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Vince Cable opens hipster-friendly London tech creche

The Urban Innovation Centre: No, it's not for graffiti vandals

Business Secretary Vince Cable has launched the new Urban Innovation Centre, funded by his Department of Business, Innovation and Skills' Technology Strategy Board Innovate UK.

The Urban Innovation Centre is intended as a space for "greater innovation and greater synthesis" for organisations operating in urban environments, according to Keith Clarke, vice chairman of the Future Cities Catapult Board.

Clarke noted that cities don't follow market dynamics when growing, nor do cities scale in a predictable and linear fashion. Estimating that 70 per cent of the world's population would be living in cities by 2050, he said that it was “imperative” to encourage creative approaches to urban design and metropolitan policy.

Enter stage left the Catapults, as announced last year by Cable. These are supposed to provide a way for organisations to collaborate towards "excellence on urban innovation."

Cable declared himself privileged to be present at the launch of the UCI. "I have already placed the plaque on the wall," he suggested to the stifled giggles of a room of hipsters future tech execs.

The Business Secretary admitted he needed to explain to his audience the idea behind the Catapults.

"Immediately after I came into office, I was bombarded with ideas and questions," he said. The main thing he wanted to talk about was why, if the UK performed so consistently highly in innovation and research, are so many of our cities lagging behind the rest of the country in terms of growth?

This was not the situation in Germany or France. Research into this phneomenon, according to Cable, showed only the size of differences between the economies of those countries and that of the UK. It became clear that a uniquely British solution would be needed.

From the Ordnance Survey's ongoing open data project – intended to be of commercial value, although it is unclear how – through to more direct guidance and support of start-ups and technological innovations, the Urban Innovation Centre is intended to be "a destination for businesses, academics and city leaders to develop the cities of the future."

Attendees regularly quoted the famous W. Edwards Deming adage: "Without data you're just another person with an opinion."

Among the many groups represented were the inevitable sustainability campaigning organisations, but also Huang Song, a policy analyst from the Chinese Embassy who said that Beijing was very interested in developments in UK cities.

“Supporting the pioneering technology behind future cities will help make our cities more clean and efficient,” said Cable in a canned statement. “The government-backed Catapult Centres are hubs for British businesses and academics to work together, helping bring their research to market.”

In the next ten years, global spending on cities is expected to hit $40tn.

According to the Urban Innovation Centre, London 2.0, a city of bespoke services, is upon us. ®

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