Human kind has always enjoyed imagining what its future will look like. In 1989, Back to Future II was providing an image of year 2015 with streets full of flying cars, hoverboards and self-lacing shoes. Today, the typical image of the city of the future displayed in movies seems to be differentiated in two archetypes: a vision of grey streets full of concrete and metal as opposed to green buildings where glass windows stand alongside luxuriant vegetation.
Time only will allow us to reveal the true path that our cities will take but we can already get an insight of it thanks to the innovations already happening in the world. At F.Initiatives, we understand that R&D is shaping the world, and cities are no exception to the rule.
You must have heard of research related to ‘smart cities’ and by now, you probably know what the association of the word ‘smart’ to any common piece of technology means. This affixation intends a serious upgrade most likely related to internet connectivity and the ability to process huge amounts of data. For example, when a telephone only allowed you to communicate with someone by call or texts, a smartphone let you access the infinite possibilities of the internet. Research teams around the world have been seeking to apply this technology upgrade to our urban areas.
Singapore Smart Nation:
‘Smart Nation’ is the name of the ambitious programme taking place in Singapore. It aims to push the island city-state into the digital age. This initiative seeks to test urban solutions by turning Singapore into a ‘living laboratory’. Trials are particularly pushed into housing, health and transport sectors. For example, autonomous-vehicle are being tested in Singapore where streets start welcoming self-driving cars and buses. Moreover, an unprecedented level of traffic monitoring is due in 2020. Private transport is looking at a government-mandated satellite-navigation system in all vehicles. This system will know exactly where every car in the traffic is at a given time. This tracking will allow authorities to monitor traffic conditions nationwide by giving drivers real-time advice on the least-congested route to take. These advices would not be without consequences as the drivers will be rewarded if they follow the indicated route and financially dinged if they do not. The ultimate goal behind these incentives is to discourage driving and guide most commuters to use public transportation.
This centralized dashboard view of sensors deployed across the city is called Singapore’s brain. It also includes measurements of air pollution, water pressure, crowds at bus stops and many more. Singapore’s foreign affairs minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, intends to create a “national operating system for 100 million smart objects” before 2021. This outlandish number includes the estimated 5 million smartphones carried by the island inhabitants and every sensor, camera and smart objects in Singapore.
What about data?
In their inherent concept, smart cities are designed to capture massive amounts of data. The constantly evolving and growing IoT (Internet of Things) network – including traffic lights, pollution sensors and personal devices for example – is storing big data that can now be more easily analysed using AI and predictive software. Urban areas might then become places where surveillance is pervasive and city residents will look at extensive data capture. Ensuring security for the huge amount of data collected by IoT devices appears to be quite a challenge. Adequate infrastructure must be set to transmit and store these great volumes of data securely. Concerns towards predictive analytics applied to IoT smart cities goes to the part private companies could take in this analytical work and that it could result in a more opaque use of our data. To address these alarms, governments need to regulate these companies and also educate people about data risks that could result from security breaches.
Sustainable Urban Development in Vauban:
Technology can also be applied to develop sustainable solution for urban areas. Vauban, a district of Freiburg in southern Germany can be considered to be one of the world’s best example of sustainable urban living. Transportation being an ecological impact of development to reduce, the district was planned around green transportation. Even if cars pass through the district, the system in place favours the use of bicycles and tram. 70% of the inhabitants do not even have a car. In order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, special attention has been brought to buildings energy consumption. Vauban’s buildings meet consumption standards of 65 kWh/m2a that is lower than half the average German energy standards. Energy is generated in the district thanks to photovoltaic panels and even by reusing organic household waste. Vauban can be considered as a clear example of using technology to reduce our impact on the environment. Nowadays, R&D related to urban development appears to be a critical enabler of the future sustainability of our cities. The shift to smart infrastructure and renewable energy usage seems to be the best way to meet our living standards while not compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.
Some more adventurous concepts emerge from scientists and designers’ minds as for example the floating city imagined by AT Design Office. The water city would be far from mainland with a tailored internal and external transportation system. Some advantages are highlighted as avoiding atmospheric pollution caused by automobile exhaust considering that the main traffic would be handled through water channels. The possibility of such constructions is yet still to be assessed on many domains: technological feasibility, economic viability, sustainability, etc. However, there is no doubt that R&D is currently changing the way we live in urban areas and will continue to be undertaken in the coming decades to shape the cities of the future. The smart city movement appears to have the potential to transform urban development as we know it.