In March 2017, Manchester City Council (MCC) was selected to make a bid to the EU World Cities project. The invitation came on the back of our strong track record in European projects and in collaboration with other European cities.
The programme is part of the EU’s urban agenda and foreign policy aimed at developing stronger connections between EU and non-EU cities. We had a choice between seeking a city match in Australia, South Africa, South Korea or Vietnam. With MCC having sent representatives to Australia in October 2016 to speak, amongst other things, about CityVerve and Hypercat, we chose Australia.
The World Cities programme, working with Ramboll and RMIT, matched Manchester with Adelaide for a 12 month collaboration project. Part of this involved setting aside one week for a delegation from Manchester to go to Australia, as well as a return visit from the Australians to Manchester and Brussels in October 2017, and a final exchange visit for a Manchester delegation to go to Australia at the beginning of next year.
For this first trip to the other side of the world, a team of Manchester representatives was pulled together, including myself as the lead, Helena Tinker of Manchester Metropolitan University, Siemens’ Ivan Hewlett, Simon Navin of Ordnance Survey, and the University of Manchester’s Dr Joe Ravetz, and my MCC colleague Rebecca Heron.
As “the hottest driest city, in the hottest driest state in Australia,” climate change mitigation and adaptation features high on the agenda in Adelaide. So too does the smart city agenda, and interest was high in the CityVerve project to see how this might be adapted to our Australian counterparts’ specific needs.
Hitting the ground running
The 24-hour flight to Australia was as exhausting as you would imagine. And having to give a presentation to 50 people in a windowless Victorian-era town hall room in Melbourne just nine hours after said journey was another otherworldly experience.
Apparently I managed to make some sense in setting the scene for Manchester and the Our Manchester strategy – which puts our people, our residents, visitors, our employees, at the heart of what we do in our city – and placing this within the context of the smart cities, climate change and sustainability agenda of the World Cities programme.
CityVerve and Triangulum (our EU-funded Horizon 2020 project) and how they tie directly to the leading principles of the Our Manchester strategy, seemed to resonate strongly with the other cities participating in the World Cities project – namely Canberra and Prague, Hobart and Katowice, Melbourne and Hamburg and of course our own partner city, Adelaide.
Dinner in the noisiest restaurant in Melbourne and a boat tour of the city passed in a jet lag blur, before we were back in the air and on our way to Adelaide where the real work would start.
Show and tell
The real work: two packed 14-hour days of meetings and tours, during which we got to know our partners and began the make connections and share experiences.
We had a huge amount to offer in terms of what we’ve learned so far through CityVerve, Triangulum, and Our Manchester, as well as sharing thoughts on the pressing issues of climate change and how different solutions could map across our respective cities.
In a place in which temperatures can soar above 40 degrees centigrade, and bush fires and water scarcity are a pressing issue, the effects of climate change are something our Adelaide counterparts had plenty of experience to share. They also had real depth of insight when it came to discussing community engagement, one of the trickiest but most vital aspects of any modern city development initiative.
Similarly to the CityVerve consortium, the Committee for Adelaide is a collaboration between city and state authorities and a mix of other public and private bodies. This is model which, as the CityVerve project progresses, I am keen to investigate further with them to share best practices.
Exploring the opportunities
We didn’t spend all of our time cooped up in a meeting room, though.
A visit to Tonsley Innovation Park, situated in the City of Marion and once the home of a Mistubishi car plant, was particularly inspiring. Since Mistubishi moved out around ten years ago, the Government of South Australia has invested in site to make it Australia’s first innovation park.
The park provides an imaginative, flexible set of workspace options and a setting in which people can collaborate with likeminded individuals and companies big and small. With similar spaces in Manchester, such as the Sharp Project and Manchester Science Park, there’s again plenty of scope for ideas exchange here.
We also took a trip to the Adelaide Smart City Studio, which is part of an existing partnership with another CityVerve consortium member, Cisco. There, we presented on CityVerve and – in an heroic effort – were even joined virtually by CityVerve technical lead (and Cisco UK & Ireland’s head of innovation technology) Nick Chrissos, who dialled in from Manchester…at 4am UK time!
It’s not easy to match Nick’s passion for the CityVerve project, but I’d feel safe in saying that everyone we met in Australia was thoroughly enthused by the strides that Manchester is making as a city.
During my summing up once we got back to Melbourne, representatives from all three of the other European cities on the trip laid out their plans for collaboration with their Australian pairings. More than that though, all three also specifically highlighted a desire to work directly with Manchester – something that was unique to us.
The future calls
Of course, this collaborative relationship didn’t end when our aeroplane wheels hit the tarmac back in Manchester.
In October, a delegation from Adelaide will visit us in Manchester for three days, before a trip to Brussels with the European Commission. The schedule for those three days is already in the works, and we’ll be showing off plenty of the CityVerve use cases developed to date.
A final trip to Adelaide will take place at the beginning of next year, but in the meantime we’ll be collaborating with our new Australian friends on various aspects of CityVerve, Triangulum and other smart city projects, as well as sharing findings from our Carbon Literacy programme, and working together on city governance models, citizen engagement approaches and exploring opportunities for joint work between our universities.
Watch this space, as they say!