How a dilapidated estate in London could become the world's smartest community

Nigel Atkinson, a project designer for Lend Lease, is one of the men behind an ambitious new smarter cities initiative in South London, which seeks to turn a dilapidated housing estate into one of the world's smartest and most connected communities. He spoke about the plans for Elephant Park at the NextGen 2014 conference. Is this madness or genius? ITProPortal went along to find out.

"Superfast broadband is just one aspect of a technological community," Nigel told the breakout session at NextGen 2014. "Elephant Park is going to be one of the first London parks in nearly a hundred years, a former estate that has fallen into disrepair. We want to rebuild the street plans and physical connectivity that preceded the estate."

This means taking the concept of smart cities and digitally enabled communities to the next level, according to Nigel.

"The original concept of a smart city was to improve the physical infrastructure of a city to make things more convenient," he told us. "This can be something as simple as linking streetlights to a central grid, so you can tell when one of them has died, and make the system more efficient, or provide detailed public transport information."

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"But now people's expectation of constant W-Fi connectivity means smart cities are going to have to evolve. People need network infrastructure, both internally and externally, but it's a real challenge to build these apartments without essentially setting up artificial Faraday cages through which it's impossible to get any mobile signal."

As we start to run more and more services over the LAN, network resiliency is increasing, Nigel told us.

"More systems are wanting to use the LAN now," he said, "including fire alarm and security."

So why is this happening now?

"20 years ago or so, the Internet as we know it today came into being," Nigel said. "It was like a miracle. And as people began to use it more and more, supply chains began to shift online, and applications such as Facebook changed the way we live. Now we have the expectation that everything in our lives is connected: the Internet of things, or the Internet of everything."

Read more: Smart cities and big data: Is there a limit to what we should know?

"Of course, installing fibre into the home is more expensive than the traditional copper wiring. But this is offset by the ability to use the technology to transform your own management systems, through online asset management and predictive maintenance. As the range of new technologies increases, we're having to be a lot smarter about how we use these technologies."

As Nigel described the reality of life in Elephant Park, it began to sound like the setting of a futuristic science fiction novel.

"Elephant Park residents will be able to answer their doors with tablets as they sit in the park below," Nigel promised. "They'll be able to chat to each other as they sit on the parks on the rooftops, and check mobile devices for detailed information on what's going on that night in the park."

"Integrated transport information will allow better decision-making on public transport, and all this information will be used to examine visitor behaviour, drive footfall and improve continuous engagement."

So is Elephant Park the future of the connected community, or just another experiment doomed to fail? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below, or stop by and have a chat on ITProPortal's 24/7 Tech Talk instant messenger, found in the bottom left of the screen.

Stay tuned for ITProPortal's ongoing coverage of NextGen 14 - all the most important insights for public sector connectivity and technology straight from Derby.