Aristotle got it right.
“Man is a political animal,” the ancient Greek philosopher wrote nearly 2,500 years ago. He believed human beings were suited to living in a “polis” [πόλις] or city-state – large enough to be self-sustaining, but small enough for lives to be lived on a human scale.
Ancient Athens, for example, had a population of roughly 250,000, similar in size to Brighton and Hove. A [male] citizen could walk across it in a single day, frequently bumping into people he knew or recognised, many of whom took decisions that directly affected him.
Fast forward to the 21st century and cities dominate the planet. By 2050, 70 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities.
Increasingly, the most successful cities will be the ones that are the most connected, where digital technologies are seamlessly integrated into everyday life, as omnipresent and as invisible as the air we breathe.
Such technologies will enhance and enrich not only the complex network of relationships between citizens, but also the connections between cities. The world will, I believe, be characterised more by a network of networked cities than by the current patchwork of nation states.
This transformation has already started, particularly in North America, with cities such as New York, Washington, San Francisco and Vancouver leading the way in a global “open-data“ revolution.
So what is an “open-data city”? In Brighton and Hove, all political parties have agreed the value of public data is greatest when it is freely and openly shared, without unnecessary licensing restrictions.
They said: “We envisage a city in which every individual and business can use and re-purpose public data to help create a more vibrant and sustainable future, with more efficient public services, more effective voluntary organisations, and more enterprising private businesses.”
Our city is leading the country in moves towards opening up data so that the outstanding expertise of local citizens can build the applications and services that will help shape all our futures.
In effect, data is the “straw” that makes the bricks to build the walls of mansions that are currently unimaginable. Just as it was impossible to imagine Google or Facebook when the web was in its infancy in the early 1990s.
Therefore, the Open-data Brighton and Hove Group – which has more than 100 members, including developers, designers, usability professionals, journalists, and artists – is organising the UK’s first Open-data Cities Conference.
To be held in Brighton and Hove next April, it will bring together protagonists from the 20 or so cities that also have populations of 250,000 or more and – like our own city – are unitary authorities or metropolitan districts with significant responsibilities for public services.
The conference, with more than 200 attendees from across the UK, will look at the potential impact of open data on public services, media and culture, and the voluntary and third sectors.