Tamlyn Shimizu 00:00:06 Welcome to Smart in the City, the BABLE podcast, where we bring together top actors in the smart city arena, sparking dialogues and interactions around the stakeholders and themes most prevalent for today's citizens and tomorrow's generations. I am your host, Hamlin Shami, and I hope that you'll enjoy this episode and gain knowledge and connections to drive the change for a better urban life. Smart in the city is brought to you by BABLE Smart Cities. We enable processes from research and strategy development to co-creation and implementation. To learn more about us, please visit the BABLE [email protected]
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:00:45 So today, um, yeah, get ready for a, a trip across a pond to the uk, um, where we are learning all about the landscape of the UK on a local national level. Um, and I won't leave you really guessing any longer who the guest is, but it's one of the best people that we know to talk about the uk. Um, he's the director of Core Cities uk. So please give a very warm welcome to Steven Jones. Welcome onto the show, Steven.
Stephen Jones 00:01:10 Thanks very much for having me. I'm looking forward to chatting. Yeah,
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:01:13 It it's really a pleasure. So, um, so just to, just to get warmed up, we always start off with a little bit of a teaser question. Um, and I was just, you know, I, I was just thinking there's so many stereotypical things, British things, and I'm just wondering what's the most stereotypical British thing you've ever done?
Stephen Jones 00:01:32 Oh, uh, oh,
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:01:35 Wow. Have you q are are you a queue lover?
Stephen Jones 00:01:38 I am a Q lover, though I didn't, I didn't join the queue to see the Queen, which is probably the most stereotypical British thing, uh, a lot of people have done within the last 12 months. Uh, I, you know, probably eating fish and chips in a car in the rain at the seaside. That's, that's quite a British thing.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:01:55 That's very, that sounds very British. Yes. Yeah. Um, so I, I want to get a little bit more into your background. Besides eating fish and chips in the rain. Um, can you, can you tell us a little bit about your background, where you came from? I know you were working on also on the national level before working for Core Cities. Can you tell us a bit about, um, your whole journey and what led you to Core Cities?
Stephen Jones 00:02:18 Yeah, sure. So, uh, so I grew up in a town called whi, which is about 15 miles outside of Liverpool, uh, in the Northwest. Uh, and then sort of from there went to university after university, I started working in the UK civil service, uh, as an economist, uh, principally in terms of my professional background, uh, and found, I then did that for nearly 20 years, uh, moving between different central government departments, spending a bit of time, uh, in the central department, the cabin office, the treasury, as well as, uh, quite a lot of time in what is effectively the department. Uh, it's name has changed multiple times in those, in that years. But the department was responsible for local government, for regeneration, urban policy, et cetera. And, and, uh, most recently I was the director of what was called the Cities and Local Growth Unit.
Stephen Jones 00:03:15 So I had responsible for, uh, responsibility for city policy, uh, urban policy regeneration, uh, what was, what the UK Political Classic are calling leveling up, uh, at the moment was my, uh, was my responsibility. I sort of did that until, uh, what sort of October last year, so just over six months ago when I, when I sort of moved from central government to local government to join Core Cities uk. And I sort of described it a little bit as sort of putting my mouth where my money has been. Uh, and one of the natures of the uk, uh, sort of constitutional position is the centralization of, uh, policy and power over many aspects that when you look in other countries are devolved to local government. And I'm a sort of great believer in evolution, decentralization, local control. And, and so I saw having kind of sat on one side of that table going, having a chance to work with the 11 big city councils outside of London and, and really advocate for them and push collectively for what we can do more, uh, was a great opportunity.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:04:27 Yeah, absolutely. Really interesting journey. And so, um, maybe to tell our listeners also, like what is Core Cities? You, you alluded to the fact that you work with the big city, uh, big cities in the uk. Um, what do you do and why is it important?
Stephen Jones 00:04:41 Yeah, so, so Core Cities is, is sort of a local government organization. Uh, and we bring together the, uh, 11, uh, big city councils, uh, outside of London. Uh, uh, I won't list them now though. Happy to, if, if, if, if your listers will be interested. Uh, will
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:05:01 You forget one of them though, <laugh>? No,
Stephen Jones 00:05:03 No. I'm, I'm pretty good. I'm pretty good at doing it, you know, it's, it's quite, it's quite dangerous if you, if you, if you have 11 things to list and you, you, you forget, you forget who the goalkeeper is. Offend
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:05:12 One of them.
Stephen Jones 00:05:13 <laugh>. Yeah, indeed. Uh, so, uh, but the, we, we, I think there are two things we try and do, one of which is learning from each other. So we c we get together as the le the political leaders, the chief execs, the sort of directors of different services, and, and sort of, is there something interesting that Newcastle is doing that Bristol can learn from? Is there something that, uh, Cardiff is doing in a Welsh context that is useful for the English cities to learn from those kind of, uh, sort of, uh, support and and development. And then secondly, it's trying to collectively speak for the voice of cities on the national stage, whether that's with central government, whether that's with sort of, uh, sector groups, organizations, businesses, uh, think tanks, uh, academia to really kind of try and, uh, make the case for why our cities are so important, what they're, uh, what they need to succeed, what we are doing, uh, where, where we need support from others.
Stephen Jones 00:06:23 Uh, and, and that's something that is hugely important. I think the other thing that increasingly is important is that role that we are trying to play on the international stage. Uh, and I think particularly post Brexit, a recognition of a need to use all different sort of links and relationships globally, not just sort of nation state to nation state and, uh, through things like, uh, sort of relationship with Euro cities, uh, and with other city networks in other cities in Europe or more recently, uh, and quite sort of relevant in the moment. I work with what's called the Urban Seven, which is the kind of group of city networks for the Seven Nations Rece represented by the G seven is a good chance to have those dialogues and recognize that, you know, what are we doing to transition to net zero? Is is something that, that cities across the world are talking about. How do you integrate migrants, uh, who are moving again? Is it, is it an issue facing all cities? And and it's, it's those kind of dimensions that, uh, we see, we see real value in.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:07:33 Yeah, really interesting work, and I think it parallels a lot with, with what we try to do also with the podcast, of course, is like getting these lessons learned out. Um, so, so that's really, really nice, uh, connections there. So what do you think, you mentioned this, you know, connections between UK cities and, and European cities and these networks. What do you think are the differences between the cities in the UK and what do you think are the most, I, I guess, the most unique challenges that the UK cities face in comparison to, uh, European cities?
Stephen Jones 00:08:06 So I think there are probably two things I would highlight. Uh, firstly, the kind of, and I sort of alluded to this a bit earlier, the, the sort of roles, responsibilities, powers, levers that UK local government within the UK has, are a lot more limited than they exist in many other countries. There is a sort of, you know, very well used statement in most sort of publications around on this subject in the uk that we are one of the most centralized countries in in the O E C D. And, and that's very true. And so when you think about, uh, if you are the mayor or leader of a city in the UK compared to an equivalent sized city in France or Germany or Italy or Spain or any of the other European countries, what, what, what responsibilities that you have, what revenue raising powers you have, what, uh, services you're responsible for is, is much more limited.
Stephen Jones 00:09:04 And, and so that, that creates a different challenge. It makes it harder, is why we are advocating for more devolution to the local level, but also it puts a real emphasis on the importance of that relationship between local leaders and the national government. Uh, and, and the sort of power balance in that conversation isn't, isn't as kind of even as we think it should be, and isn't what we see in other European nations. I think the other thing that is sort of different, and it's a sort of peculiar thing about the UK is economically our, our cities are underpowered. Uh, I think, uh, the, it's is own aside from London of our major big cities, it's only Bristol, uh, and, you know, marginally Cardiff, Edinburgh that actually are sort of above the UK average in terms of their economic productivity. Uh, that's quite different to most other countries.
Stephen Jones 00:09:59 You know, the cities are the kind of in, in theory, at least the drivers of economic growth. It's where the innovation happens. It's where the large businesses are located, it's where the act, the sort of, the kind of activity should be at its strongest. And our sort of cities in the UK are kind of underperforming and underpowered, and it's something that we, we want to understand why is that, why that's the case, what we can do about it, and how do we kind of accelerate that change? And, and in recent years, we have seen some progress. You know, the growth in cities like Manchester and Le and Birmingham is, is kind of really encouraging, but, but it's kind of catching up, uh, a sort of history and a legacy of de industrialization that we need to keep going and go further and really, really sort of back our cities going forward.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:10:48 Yeah. And how does that speak, because of course this is a smart city podcast, or as you like to say in the UK smart places. Um, but how does that speak to the, the smart readiness of the cities in the uk? Um, can you discuss a bit here, like the key factors and strategies that go into this and how you see that in the landscape of the uk?
Stephen Jones 00:11:07 So I think, I think we are, we're probably behind the curve, I would say, in terms of our smart readiness. Certainly if, if you compare us to some of the, you know, kind of newer cities in, in Asia, Latin America, uh, sort of wa sort of across the whole of the globe, uh, partly, you know, our, our infrastructure in our cities is, is old, you know, our city, our cities are by their nature, they've been there for a long time. They, they grew heavily enjoying the industrial evolution. And, and actually many of the sort of key networks that, that underpin the cities haven't changed dramatically in, in a hundred plus years. And so ensuring that they are kind of, they are smart in a way that represents different mobility and transport uses the efficiency of our building stock in terms of its, uh, whether it's its energy efficiency or its, uh, kind of technology readiness is, is sort of behind the curve.
Stephen Jones 00:12:10 Thinking about sort of how we sort of, how we use our spaces, how we sort of design A lot of it is regener, regenerative retrofitting sort of, rather than, you know, blanket sheets of paper. We're not, we're not sitting there creating a kind of Maya long city in the desert. Uh, and, uh, and so obviously even more than a mile long theory <laugh>. And, and, but, so I think that creates a different type of challenge in terms of ensuring that we are, we are ready. I think, I think what, what I would say though is the, there is still innovation and, and still a real willingness and an opportunity to try and bring forward new ideas, new approaches, uh, and, and if we can get it right in, in sort of UK cities, there is an applicability elsewhere that we, we, we should, we should look to
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:13:04 What are the key.
Stephen Jones 00:13:06 Yeah,
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:13:06 Absolutely. Uh, what are, what are those key key steps? So you see a willingness and there's progress. What is the push? Is it, um, you know, investment? Is it this, uh, focus more on going from national government more to the cities and giving more power back to the cities? What do you think are the, those key next steps to, to really get that accelerated?
Stephen Jones 00:13:29 So, so I think it is definitely the things you've, you've said, I think I would say, uh, firstly, you know, you need to, you need to create the right environment where that innovation happens, where, you know, whether it's in research institutes, universities in businesses, uh, create the opportunity for kind of collaborative identifying what the challenges are and coming forward with solutions and opportunities to, to kind of, so you need that sort of, kind of innovative environment and that encouragement of, uh, coming forward with the ideas. I think, I think you then definitely need an, a kind of the investment, uh, both public and private and recognizing that those need to be balanced and the risk needs to be properly, uh, shared at different, at different stages of that journey of implementing those innovations. At times, the public money will need to be there upfront to, to kind of create a market that doesn't exist.
Stephen Jones 00:14:34 But you will, you will want to kind of, when you wanna scale that up, you will want the private sector to come, come forward rather than keep that on, on the public balance sheet. I think the, the other sort of driver is, is kind of a need to sort of engage with communities and to kind of get the, uh, which I think is best done by local leaders and, and in and out on the ground rather than top down. I think often when, when we're talking about introducing new innovations, new technology, new approaches, you're asking people to change how they live their lives or what they do. You know, take a different mode of transport, heat their homes differently, kind of use a, use a new technology that they're unaware of and, uh, maybe a bit nervous about. And so how you build that buy-in, you need to create the kind of a, a kind of community around around that to sort of, to see the opportunity to not fear the, the unknown. And I think that that sort of is something that is critical really, cuz particularly, you know, the danger of a good idea gets, gets kind of criticized and then jumped on and suddenly everyone fear fears it, and, and it, it sort of, you know, doesn't get off the ground as a, as a concept because, because people believe it's gonna do something that it's not going to do. I think it's a real, yeah, I important thing.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:16:02 I'm a big believer in mitigating fear, of course, with, uh, very, very well thought out and planned communications of course as well. So, um, but that's my <laugh> bias in, in the communications field. So, um, we're talking a lot about, you know, smart readiness and all of this. Of course, this leads into the big net zero discussion also, right? So, um, it's 27 years until 2050 clock is ticking. Um, what are cities doing in the UK to prepare for this, and what do they, uh, is it the same steps that you just outlined to for the smart readiness or are there, you know, also extensions upon that to really get to that net zero targets?
Stephen Jones 00:16:45 So, so I think it's similar, but I think mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I think the scale of the challenge and the scale of the, the need is, is sort of, you know, dramatic and therefore there's more, there is more urgency around, around this debate. Uh, and, you know, there's an element on the kind of smart readiness. Is it kind of nice to have, uh, on some aspects, you know, is it about making people's quality of life just slightly improved? I think on the net zero side, it's, it's not a nice to have, it's a must have. And I think that that sort of changes the, the nature of, uh, the sort of the debate around it. But in terms of what, what are we doing? So one of the things we as core cities are, uh, pushing quite hard along with, uh, London Councils, who is a similar group representing the, the London borrowers is, uh, we're, we are working with what's called the connected Places catapults on an initiative that, that's called the three ci, the, uh, city's, uh, commission for Climate Investment.
Stephen Jones 00:17:45 And I think what, what in that we are trying to do is recognizing that to make the, the, the transition to net zero, you need a whole place solution. It's not just about tr changing kind of, uh, vehicles to electric vehicles. It's not just about, uh, installing new kind of, uh, clean boilers in homes. It's not just about, uh, moving to more renewable el electricity. It's, it's all of those things and more. And, and to do that kind of planning and to do that implementation, it is easier to do it by picking a place and looking at what all those interventions, interventions are collectively, rather than trying to have an approach that is focused on a particular technology rollout and trying to target individual customers or individual households, you end up having that, those situations that are, you know, deeply infuriating where you walk down a street with a load of south facing roofs and sort of two of them have installed solar on their roofs and five of them haven't, and you're like, you know, what's, surely there would've been a better argument to basically install something at, in one go across that whole run of Terra houses.
Stephen Jones 00:19:01 It's, it's in, it's that kind of kind of community planning and community design of solutions where, uh, I think we think there's real potential. And so quite a lot of the work we are doing as cities with both individually in our 11 cities, but also learning from each other, is working about what does, what does the, what does this engineering solution need to look like? What are the technologies that we need to in install? What are the sort of switches and transitions we need on mobility, on heating, on, uh, energy generation, but also then how are we gonna finance that, uh, and to recognize that, to make that transition, we can't do it on public investment alone. We will need to leverage in significant private investment. And the encouragement con encouraging thing is the private investment community, the city wants to get into this space.
Stephen Jones 00:19:52 They see, they see the, the direction of travel, they recognize, uh, they recognize it from a financials point of view as well as from a kind of, uh, you know, doing good moral position. And so, uh, it's about how do you create the right sort of, again, that, this goes back to my point, what's the right balance of public and private funding? What's the right risk sharing? How, what's the right delivery vehicles that you can, you can design to make sure that you do create that, uh, that sort of collective endeavor to, to install the right technological solution at scale?
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:20:30 This is actually, uh, I just got off a meeting right before this with our partners, and we're actually working on this topic together in a project on public and private. So we've been experts in, in accessing public mechanisms, uh, for, for many years now. And we're actually, you know, really looking at this in the future with, with, uh, a project moving forward on, on balancing this, this funding from the public and private sector. So really, really, uh, interesting topics there. Um, are you, uh, are you able to give some examples, like very practical examples, like projects that are happening in some of your core cities right now of either like smart readiness or climate, um, adaptive type projects?
Stephen Jones 00:21:10 Yeah, let, let, uh, definitely let me, let me do two. I'll do one on one on each. So, uh, on the, uh, smart on the climate side, the, there is a recent, uh, in Bristol, uh, there is a project that's recently been launched, uh, called the City Leap, uh, which is, is looking to transform with, you know, billions of pounds and investment in that net zero transition. And, and the model is, uh, exactly the, in the way we've described that balance between what, what does the public sector, what does the, uh, public state bring to the table, and where do you need the private investment? And, and it's sort of utilizing, uh, firstly it's utilizing the fact that within Bristol there is a lot of, uh, assets owned by the local council. So they own a lot of housing stock, uh, and a lot of building stock that that needs to make, needs to be transitioned, retrofitted, made more energy efficient.
Stephen Jones 00:22:21 Uh, the, it's not possible to make that transition on the, uh, on the kind of public balance sheet on Brist with Bristol's own finances. But they've, they've agreed a, uh, sort of a kind of strategic partnership and a joint venture with, with an energy investor to, to kind of install the right measures, both sort of at a district level, so a big kind of district heating network and the individual household. And, and it took, you know, three, four years to kind of come up with the right governance mechanism around this and the right finance mechanism around this to make sure that those balances were, were shared. But, but it's kind of, it's going now and we're, we're sort of seeing the, the fruits of that, that endeavor and that investment upfront to, to design the right scheme that is now starting to roll out significant investment in infrastructure.
Stephen Jones 00:23:17 On the smart cities side, it's more, there's more kind of, uh, in kind of piloting and investigating different opportunities. The one that I'm most, uh, I think is most interesting is quite recently in Newcastle. Uh, there's those, uh, work was done between the city council, the schools and the university. And there was a, uh, center up in Newcastle National Center for Data that has a huge ability recognizing the sort of, the sort of power of big data in solving public problems. Uh, and what they, they sort of did as a, as a trial is they attached, uh, air pollution sensors to the school bags of all of their primary school children for a period of, I think it was a month, but it, it, I'm not sure exactly, but, and they just monitored the air pollution on a sort of GPS route of every child going to and from school, uh, and then mapped that against the kind of the road layout and network of Newcastle City.
Stephen Jones 00:24:28 Uh, and they could, they could identify from that data, they got sort of hotspot areas of high air pollution at 8:00 AM in the morning. That, and, and, and so that allowed them then to come up with solutions. Some of it was talking to the parents saying, if you go this route, not that route, then then your child is exposed to X percent less air pollutants in the morning. Equally, I think they looked at can they change traffic lighting, uh, sequences? Can they think about, uh, traffic calming measures? Can they think about other me just to sort of, not to reduce necessarily the transport, but to reroute the transport away from some of those, uh, route that people were using. And so it's about thinking about fairly simple. It's probably not very simple at all. It's very complicated technology, but, but, but kind of using a mixture of data sense sensor technology, uh, kind of small, uh, kind of internet of things type act, just to be able to kind of bring that together to think, well, what are actually things we can do with this to improve people's lives, uh, rather than, you know, just doing it purely for making your your latest app more efficient.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:25:43 Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Really, really interesting use cases. Thanks for sharing that. I have one more question to ask you, um, and then I will give you the open floor. So, um, what do you think after Brexit now, um, <laugh> are UK cities doomed, um, a bit in, in strengthening these international relationships? Uh, how do you, how do you see the, the future moving forward?
Stephen Jones 00:26:08 I, yeah, I'm, I I'm an inherent optimist, so
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:26:11 <laugh> Okay, good.
Stephen Jones 00:26:13 So I, I certainly wouldn't, wouldn't think it is not
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:26:15 Our doom and gloom
Stephen Jones 00:26:17 <laugh>. I wouldn't think it is doomed. I think, you know, I think there is a challenge, uh, and the, the kind of the disruption, uh, to trade and to sort of global flows that Brexit Brexit's cause is challenging for our cities that want to be open and, uh, compete on, on the international stage. And certainly if, you know, if you look at the, if you look at the breakdown of the EU exit referendum, the kind of, the sort of lee vote to the remain vote looks very different in our UK cities than it did at, you know, in our rural areas or the UK as a whole. And so there is definitely a, you know, there's a different attitudinal approach within our cities than there is in the UK as a whole. I think the, I think notwithstanding all of that, I think there is, you know, there are still huge, uh, opportunities and advantages of UK cities.
Stephen Jones 00:27:20 You know, we have located within our cities, some of the best universities in the world, uh, and some of the kind of greatest research, uh, strengths, uh, we have, you know, real cultural assets and kind of, you know, brand recognition for one of a better, for wants of a better word, pe pe you know, I can say I come from near Liverpool and people know where that is, uh, just because of football, but football, football and the Beatles. But, but you know, football and the Beatles are important. Yeah. And, uh, uh, and so that kind of, uh, you know, that history, you know, it brings a legacy in terms of our cities are probably a bit outdated, but it, it also brings a richness, uh, and recognition, uh, and that sort of is important in diplomatic. And, you know, if, if you look at how many of UK cities are, are sort twined with cities around the world, there is real depth of, uh, interconnectedness.
Stephen Jones 00:28:20 And, and that comes also just in, you know, family relationships, migration, you know, uh, people living in cities and, uh, who are, have connections around the world. I think, I think the other thi dimension then is just kind of in general, I, you know, I think cities will, will be the driving force of global economics, uh, in the next century. You know, the, the world is urbanizing, uh, and, and so our cities are well placed within that context to, to focus on things that, that we're really good at. You know, we, we have great creative industries, we have great research, we have huge sort of depth of, uh, quality of public service, of professional services. You know, we, the UK has largely ensured the world for a long time, uh, and, you know, offered accountancy support and devised new legal frameworks. And, you know, we have the English language.
Stephen Jones 00:29:22 There's lots of things that will still, uh, be real strengths and assets. And it's about just finding, finding our place as that evolves. Uh, and, and really it's why I think we as core cities put huge importance on maintaining that kind of city to city dialogue to kind of, in a way avoid the, kind of, avoid the misconception and avoid the risk of it just being, you know, at the national level in the UK for the last three, four or five years, it's been fairly tumultuous. Uh, and not particularly, uh, you know, we've not had a lot to shout about, but actually at a city level it's been remarkably stable. Uh, and we've got on and done stuff, and I think we need to keep on doing that. Uh, and, and sort of making sure that others, others know that we are open for business and keen to kind of be, uh, remain tolerant and compassionate and engaged with, with cities and citizens around the world. Yeah,
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:30:24 Absolutely. Thanks, uh, thanks so much for that. Also, the, the emphasis on the strengths, right? Because we talked about how UK cities are behind in some areas, but I think capitalizing on those strengths is very important moving forward. So, um, now I want to give you the open floor. You don't have to take it as I always say, um, but if you feel like we haven't touched on anything that we talked, like, is there anything that you really want the listeners to know?
Stephen Jones 00:30:51 Uh, so I think, I think one of the things, uh, I think the last con last conversation we've had is really important. I think, uh, I'm, I'm a huge advocate for our cities. Uh, it's why I've, I picked this job. It's why, uh, I sort of will stand there and, and argue, argue positively for it. I think the thing, the thing I found quite interesting in the last couple of years in the sort of city's debate is, is the kind of post covid are cities, what are, what's the long term future of cities? You know? And, and I kind of, uh, you know, will we move to an increasing virtual world? And you, you don't need city centers that people congregate in. And those kind of, and I, I sort of found myself in a slightly strange position where the, you know, this, the debate around the 15 minute city, uh, and kind of the importance of having, you know, the, the very local, uh, and I sort of find myself weirdly on the same side of the argument as a load of conspiracy theorists, uh, <laugh> who think that, who sort of think the 15 minute city is, you know, some form of world trade organization kind of, uh, threat to their, their kind of ability to move around.
Stephen Jones 00:32:09 And it's all, some hunger games kind of thing. Uh, I I I, I'm on the same side of that argument, but with a different argument <laugh>. But, but I think the, uh, I think there is a kind of danger of us over emphasizing that importance of the very local, uh, and I think we, you know, we have 15 minute cities, they're called towns. Uh, I think the thing, the thing that actually, uh, the thing that we have with cities that are real strengths is their scale and their mixing. And the thing, my nervousness around some of that kind of urban planning, urban design type debate that sort of wants to bring things to the very local is you will create, you'll create sort of very nice neighborhoods that have everything that you want to live, and they become very expensive. And then you create places that you know, don't have everything and they, they become undesirable places to live. And I think what you miss is the fact that where cities are most effective is bringing a lot of people together and mixing them up and getting new ideas and learning from each other and sparking, uh, new relationships and building greater tolerance cuz you meet people you wouldn't ordinarily meet. And all of those things that are brilliant about sitting at, you know, midnight on a tube train home and just meeting people you wouldn't ordinary meet. Uh, it's just one of the great entertainments of life, uh, and
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:33:34 Very often, and
Stephen Jones 00:33:35 I think there is something in, uh, in the sort of urban policy space that needs to not, not overemphasize the sort of technological shift that, of remote working and of hybrid working and of sort of what we had to do, uh, because of covid. You know, what was interesting is when once the restrictions were lifted, people got out about, people still want to spend time. They might not wanna go to a high street shop anymore because they can buy stuff online, but they still wanna spend time with other people. And so I think there is something, uh, that we as policy makers in, in this space need to, need to do is to recognize that, you know, the technological changes and the opportunities of more doing more things virtually and is a compliment, not a substitute for, uh, what makes cities great. And I think that's something that, you know, we should keep banging the drunk out. So I weirdly find myself sometimes kind of arguing against something that is the, the conspiracy theorists are nervous about, but not for the same
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:34:45 Reasons, <laugh> not for the same reason. So, um, wonderful. So I, I wonder if, if your answer is the same for this segment. Um, yeah. So now we will move into our segment. So we do lots of these fun segments as part of the podcast and the segment that we have chosen for you today is hot Take of the day, hot take of the Day. We want to hear an opinion of yours that may be slightly controversial or debated. So what do you have for us today, Steven?
Stephen Jones 00:35:24 Uh, oh, so I, I it's,
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:35:28 It,
Stephen Jones 00:35:29 It's, it's ultimately quite geeky because <laugh>, uh, that's, um, I'm assuming that people listen to this podcast are not afraid of, of that. But, uh, <laugh>, I've sort of gone full circle a bit from starting out as an economist in central government sitting there doing kind of economic appraisal, cost benefit analysis of projects and, you know, being a real advocate of, of that, uh, methodology to, to decide where to spend money, where to invest. And sort of, I've had, so 20 years have on on the back of that, I've grown increasingly kind of, sort of despairing and cynical about what value that really adds. Uh, and I think the, the sort of, it's not that the tools are wrong, like ultimately there is real benefit in being able to evaluate objectively the pros and cons of an investment and to work out what the benefits you're gonna get from doing it.
Stephen Jones 00:36:28 How much is it gonna cost? I think the sort of the danger is, is sort of threefold really. Firstly, we're still not very good at it. And so there's still a lot of things that we, we either can't properly capture the benefits and po can't properly, uh, sort of understand what, what is gonna happen. Equally, we massively, uh, overestimate how cheaply we'll do things. Uh, and you know, the high speed rail in the UK is a great example of a failed cost benefit analysis because it's, you know, the, as as you roll it out, even building in optimism bias, it's still more expensive than we thought it was going to be. Uh, secondly, I think the, it kind of, it's inherently retrospective, so it kind of, it it forces you to say the only, the only way of knowing whether this thing is a good thing is by using evidence of what have we done before.
Stephen Jones 00:37:34 And so it's sort of built against actually taking any calculated risk. Uh, and so particularly when you apply it to transport the, you know, the value you get from saving a hundred thousand people five seconds a day, uh, from making a journey by slightly improving the, you know, the junction speed of, uh, on a, on a roundabout, you know, you can calculate what that works out as a hundred thousand people times five seconds, times their value of time. You come up with quite a big number actually. All those a hundred thousand people are gonna notice that five seconds. Of course they're not. Uh, whereas actually building a new piece of transport infrastructure that connects two places, that two that people aren't currently traveling between, uh, is valued really poorly cause people aren't making that journey. So when you put it into the model, it says, well, it doesn't benefit that many people, but by, by opening up that you create new flows that don't currently exist.
Stephen Jones 00:38:38 So I think there is sort of, there's a problem in the model. I think the third thing is it sort of, it creates a, a sort of strange comfort blanket where you end up kind of ranking projects purely based on their benefit cost ratios or on their kind of net present value. And, and you forget the kind of, you, you, you sort of forget the sort of the limitations of that model, and you forget the need to make objective decision making and you, you forget the need for showing some kind of discretion and leadership, uh, to sort of, to choose to do things. And, uh, and, and, and, you know, there's a really, uh, brilliant book written by, uh, sort of, uh, co-authored by Merv King who used to be the governor of the Bank of England called Radical Uncertainty. And it's a real kind of recognition from him about at a kind of macroeconomic level that sort of, that the failures of the financial system led leading into the financial crash of putting too much emphasis on the kind of modeling and the numbers and forgetting to use judgment as, as decision makers and economy.
Stephen Jones 00:39:55 And that, you know, compounded to the issues we saw in the, in the sort of financial sector. And there's an equivalence, I think, in, in that kind of, uh, in the kind of use of cost benefit analysis in decision making. So I, I don't think I, you know, I still think it should be there. I'm not, I'm not advocating for tearing it up, but I think, uh, we should be a bit more objective about it. And it sort of reminded me that a couple years ago I went to, uh, just before, uh, the pandemic, I went to a O E C D conference in Greece, in Athens, uh, about regional policy and the kind of issue of cost benefit analysis came up. It was, it was that kind of cool conference. Uh, and I sort of remember, uh, saying whether Pericles would've thought, uh, would've asked his kind of offices to do a cost benefit analysis on the Pathon.
Stephen Jones 00:40:45 And if they had, would they have had the foresight to recognize in perpetuity that 2000 years later Taurus would be paying 20 euros or whatever it costs to go and visit it? Of course they wouldn't. And, and, but I think there is a, there is a sort of danger that, you know, some of that innovation, some of that kind of wonder of our cities that we, you know, that we revel in now, that kind of history and that kind of architecture and that beauty, we, we kind of, we discount cuz we can't model it, can't measure it. And I think, I just think, you know, I think we should be a bit bolder and a bit, you know, a bit braver about, about what we do.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:41:22 So instead think, uh, what would the Greeks do?
Stephen Jones 00:41:25 What would the Greeks do is, is, is a, is a good argument in most cases. Okay. And what would the ancient Greeks do? Ancient
Speaker 5 00:41:31 Greeks do? Okay,
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:41:32 Good distinction. No, um, amazing. Thank you so much, Steven. That was a, a great answer on the fly as well. Um, so, uh, our last question that we ask every single guest is, um, a recurring question to you. What is a smart city or smart place?
Stephen Jones 00:41:51 So a, a smart, a smart city is a collection of smart people. Uh, and, uh, I think what cities, you know, ci cities are probably humanity's greatest invention. Uh, the ability to, uh, recognize, uh, the different, you know, the scale of difference from the animal kingdom of congregating, not just in sort of tribes or here or kind of communities or kind of herds or whatever, but in the scale of millions of people to, to kind of work with each other, learn from each other, uh, kind of communicate with each other and do things collectively is, is kind of, as I say, I think humanity's greatest achievement. Uh, and, and so a smart city is not a new thing. Uh, I think it is part of the, the kind of the quality and the, the kind of, uh, greatness of our cities. I think there will, there is a, there is a kind of that constant innovation, uh, and that constant, uh, opportunity to apply new technology to, to ease how we work with each other and how we live with each other and how we communicate with each other is, you know, is always been a nature of our cities.
Stephen Jones 00:43:14 Whether it's, you know, through developments in how we move around cities, how we build our buildings, how we take the waste away from our cities, how do we, you know, all of that stuff still exists and there are new ways of doing things and new ways and we should be open and encouraging and happy. And so smart cities are, are what, you know, what our cities have always been and should always be, uh, is my view on that.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:43:41 Perfect. Really nice answer. It's always really interesting for me to hear everyone's different, uh, answers there. I like the, the part where you said it's the collection of smart people. So, um, yeah. So that's, that's all we have for you today, Steven. I hope, I hope you enjoyed it. I really, I did enjoyed talking with you. It's much,
Speaker 6 00:43:58 It's, it's much better than some meetings you do. Okay, good day. So, you know, chance to hear my own voice and thoughts.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:44:04 Oh yes.
Stephen Jones 00:44:05 Who wouldn't like it?
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:44:06 <laugh>, I also enjoyed hearing your voice and your thoughts, so, um, I had a lot of fun with you today. So it is great learning from you and, uh, yeah, thanks so much. It's very valuable. Great. And to all of our listeners, uh, don't forget, you can always create a free account on babble smart Cities EU to find out more about smart city projects, solutions, implementations, all these cool things happening. Um, and with that, thank you so much.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:44:33 Thank you all for listening. I'll see you at the next stop on the journey to a better urban life.