22nd Karlsruhe Dialogues - Speakers

The Self-Actualising City


Niraj Saraf


Niraj Saraf joined Innovate UK in 2014 in order to work on the challenge of stimulating innovations to enable the long-term sustainability of cities. He possesses 25 years of experience in the fields of policy and strategy development, as well as programme management across public, private, and voluntary sector organisations in the UK and around the world. Since joining Innovate UK, Saraf has invested in projects making innovative use of integrated city data, co-designed and run a competition for placemaking projects, led several international entrepreneurial missions, and designed and facilitated events aimed at advancing knowledge and understanding in the field of urban innovation. He started his first business venture at the age of 13, and in 2005 helped launch a proper start-up. He is also an experienced start-up mentor. His qualifications include a BSc(Hons) in Chemistry with Management from King’s College London, an MBA from the Imperial College Business School, and an MSc in Sustainability and Responsibility from Ashridge Business School. He is furthermore a fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA).



1. What do you consider to be an ‘intelligent’ city?

Conceptions of a ‘smart’ city are about sensors, data, and apps being used to improve the efficiency of the ways in which cities are run. If you are considering an ‘intelligent’ city, you can take this further by applying Artificial Intelligence to the data in order to anticipate problems and address them before they occur. To me, however, an intelligent city is ultimately a happy one – a city in which everyone has the chance to flourish. Otherwise, what would be the point?


2. In your opinion, what are the most urgent problems that have to be solved on the way to intelligent cities?

We are witnessing an increase in population density in many cities. For example, the population of London is currently at 8 million people (up from 7 million in 1980) and is expected to rise to over 11 million until 2050. The most obvious and pressing challenge this presents is the accommodation of everyone, i.e. housing. However, with that comes a range of attendant challenges, such as water and energy supply, and maintaining (or even improving) mobility. And all these things need to be achieved through new, low-carbon approaches and with due regard to every citizen’s wellbeing. One critical consideration here is that smart city approaches do not merely improve the situation for existing populations but are sufficiently adaptable to accommodate the changes that will come.


3. What are, in your opinion, the most exceptional chances arising with the change towards smart cities?

An essential requirement for a smart city is a smart citizen, i.e. one who has access to the data required to make appropriate decisions on how to live. The level of information and engagement presents the opportunity to rewrite and rebalance the social contract between governments and citizens leading to a substantial civic renewal.