How Newcastle is leading the way in urban innovation

The North East has been widely recognised for its position as the leading tech city outside London, and now we have a new accolade to add to the list after the publication of research by Future Cities Catapult[1], the global centre of excellence on urban innovation.

Following a recent visit to the region by the chief executive of Future Cities Catapult, Peter Madden, a report was published in which Science Central was quoted alongside four UK cities, as an exemplar in addressing the future challenges of our growing cities, through urban innovation.

Cities are vitally important to us. Over 50% of the population live in an urban, city environment and our cities are getting ever bigger. By 2050 the World Health Organisation predicts that up to 70% of people will live in a city[2].

This growth won’t dissipate, and it carries with it a number of challenges because the infrastructure and technology of our cities hasn’t evolved in-line with the rate of inner-city population growth.

So we find ourselves facing a huge challenge to improve the quality of life of our citizens, whilst increasing prosperity, and all in a more sustainable way.

But these improvements don’t come without a cost. Approximately US$40 trillion[3] will need to be invested in urban infrastructure worldwide over the next 20 years to provide the basic levels that our cities need.

Whilst technology has a role to play in improving the quality of life in our cities, our urban future demands that we think ever more innovatively about how we live in our cities. To do this, we need to create integrated urban solutions and infrastructure, from low-carbon energy to the very design of our buildings and surroundings.

This creates a huge opportunity to combine the digital, infrastructure, design, professional service and public sector expertise of our cities, to answer to the demand for an urban solution.

You could say we find ourselves on the cusp of an urban innovation revolution, and in Newcastle, Science Central is at the heart of this.

Science Central is the 24-acre city centre mixed-use development which Newcastle Science City is delivering on behalf of our partners, Newcastle University and Newcastle City Council.

The partnership brings together businesses, academic research and the public sector, to deliver a mix of retail, leisure, residential and flexible business space on Science Central. This will be underpinned by a focus on sustainability – not just in the fabric of the site, but in the organisations that will be based there, as well as the research and innovation that will happen on site.

Essentially, we are creating a demonstration site where innovative urban technologies will be trialled.

Following a funding announcement from the North East Local Growth Fund, this will include a low carbon energy centre which will be built to provide low carbon, low cost energy and electricity for tenants of the site.

The development will also capitalise on Newcastle University’s capabilities in sustainability, engineering, computer science, transport and urban planning, linking together with the commercial opportunities presented by industry collaboration with partners like Siemens, Red Hat, Northern Powergrid and Northumbrian Water.

Working with Industry, a unique £2 million grid connected energy storage test bed will be created, which could pave the way for the future of Smart Grids and low carbon electricity throughout the UK. The storage test bed and smart grid network will allow the development of new technologies for maximising efficiency, availability and sustainability of energy across the UK power grid.

A £50 million urban sciences building will be constructed by Newcastle University on site, which will house the School of Computing Science, as well as an urban observatory and decision theatre, allowing real time data from the city to be analysed and explored, so that we can improve our understanding of the interaction between our city’s energy, water, transport, waste and digital control systems.

Cloud Computing will also play a key role, through the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Cloud Computing for Big Data, creating experts in extracting useful information from the vast amounts of data now being collected from sensors, people and computer applications.

Big data research projects with multi-billion dollar industry partners Red Hat and Microsoft will also be based there, and a Cloud Innovation Centre will enable regional businesses and the public sector to better exploit the opportunities created by cloud computing and big data.

Another EPSRC CDT – in Digital Civics - will explore how digital technologies can be used to promote public participation in the design and delivery of local services like education, public health and city planning. This is how we are working towards addressing the challenges that our cities face.

At Science Central are creating an urban innovation hub which will respond to urban challenges; generate private investment; increase growth in occupier demand; benefit the local economy; and contribute to a better city living environment for our citizens.

And citizens absolutely have to be at the heart of this. We recognise the importance of working together with our city’s people to engage them in the urban innovation process, communicating regularly with them and involving them in the research process itself.

It goes without saying that none of what we will achieve on Science Central could happen without working together with industry, academia, businesses and the public sector.

Now is the time to embrace the urban innovation revolution, and that’s what we’re doing on Science Central.

The first building on Science Central, The Core, opens for business in November 2014.

Estelle Blanks, Deputy Director, Newcastle Science City




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