Episode Archive

SCP E49: Urbanism, tech and meaningful Smart Cities, with Nicola Balch

In this episode of the Smart City Podcast, I interview Nicola Balch. We had a great chat about urbanism and tech. Nicola is an associate at McGregor Coxall. We also talked about the intelligent use of data, including why we need to be thinking about the metrics: why we want to collect certain data and what it is we will use the data for. Nicola shared about a number of different projects across the world, which I found really interesting.

Listen Here:

What we cover in this episode:

  • Nicola’s background in architecture and urban design, and how winning a competition sparked her interested in the Smart City space
  • Why she’s kind of strict about her definition of Smart Cities
  • How the UK is embracing the Smart City concept and why Bristol has a positive approach
  • The need for a holistic rather than product-based approach to Smart cities
  • The issue with the mega-player centric approach and why we need the smaller players involved to better integrate across disciplines
  • Projects Nicola’s currently working on, including Smart Carpet
  • The importance of taking a global approach and what Nicola learned on her traveling scholarship last year
  • How the LinkNYC kiosks can be an example of what not to do
  • The need to look beyond the cool techie perspective and have more community-centric rigour in the design process,
  • The emerging trends of place metrics, cultural parameters, and qualitative aspects of space
  • The EU Project Create Project
  • Quantifying the vision-oriented, qualitative projects to help projects gain funding


“I’m really interested in how we can use data to empower and engage with communities to create long term, meaningful change. So not just the idea of using data but really questioning how we can use it to test and change cities for the better in a way that actually empowers and works with communities.”

“I believe that if we start being really flexible in how we define things then it enables them sometimes to be used for purposes that might not necessarily be appropriate.”

“I think a Smart City is one that intelligently uses and responds to data, particularly live data…It’s really highly related to ICT, IOT and the tech side of things.”

“As we move through, because we’re going to have tech more and more in our lives, Smart Cities is just going to become a conversation about cities again.”

“Putting people at the centre, looking at the issues and the advocacy needs, and then raising the question, ‘What can technology do to help achieve outcomes on top of that?’”

“Technology companies hopefully will start employing a lot more people who have engaged academically and professionally in the urban environment, to really start to think about Smart Cities from a much more holistic and integrated perspective rather than the development and deployment of products.”

“Our education institutions have a huge role in Smart Cities and that will hopefully start to grow. A better cross-disciplinary response means looking at more creative ways to bring in smaller practices and people doing interesting things with technology rather than relying on the big players. I think the industry is really mega-player centric at the moment.”

“It takes a look at how Smart Cities projects are funded and driven today….We need to have a look at different ways of initiating and funding these projects to make them accessible to more people. Then we’ll start to really see diversity.”

“When you actually really start to engage with the most complex parameter of the city, and that is people, then we start to see these really interesting questions that come up.”

“It’s a shift in terms of “What do we want to measure, and why?” and then seeing whether or not technology can do that.”


Urban Land Institute Global Ideas Competition: George St 2020

McGregor Coxall’s Smart Carpet project that won the London Smart City competition

Bristol Smart City Research and Development Platform

Byera Hadley traveling scholarship with Architecture Registrations Board

The Array of Things in Chicago

Link NYC

Kylie Legg of Place Partners (check out Kylie’s episode SCP EP15)

Peter Jones from UCL

The EU Create Project


Connect with Nicola on LinkedIn or Twitter @NixBalch, or email her nicola.balch@mcgregorcoxall.com

Connect with me via email: hello@mysmart.community

Connect with My Smart Community via LinkedIn or Twitter and watch on YouTube

Podcast Production by Perk Digital


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