultimately deliver better, more sustainable socio-economic outcomes for our urban environment.


As the conference progressed, a practical example of the power of data was offered by Dr. Larissa Romualdo-Suzuki of the GLA.  Dr Romualdo-Suzuki discussed the Live London Infrastructure Map, a mapping project that shows planned and projected development across London.  Its aim is to improve London’s infrastructure and simultaneously map growth patterns across the city.  It is interactive, with an ‘alert’ feature which notifies interested stakeholders of development activity in a particular location.  There are efficiencies and practical advantages to be gained from this.  For example, service providers can co-ordinate their activities to limit the number of occasions a road needs to be dug up – something surely to be welcomed by all.

However, it became clear during the course of the conference, that this and other technology projects face a crucial challenge, namely convincing stakeholders to share data openly.  Collaboration determines the success or failure of projects and the London Live map is a great example of how co-operation can deliver a ‘win-win’ for all parties.  But it has been hard fought.  The challenge of changing mindsets is a big hurdle for the real estate sector.  An audience poll showed that some areas of tech-adoption are still very low [see tech adoption below*] and as Scott Cain from Future Cities Catapult later pointed out, the only sectors behind real estate in terms of digitisation, are hunting and agriculture.  Room for progress then.

Tech Adoption in Real Estate (views from 110+ attendees)

  • 3D Printing <3%
  • AR/VR 5%
  • Drones 10%


How does this change happen though?  Well the success (and failure) of existing start-ups in the sector already demonstrate that engagement and collaboration between new entities and existing industry players is essential.  There are established synergistic relationships between large corporates, and small benchmarking and data companies, and this data is the lifeblood for some of these organisations.  But the positive outcomes from collaboration extend beyond the success of the parties involved; the ‘power of partnerships’ became a recurring theme in the conference with Malmo offering an excellent case study.

Malmo in Sweden is a textbook sustainable city with a masterplan which integrates an ambitious target to utilise 100% locally renewable energy into the City’s growth strategy.  Pioneered by E.ON and the city, the scheme is successful because local government is working closely and collaboratively with industry and residents to deliver urban power, heating and cooling efficiencies.  Petter Renberg of E.on described this sustainable city as a series of ‘shared-wins’ for the City’s authorities, the energy companies and the citizens.

Stockholm is following a similar path to integration of energy and digital infrastructure as Erik Rylander of Fortum shared. Erik highlighted how digital infrastructure such as data centres should be seen as integrated part of the city to create value across the digital, asset and environmental aspects of a city. Both Petter and Erik emphasised that by enabling eco-system thinking across a city provides greater value via increased connectivity and allowing digitisation to create more sustainable cities.


When it comes to knowing what London will look like in 2020, the ultimate view of our future Capital was provided by Vucity.  Vucity has created a high-resolution 3D model of the entire City which can be overlaid with a variety of city and environmental data, ranging from flood zones, to the Mayor’s protected views.  It shows the existing cityscape, but significantly the current and proposed developments too.  So a proposed tall building may appear as an outlier to the City’s established tall building cluster today, but place it in the context of everything else that is permitted for 2020 and it might look perfectly at home.


Why does all of this matter?  As Tim Stonar identified at the outset of the conference, the three requirements of a smart city are to look good, last long and work well.  However, the need for these three components is not new; durability, utility and beauty (Firmitas, Utilitas et Venustas) were observed as crucial to good development by Roman architect Vitruvius as long ago as 15 B.C.   So, whilst the ambition to create a successful urban environment is not new, the means are increasingly advanced and dynamic – as demonstrated by Vucity and other digital technologies profiled during the Conference.  But data, design and technology are not enough; smart cities also depend upon vision, financial support and leadership for their success.  As the pace of change in our urban environment accelerates, data is a powerful resource, but it is the quality of our partnerships, collaboration and joined-up thinking which will define our city of the future.

Speaker Presentations  (click on the titles following each name)

Tim Stonor, Space Syntax – The Digital City

Larissa Suzuki, Greater London Authority – Integrated Data – London Infrastructure Mapping Application

Petter Renberg, E.ON – The Integrated city of Malmö

Jason Hawthorne, Wagstaff – Visualising the City – VUCITY

Erik Rylander, Fortum – Integration of Data Centres in the City

Benjamin Kott, EnergDeck – Running Buildings Better


Tech Conference Photos can be viewed by clicking on the below image

ULI Tech Conference 2017, Ashurst, 20th June 2017, London

ULI Tech Conference 2017, Ashurst, 20th June 2017, London

Author: Alex Jezeph, JLL with input from Freddie Daley, Blackstock

Further news: Property Week – Liz Waller, ULI Executive Director

A special thank you to our conference host, Ashurst, sponsors E.ON and VTS and supporting partner The Academy of Urbanism

ashurstx200      eon-logo-200      logo_vts_200



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