Cet article est également disponible en français: Villes du futur : on réfléchit maintenant pour construire demain.
What will cities of the future look like? That’s food for thought for architects, planners, engineers, mayors and gives residents something to dream about. This very fashionable topic is discussed at many conferences, including the prestigious TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) at a seminar held recently in California.
In the near future, cities will have to adapt to an ever more demanding environment. First they will have to meet the needs of residents, who will be more and more demanding, but they will also have to meet the needs of their environment and the changes to which the environment may be subject. Thus, one finds, more exotic ideas such as competitions on ”concept building” (the equivalent of “concept cars” only applied to skyscrapers) buildings with the ultimate in flexibility: buildings capable of moving when people are no longer satisfied with their location, or buildings capable of ensuring their own water management (harvesting water during the rainy season, purification, storage) for example in mountainous regions.Himalayan Water Tower, Evolo First prize
Of course, there are many different contexts. One needs to distinguish between existing cities, which need modernization (most common in more affluent countries), and emerging cities, which require a comprehensive approach. In the second case, the transition to the most advanced technologies can be directly implemented (“leapfrogging” phenomenon).
Challenges (non exhaustive list)
A United Nations report noted : in 2008, the population located in urban areas (3.3 billion) exceeded the population living in rural areas. This proportion will grow, as well as the absolute number of urban dwellers which could reach 5 billion by 2030. If this growth is not anticipated and managed, it could pose many problems.
Urban residents consume on average more energy than others. In fact, Lux Research estimates that 60% to 80% of global energy is consumed in cities, of which 38% is consumed by buildings. Production and distribution of energy must be continuously developed and adapted to meet the growing needs and avoid congestion.
With the current energy system, the growth of energy demand has the effect of increasing greenhouse gas and degrading air quality. However, air pollution today causes health care costs of several points of GDP.
According to a study conducted by several U.S. institutions, 150 million people living in cities in 2000 had ongoing problems with their water supply. The scenarios show that about 4 billion people could be affected by chronic supply problems (1 billion) or seasonal problems (3 billion). The impact of climate change on hydrology would accentuate this phenomenon.
=> Climate Change
Cities will face different changes in their environment depending on their geographical location: drought, increased extreme weather events, rising sea levels., Etc.. In addition to managing resources, significant migratory movements could occur because 60% of the 39 worldwide major cities – including 12 cities with more than 10 million people – are located in coastal areas.
Interconnection as a tool for problem solving
Advances in information technology (including transmission speeds and constant increases in storage capacities)) now offer the perspective of almost infinite data collection of all kinds and interconnections between computer systems that surround us.
Some examples as applied to cities:
=> Intelligent Streets ?
In France, ADEME is preparing to assist municipalities with fewer than 2,000 residents in renovating their street lighting systems. There are similar ambitious initiatives in other regions, as in San Francisco, for example, where the replacement of sodium lamps by LED’s is accompanied by the implementation of a remote control system. If we coupled these systems with occupancy sensors, light level could be lowered when the streets are empty and “Illuminating Concepts” believes that energy savings of up to 70% could be achieved! This is a first step toward more complex solutions where technological advances would allow the emission of light signals by streetlights and possibly audible signals thanks to speakers during specific events. Thus, in the case of an earthquake, specific audio and visual messages to each sub-district could deliver emergency information and dictate the course of action. This system would be more effective than a siren triggered uniformly in a set of neighborhoods.
The vehicles we use are already riddled with sensors and electronics, and soon they will be able to function on a network, as we had mentioned in an article last year. According to Ford Motors, the cars of the future will communicate with each other and share such information as their speed, direction and when they slow down, which would improve traffic flow: traffic lanes of vehicles could for example be optimally arranged. Some even claim that the use of red lights at intersections would become obsolete! Nevertheless, as raised by the GigaOm newspaper, in this futuristic world automakers will need to ensure maximum security during data transfer. Indeed one can imagine the damage that hackers might create by maliciously seizing control of the system of a car.
The way we move has already been facilitated by the flux of information and the development of electronics using such items as the GPS. The development of the Google Maps Site “itinerary” is an instructive example. By 2006, the search engine had created a standard for data transport, entitled “Google Transit Feed Specification” (later renamed “Global Transit Feed Specification” as it became the reference format everywhere). Well before all other entities that could do it (government, municipalities …), Google had integrated on its site the possibility of calculating multimodal trips, that is to say, combining services provided by different companies .
The comparison of several options is also possible : individual or collective Motor Transport, and more recently walking and cycling. Finally, in a handful of large cities (in the United States Boston, Portland, San Diego and San Francisco, in Europe, Madrid and Torino), the computer giant has even bumped it up a notch concerning public transportation, by integrating updated data in real time depending on traffic, and not according to programmed time schedules.
=> What else can be done with the data?
In 2009, researchers at MIT published a manifesto for smarter cities, “informed and connected “. This document does not address the technical challenges of interconnection. However, it identifies major obstacles in solving urban problems that could be overcome or alleviated through better communication between different communities of a city (see figure below).
This is an interesting approach because it suggests ways of using data that is often already available in large quantities but underutilized because of lack of ideas or means (few companies have all the advantages of Google).
Designing and building a green, sustainable and smart city, seems indispensable today and completely within reach thanks to the development of technological tools. However, many players will have to work together to achieve the optimization of a system as complex as a city, a subject which we will discuss in a future article.
More info :
- Agrion Smart Cities Symposium à San Francisco, March 22, 2012
- Sustainable Business Conference 2012: “Enabling the Positive City – Smart Cities, Smart Sustainability” sur le campus d’HEC en région parisienne, March 22,2012 - http://hec-sbc.org/
- [Book] La ville 2.0, plateforme d’innovation ouverte, FYP Editions2008 -http://redirectix.bulletins-electroniques.com/baTgh
- Statistic info and maps on world big cities-http://www.citypopulation.de/ -http://data.un.org/Data.aspxd=POP&f=tableCode:240
- State of the world’s cities : http://www.unchs.org/categories.asp?catid=559
- Smart Cities, a European project to create an innovation network between cities and academic partners to develop and deliver better e-services to citizens and businesses in the North Sea Region : http://www.smartcities.info/