Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Yokohama, the Smart City

I am sitting in Yokohama in the middle of the heaviest snowfall in living memory. ‘It never snows here’ says a resident, yet there have been two snow dumps in a week. As events of this sort don’t usually happen in the Tokyo Bay area, the city simply isn't prepared to deal with all the effects of nearly a foot of snow. Roads are closed, trains are not running and pavements are impassable. This is a city of over 3.7 million people, in one of the richest countries in the world, with an advanced Tsunami response system (there are maps and posters to warn you about this danger everywhere); however, it has been paralysed. I am writing this not far from the central fire station and can hear the sirens going again; sadly, there have been a number of fatalities reported.

I am attending an international conference on ISO (the International Organization for Standardization) to write a set of international standards and guidelines for sustainable and resilient communities and cities. We are here because Yokohama leads the way internationally in sustainable infrastructure and policies; it is the current chair. There are, for example, bike racks at every turn (like the ‘Boris bikes’ in London) and the city uses many advanced techniques to reduce its carbon footprint, control its traffic flow and reduce its energy consumption. Yokohama is one of a new breed of ‘Smart Cities’, using technology to integrate and expedite all of its interdependent utilities and control its energy and resource flow. There is a useful website one can visit to find out more: Click here.

Despite all this focus on sustainability and advanced technology, Yokohama is brought to a standstill by a bout of snowfall. This illustrates why we have placed ‘resilience’ in the title of the new ISO 37101 standard. Sustainability is about having the capability to respond to whatever challenges might emerge. It is about having the capacity to be robust, adaptable and secure. This encompasses both expected threats like Tsunamis and the unexpected, like snow. East coast Japan is not alone; Canada is experiencing unusually cold and stormy conditions right now and Southern England resembles a swamp!

I am here representing the UK because we have pioneered thinking in this area. I have led a British Standard’s initiative, producing frameworks for sustainability in communities, the Olympics, film, construction materials and supply chains. Our interactive and principle-led approach has gained wider attention and is now being translated in an international context. Hopefully our flexible and people-centred style will help build the resilience that is obviously so desperately needed!

David Jackman 

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