Words: Richard Beecham, Local Democracy Reporter
A plan to offer “civic credits” for using four of Leeds’s public parks – including Kirkstall Abbey – is among some of the ideas set to be discussed by Leeds city councillors next week.
It forms part of the council’s “smart cities” project, aimed at collecting large amounts of data, which it says would be used to improve services in the city.
A document, set to go before the council’s Infrastructure Scrutiny Board, also lists extra sensors around the city centre to monitor pedestrian and traffic levels; as well as an app to help road signals to give priority to cyclists.
The report, authored by Leeds City Council officers, said new technologies should be used to encourage healthier lifestyles to reduce the strain on health and social care services.
“Smart Leeds has a role to play in the ‘left shift’ towards increased self-care and prevention that can lead to earlier intervention that costs less and results in better outcomes for patients and citizens.
“Apps are playing an increasingly important role, with more and more citizens downloading apps that can support them to reach targets and manage their conditions.
“Over the last year evidence has shown that many people are doing significantly less daily movement and as lockdown starts to ease we want to support people to access their local areas and communities and gain confidence to get back outdoors and move more.”
A system, set to be trialled in the city during the spring, is known as the Civic Dollars Rewards app, and will offer “civic credits” to visit local parks.
When someone who is signed up to the app visits Middleton Park, Roundhay Park, Temple Newsam or Kirkstall Abbey, they will receive a “credit”, or “civic dollar”, which can then be gifted to a charity, who can then redeem them for goods and services being donated by a participating company.
The document continues:
“If the trial (expected to go live in the spring) is successful, funding options to support it longer term will be identified, and the number of users, participating charities and companies will be scaled up.”
Another area of focus for smart cities is traffic and pedestrian management in the city centre.
The document claims that more than 100 sensors made by London-based Vivacity Labs are being deployed around the city centre at “key junctions and crossings”.
The sensors, it says, will use “machine learning” to classify objects such as the number of pedestrians and vehicles waiting at crossings, and feed data into a centralised Leeds City Council system that will be able to optimise traffic signal timings.
“This approach to optimisation is a significant step forward and will enable the signals to become much more responsive to walking and cycling demands. Additional benefits will include data on city centre footfall that will be available for use by other services such as city centre management.”
The council wants to eventually develop a “smart cycling” app to help cyclists gain “increased priority” through traffic signals, as well as being able to report problems around the network, such as fallen trees and broken glass.
The document claimed “phase three” of the smart cities project would create a new “purpose-built innovation space” on an area of currently disused land around 2023.
“Data is an increasingly important feature of how the council delivers services. New technology allows us to better understand what is happening in our homes, communities and the wider city.
“Understanding where we need to deliver services and having the ability to be proactive can lead to reduced costs and improved outcomes. It’s important however that as an organisation we have the right tools, skills and capabilities and that we have the right governance in place to ensure we manage and process data in the right way.”
The smart city plans had previously been discussed by councillors at a meeting in February 2020.
A report from council officers had suggested the computer system used to control new LED street lights could also help the authority introduce new devices to help monitor issues such as gullies, road temperature and damp in council houses.
It led then-deputy leader of Leeds City Council James Lewis to insist that the measures did not constitute “spying”, comparing them instead to smoke detection systems.
Members of the council’s infrastructure scrutiny board will meet on Wednesday, April 7 to discuss the latest plan.
It is reassuring to learn that Leeds City Council is doing its utmost to ensure that Leeds not only is ahead of the game in the use of new technology, but also a City where people reap the rewards derived from such endeavour. It is to be hoped that none of its citizens will be left behind and that all will benefit, either directly or indirectly. The smoke detector illustration is apt: think how useful sprinkler systems would be in high-rise flats. We should not obstruct progress, because we just can’t just keep on doing the same old, old, ending up in a time warp.