Posts tagged with "Smart Cities":

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Cryptocurrency mogul taps California architects for tech-powered desert utopia

Bitcoin and its competitors haven’t managed to topple the world’s existing currencies just yet, but the blockchain technology underpinning them might soon be making the leap to urbanism. As The New York Times revealed, millionaire lawyer Jeffrey Berns has bought up 100 square miles in the Nevada desert and tapped Los Angeles’s Tom Wiscombe Architecture and Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects (EYRC) to design an as-of-yet-unnamed, futuristic city. Complete with homes, offices, a college, and research campus, the city will, if it gets built, also introduce a novel form of urban citizenship that allows citizens to vote on the blockchain. What is the blockchain? The digital currency Bitcoin was the tool’s first proof-of-concept, but the underlying technology, a ledger shared among all users of a service that allows for trackable peer-to-peer transactions without a middleman, has uses in nearly every field. Improving efficiency on construction sites and documenting the chain of ownership for artwork are only a few of the potential uses proposed for the technology (and unlike Bitcoin, don’t involve destroying the environment). Berns made his fortune on the rise of Ethereum, a Bitcoin competitor indirectly pegged to its value (as many other cryptocurrencies are). While the prices of cryptocurrencies are constantly in flux, Ethereum allows for more than the transfer of more information than just monetary value. Berns has proposed that all future residents will be given an Ethereum-based ID, which they can use to hold their personal information and securely vote from. Berns has already spent a reported $300 million on the city through his company Blockchains LLC, including commissioning a set of renderings of the future smart city from Wiscombe and EYRC. The architects went big, and plans include a technology park for the advancement of artificial intelligence, 3-D printing, and nanotechnology, all integrated into a blockchain-based system. Vertical manufacturing and workplace hybrid typologies have also been proposed, and from the renderings, it appears that many of the buildings might be clad in dizzying panel arrays that recall circuit boards and harken back to Wiscombe’s previous work. For the residential portion, Berns has already received pre-approval for thousands of homes, which will vary from single-family houses to mixed-use blocks to communal buildings. The preliminary designs for the larger housing complexes draw on existing desert precedents and will bring a touch of Arcosanti-meets-Blade-Runner to the city. Drone deliveries, fully electric autonomous vehicles that can weave between indoor and outdoor spaces, and plans to power the city off of 100 percent renewable energy are all on the table. It might seem pie in the sky, as so many utopian communities are, but Blockchains LLC is already engaging with the residents of Storey County, Nevada, and the tech companies who have industrial parks at the border of the 67,000-acre plot. The feedback gathered will go towards putting together a master plan and the environmental impact statement; construction is slated to begin at the end of 2019 if all goes as planned.
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Privacy expert quits Sidewalk Labs’ smart city project in Toronto

Concerns about data privacy continue to dog the “smart city” planned for the Toronto waterfront by Google’s sister company Sidewalk Labs. But it isn’t just residents and watchdog groups raising the alarm—consultants and advisors to the project are also jumping ship. The latest to leave is Dr. Ann Cavoukian, a privacy expert whose resignation was intended as a “strong statement” about the project's data protection issues. Announced last year, Quayside, as the neighborhood development is called, has from the beginning been envisioned as a district run on data and tech, and is the largest urban development of its kind in North America. A layer of sensors embedded in the city would control traffic systems, monitor air pollution, automate garbage collection, transport residents, and much more. In response to concerns about how it would protect the data, Sidewalk Labs just last week proposed that it should be managed by an independent data trust, according to a new data governance proposal. But this is far from enough for privacy experts like Cavoukian. “I imagined us creating a Smart City of Privacy, as opposed to a Smart City of Surveillance,” she wrote in her resignation letter. Cavoukian’s guidelines center around Privacy by Design principles, which incorporate privacy protection in every step of a project’s engineering process, a condition that she said Sidewalk Labs had also committed to. However, Cavoukian said she realized last week that the data gathered in Quayside, instead of being wiped and unidentifiable, would be available to third parties who would not be beholden to the privacy commitment made by Sidewalk Labs. The Alphabet company, for its part, released a statement that essentially said its hands were tied: "It became clear that Sidewalk Labs would play a more limited role in near-term discussions about a data governance framework at Quayside." With Cavoukian's resignation, she joins Saadia Muzaffar, founder of Tech Girls Canada, who stepped down earlier this month from the project's digital strategy advisory panel due to what she called a lack of transparency and public information about its data protection measures. As Muzaffar wrote in her own letter of resignation: "The most recent roundtable in August displayed a blatant disregard for resident concerns about data and digital infrastructure. Time was spent instead talking about buildings made out of wood and the width of one-way streets, things no one has contested or expressed material concern for in this entire process.” The final plan for the tech-driven district will be released next year.
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Norman Foster and other leaders suspend participation in Saudi Arabian megacity

As the link between the alleged killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman grows stronger, leaders in many sectors, including in media and design, are distancing themselves from projects and conferences sponsored by the regime. This includes architects and design leaders on the advisory board of NEOM, a $500 billion megacity project announced last year at an international investment conference held in Riyadh, the Saudi Arabian capital city. NEOM is envisioned as a "smart city" rising on 10,000 square miles of desert with a separate governance structure and ambitious energy, tech, and sustainability goals, part of a larger "Saudi Vision 2030" plan intended to help move the country away from its dependence on oil revenue. The development's website advertises the city as one that "heralds the future of human civilization by offering its inhabitants an idyllic lifestyle set against a backdrop of a community founded on modern architecture, lush green spaces, quality of life…" and so on. The project posits modern architecture as a key part of what it means to live in the future. On October 9, an official announcement named notable leaders in the field who would participate on NEOM's advisory board. They included Sir Norman Foster, Carlo Ratti of MIT's Senseable Cities Lab, IDEO president and CEO Tim Brown, Sidewalk Labs chairman and CEO Dan Doctoroff, and Travis Kalanick, former CEO of Uber. The initial list also included Jonathan Ive, Apple's chief design officer, but his name was quietly removed from the initial list of 19 names soon after it was released. The announcement came a week after the October 2nd disappearance of Khashoggi, who was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, with numerous news outlets reporting that he had most likely been killed there by Saudi agents, which the Saudi government denies. Since the initial announcement about the board, Doctoroff stated that his inclusion had been a mistake, and Brown also withdrew himself soon after. It appeared that Foster and Ratti were the few holdouts from the architecture world still left on the board. But today, Foster's office told AN: "Earlier this week Lord Foster wrote to the head of the NEOM Advisory Board stating that whilst the situation remains unclear he has suspended his activities in respect of the Board." Ratti's office offered this comment, "Both Carlo and our team are gravely concerned about the Khashoggi case. We are monitoring the situation closely as it develops hour by hour. We are waiting for the results of the U.S. investigation to evaluate the best course of action." With state department officials, major corporations, and media partners withdrawing from the conference where NEOM was announced last year and mounting global pressure to investigate what really happened to Khashoggi, it remains to be seen what impact this will have on any of the numerous deals and projects that have already been set into motion in Saudi Arabia. This not only includes massive undertakings like NEOM, but a range of built projects scheduled for completion later this year and the near future, including projects by SOM, Henning Larsen, and Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architects.  
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Sidewalk Labs releases its vision for Toronto’s waterfront

Alphabet subsidiary Sidewalk Labs has revealed their vision for a proposed “smart city” on Toronto’s waterfront in a (now) 12-acre parcel in the formerly-industrial port district of Quayside. This is the first time the company has released concrete design details on their forthcoming neighborhood, but information on how data will be collected­­—and how much—is still being kept under wraps. If the project is approved as is, the neighborhood could eventually be home to 3,000 residential units built entirely from mass timber. Sidewalk Labs has enlisted the help of the Katerra-owned Michael Green Architecture (MGA), which is no stranger to working with timber, to design the large mixed-use Quayside buildings. At the base of all of the proposed buildings would be “stoas," open-air retail and communal gathering spaces with adjustable protection from the elements. If built, the three-million-square-foot development would be the largest timber project in the world. All of this was revealed during a briefing yesterday ahead of the latest round of public input. Sidewalk Labs released a suite of new details during the public roundtable, including their plans for activating the streets, integrating the adjacent waterway, and doubling the amount of time residents can enjoy outdoors. While the open nature of the modular stoas is meant to encourage pedestrian mingling at ground level, MGA has also designed a series of collapsible, umbrella-like structures to block out wind, rain, and snow. The expandable canopies, when combined with heated streets that melt snow, will supposedly mitigate some of the more unpleasant weather during the winter. Sidewalk Labs is also testing a modular paving system that can be embedded with sensors and rearranged depending on how the street is being used. The team is designing a new multimodal street grid for the neighborhood that prioritizes public transportation, biking, and walking, and that narrows the allotment for cars in anticipation of autonomous vehicles. Of course, Sidewalk Labs’ attempt to create a ground-up, fully-developed smart city is still in the planning phases and faces several hurdles. While tall timber construction was recently permitted in Oregon, Toronto still caps mass timber buildings at six stories; Sidewalk Labs reportedly wants to build as tall as 50 stories in Quayside. As previously mentioned, the company has also been tight-lipped on the type and quantity of data their neighborhood will collect, and it remains to be seen if the proposed technology will be mature enough to support a robust, interconnected infrastructure for 3,000 residents. We’ll find out more as we get closer to the project’s spring groundbreaking date.
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Sidewalk Labs’ grand vision for Toronto shrinks as skepticism grows

On Tuesday, Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto signed a deal that pared down some of the business's plans to design a smart city on the Canadian city's lakeshore. Sidewalk Labs, a New York-based urban innovation startup founded by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, was selected last year to work with Waterfront Toronto, a government-backed corporation, to reimagine underdeveloped parcels on the city’s eastern edge. The proposal, Sidewalk Toronto, envisioned 800 acres of waterfront as a test hub for new urban technologies. Since the announcement, details about the project have been slow to emerge, but last week a 58-page agreement between Sidewalk and Waterfront Toronto revealed a narrower scope for the tech company than originally imagine. Rather than having influence over the entirety of the city's waterfront, Sidewalk Labs has been given a more stringent site plan and governance with just 12 acres of land available for its new high-tech neighborhood at Quayside. The site sits south of Toronto’s downtown at Parliament Slip, a long-underutilized port and empty space adjacent to the city’s elevated highway. While many of the design details have been kept under wraps since Sidewalk Labs was chosen for the project last fall, we do know that it aims to combine a new mobility system for transportation, sustainable and flexible buildings, data integration, and digital infrastructure. In the initial description and renderings, Quayside features “futuristic city” tech innovations such as sensors that can detect pedestrians at traffic lights, robot vehicles that can transport garbage via underground tunnels, and a transformative street layout fit for shared self-driving cars. According to the new documents, the city of Toronto doesn’t plan to give over any other waterfront lands except the Quayside parcel to the Sidewalk Labs project, although Waterfront Toronto officials say that expanding later on to neighboring sites is still a possibility. It was also made clear that Sidewalk Labs will have zero equity in the project, though the group initially invested US$50 million on public consultations and pre-design and -development work. That money could be recovered in their share of the profits should the final plans be approved. To move forward, the designs must go through a series of public roundtables this fall and eventually be looked over by the city council. While a new waterfront scheme has been in talks for years, Toronto is now pushing back on Sidewalk Labs’ design largely, it seems, because the grand vision for the project isn’t all that clear. Many critics have noted the original framework for the proposal was thin on details, especially regarding how Sidewalk Labs would collect and use Torontonians’ data and ensure privacy. In the new agreement, a set of protections and promises are listed but there are no specifics on how the partners would enact those are laid out yet. According to The Globe and Mail, one of Waterfront Toronto’s board members, developer Julie Di Lorenzo who was outspoken in her opposition to Sidewalk Labs’ plan, stepped down from her seat recently because she was “uncomfortable with the nature of the agreement.” In early July, the corporation’s CEO Will Fleissig also suddenly resigned from his position. Tuesday’s deal was signed unanimously with neither formerly involved parties present. The explosion of excitement surrounding smart cities has lessened in recent months, in part due to concerns over how data would safely be distributed across a city-wide digital infrastructure. Not only that, but the question remains unanswered as to whether or not technology is ready for built-from-scratch cities to pop up overnight. Early promises like the self-driving car have yet to find their footing. Waterfront Toronto plans to break ground on the project as early as next spring if all approvals go through. Since this is Sidewalk Lab’s first chance to reinvent the smart city, if it doesn’t work out there, they’ll have to find another town to take them on.  

Smart Cities New York

Smart Cities New York (SCNY) is North America’s leading global conference exploring the emerging influence of cities in shaping the future. With the global smart city market expected to grow to $1.6 trillion within the next three years, Smart Cities New York is guided by the idea that smart cities are truly "Powered by People". The conference brings together thought leaders from public and private sectors, academia and NGOs to discuss investments in physical and digital infrastructure, health, education, sustainability, security, mobility, workforce development, and more, to ensure cities are central to advancing and improving urban life in the 21st century and beyond.
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The future of smart power could lie in a single solar, storage and communications platform

In a 2016 broadcast of NPR’s Fresh Air, author and cultural anthropologist Gretchen Bakke characterized America’s energy grid as “increasingly unstable, underfunded, and incapable of taking us to a new energy future.” Nevertheless, the steady march toward progress continues, and the threat of obsolescence is driving many cities, urban planners, developers, and businesses to invest in the future. “We happen to be at a moment in time where people are starting to fear that technological obsolescence in the workplace and in cities is a pretty tough place to be and has some real consequences economically for the buildings and the cities that don’t have high-speed networking or don’t have modern energy,” observed Brian Lakamp, founder and CEO of Totem Power. “That’s why you’re seeing city planners, mayors, and businesses get more aggressive about deploying built environment technology than they ever have been, as far as I can tell.” (Note: Some states, such as California, have already passed legislation requiring new buildings to be outfitted with electric vehicle charging ports.) Identifying significant shifts in transportation, communication, and energy, Lakamp saw an opportunity to solve a problem that innovation imposes on our aging buildings. For example, as millions of electric vehicles begin to flood the market in the years ahead, a major investment in infrastructure will be required to support them. Similarly, as buildings are rewired with higher-gauge electrical cabling to accommodate new energy and communications networks, it’s clear that smarter, more flexible solutions are required to meet these ever-increasing demands. “With the coming of 5G and some of the IoT technologies, electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles, there’s a lot that is emerging that needs to change in terms of the way communications networks work and new technology is presented that gets really exciting,” Lakamp said. “We’re here as a way to deploy that infrastructure in the built environment in a way that can be made beautiful and impactful.” To that end, Lakamp launched Totem, a groundbreaking energy solution that reimagines and redesigns smart utility. The Totem platform combines solar energy and energy storage, WiFi and 4G communications, electric vehicle charging, and smart lighting into a single, powerful product that weaves these capabilities directly into the built environment.

How It Works

Totem is, at its core, a vertical server rack that’s designed to support evolution in technology over time. Its base product deploys over 40 kWh of energy storage that serves as a grid asset and dynamic energy foundation that ensures energy quality and provides critical resilience in the event of broader grid issues. Integrated solar generation, electric vehicle charging, and LED lighting add further capability to each Totem and sophistication to each property’s energy assets. Totem also provides a reliable hub for Wi-Fi, 4G, and 5G cellular services to bring high-speed connectivity to properties and communities. Through its modern connectivity platform, it also presents a key communications gateway for IoT devices on and around properties. According to a statement from Jeffrey Kenoff, director at architecture firm Kohn Pedersen Fox, “Totem is one of the first to unite design, infrastructure, and community in a single as well as exquisite platform. It’s hard to imagine a major project or public space that it would not transform.”
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NYCx tackles climate change and urban design challenges with tech

The NYCx initiative, a collaborative effort between the tech industry and the New York City’s mayor’s office, has announced the names of the 22 tech leaders who will be advising the program’s efforts to use smart city ideas to tackle urban issues. First announced in October of last year by Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYCx was designed to tackle pollution, income inequality, climate change, transit issues and more by connecting local startups with global tech companies. New York’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Miguel Gamiño and Deputy CTO Jeremy Goldberg are leading the program, with help from the newly formed 22-person Technology Leadership Advisory Council. The program has hit the ground running, and awards for all four of NYCx’s current initiatives will be distributed in the first half of 2018. The most ambitious problems being tackled have been categorized as moonshot projects, which partner with global entities, while another set of challenges, the co-lab challenges, are designed to collect community-specific solutions for localized problems. The most ambitious of these questions might be the Climate Action Challenge, as the city is seeking proposals to transition fully to electric vehicles in every borough in only five to ten years. Split between two “tracks,” the challenge wants to simultaneously develop new ways of charging electric vehicles, as well as make charging stations ubiquitous across the city. Winners will be announced on April 30th, 2018, and each selected team will receive up to $20,000 and work with the city to implement their ideas. On the co-lab side, the mayor’s office wants to create safer nighttime corridors and activate public areas in Brownsville, and wire up Governor’s Island with 5G wireless internet by this May. Both challenges involve changing how the local community interacts with public space, and could provide a template for future urban planning and development throughout NYC. The Technology Leadership Advisory Council, which will be evaluating these projects, has attracted members of the country’s largest tech companies. Microsoft, Ford, LinkedIn, Google and more have all contributed talent and will continue to work with the city government on projects “from drones to blockchain,” according to the mayor’s office. This partnership makes sense on its face, as several of these companies are already developing their own smart city models. The full list of 22 advisory members can be read here.
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Boston-area smart city aims at city’s booming tech sector

While tech giant Alphabet recently announced it would develop 12 acres of Toronto waterfront into a smart-city-technology testing ground, a similar undertaking has already begun 12 miles south of Boston. Developer LStar Ventures has big plans to turn this 1,500-acre site, dubbed Union Point (formerly South Weymouth Naval Air Station), into a “smart” development that will specially cater to technology companies. On the surface, the project is an eco-friendly exurban development with a leafy, bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly mixed-use master plan. In addition to offering housing, retail, residences, restaurants, three million square feet of office space, and eight million square feet of commercial development, Union Point would connect to Boston—and its booming tech industry scene—via a nearby MBTA commuter rail. Boston-based Elkus Manfredi and Watertown, Massachusetts–based Sasaki are master planning Union Point and working with engineering firms such as Arup, Vanderweil Engineers, and VHB on a range of sustainable features, including natural, on-site wastewater treatment systems. However, where Union Point really sets itself apart is in its information technology infrastructure. The city will lay the foundations for its tenants to use its streets and buildings as testing grounds for smart city technology. In addition to omnipresent wi-fi, “Union Point will have a site-wide fiber-optic cabling system to support commercial tenants, building assets, and IoT [Internet of Things] systems,” said David Wilts, associate principal and digital master planning leader at Arup. In other words, companies will be able to install sensors to collect data on air quality and building performance, and even be able to set up public digital signage. In this way, Union Point could easily support smart city ventures similar to Chicago’s Array of Things sensor network or New York City’s LinkNYC towers. The first stage of development is a $25 million sports complex designed by Elkus Manfredi and Sasaki that will feature multiple fields, including a rugby pitch, playground, park, restaurant, and renovated gymnasium. Including this complex was crucial in the two-year process of getting local communities on board with the development; its fields will be available to the three nearby towns at reduced leasing rates. Technology, however, is a notoriously fickle thing to design into a project. For example, the video-call screens installed in Korea’s smart city mega-development Songdo are already obsolete. But Union Point hopes to avoid that by only laying the groundwork for its tenants. “LStar Ventures aspires to be the leader in the practical application of technology that we know, that we can imagine, and that is beyond today’s imagination,” said David Manfredi, founding principal at Elkus Manfredi. “That is why the armature that we create must be flexible, durable, and adaptable over time.” The Boston-area is no stranger to smart city developments, as the 45-acre Cambridge Crossing tech hub was also unveiled this year.
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Bill Gates buys 25,000 acres of Arizona desert to build a smart city

A Bill Gates-run investment firm is hopping on the thriving smart city trend and recently paid $80 million to acquire 25,000 acres of land in Arizona with plans to build a technologically-integrated community from the ground up. Gates sees the city, tentatively named “Belmont,” as a chance to build information networking into the bedrock of any future development there. "Belmont will create a forward-thinking community with a communication and infrastructure spine that embraces cutting-edge technology, designed around high-speed digital networks, data centers, new manufacturing technologies and distribution models, autonomous vehicles and autonomous logistics hubs," said a representative from Belmont Partners, Gates' Arizona-based real estate investment group. Currently an undeveloped patch of desert 45 minutes west of Phoenix, the future of Belmont might hinge on old-fashioned infrastructure. While currently without water or electricity, the city’s growth would also be driven by the completion of I-11, an interstate highway connecting Phoenix to Las Vegas, Nevada. While the highway is tentatively set to complete construction in 2018, no timetables for Belmont have been publicly announced yet. What has been laid out is how the land will be divided up. Out of the 25,000 acres, 470 will be used for public schools, while 3,800 acres will go towards retail, office and commercial space. The remaining land will hold 80,000 residences. Arizona is no stranger to utopian city projects. The iconic Arcosanti, only an hour north of Phoenix, was founded in the 1970’s with the intent of merging the built environment with the natural world. Sadly, Arcosanti’s ambitious goal of demonstrating the efficiency of a smartly planned city never quite came to pass. While still a learning space and monument to designer Paolo Soleri, Arcosanti currently only houses between 50 to 150 people at any one time. "Smart" planned communities have a history of going awry, and Songdo, South Korea is a prime example. Originally built as an interconnected smart city meant to lure international investment, the majority of residents are now South Koreans who have been priced out of Seoul. Despite the underground trash system and personalized language learning programming for residents, Songdo also remains sparsely populated. Only time will tell if Gates’ city will be an inclusive, holistically planned community, or just a test ground for Microsoft products.
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How sensing technologies can reshape architecture, public health, and cities

Carlo Ratti is the founder of the Turin, Italy-based firm Carlo Ratti Associati (CRA) and director of MIT’s Senseable City Lab. In both roles, he explores how technology can improve the built environment and, it follows, our lives. Recently in Turin, CRA completed the Agnelli Foundation headquarters, which employs a smartphone app to let occupants set personal temperature preferences that the building translates into individualized “thermal bubbles.” Meanwhile, the Senseable City Lab has been a steady source of data and visualization projects—such as mapping walking, running, and cycling trips in Boston and San Francisco—while dabbling in related fields like robotics. AN talked to Ratti about the opportunities and risks that wired, sensing, and smart architecture will bring.

The Architect’s Newspaper: How do you feel about the term “smart cities”? It has become very loosely defined and can refer to anything from superfast fiber-optic networks to autonomous vehicles.

Carlo Ratti: To be frank, I don’t feel that great about it. As you say, “smart city” is often used in a loose way. Also, too many times it equates to top-down approaches in the implementation of urban technological solutions—à la Masdar or Songdo. Our vision is different. When we started the Senseable City Lab at MIT and our design office Carlo Ratti Associati around ten years ago, we were interested in how our cities could become more “sense-able”: able-to-sense, sensible, and perhaps even more “sensitive.” And this has remained our main focus since then.

In many cases, that “sensing” means collecting masses of data—whether it’s trees, human movement, or ride-sharing potential—to reveal new efficiencies, solutions, or patterns.

We need to go back to the very notion of design. According to Herbert Simon, “the natural sciences are concerned with how things are…design, on the other hand, is concerned with how things ‘ought to be.’” I believe that designers must challenge what exists today, introduce new and alternate possibilities, and ultimately pave the way toward a desirable future. In this process, it is vital to get people’s input, which often happens online. In our latest book (The City of Tomorrow, Yale University Press, 2016), we call this method futurecraft.

But do you think there’s a privacy risk that comes with getting people’s input—their data? Are you concerned about surveillance?

I am very concerned—but more about what is happening in our pockets than about what is happening in our cities. Most of our activities—where we go, how we get there, what we buy, to name just a few—are recorded thousands of times every day and stored somewhere in the cloud. Who controls the data? How can we avoid data monopolies? Such questions are more topical than ever.

I would rather prefer a society where value comes not from data itself, but from what intelligence can extract out of it.

That intelligence can really benefit a society. Your projects Underworlds and Urban Exposures explore the public-health benefits of technology—something that is often overlooked in this discussion.

Both projects focus on data to provide a better understanding of human health in the city—which in turn can inspire policy action. Urban Exposures, for example, combines data from air quality measurement stations and human mobility to estimate human exposure to pollutants in a more accurate way.

Currently, it seems European cities are ahead of American cities when it comes to using technology for the public good.

It’s hard to generalize. Europe is very heterogeneous—Copenhagen or Stockholm are very different than, say, Valencia or Athens. What I often notice in the U.S. is a bias against government spending in public infrastructure—perhaps a soft version of “The Plot Against Trains” described by Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker. At the same time, we will find out soon how the trillion-dollar plan by President Trump on U.S. infrastructure will be spent—hopefully not just on walls...

On that topic, new technologies are creating huge opportunity to change—and profit from—how we move within existing infrastructure. As carmakers and ride-sharing companies race to capture that market, would you like to speculate on what “mobility” will look like in 20, even 50, years?

Autonomous vehicles promise to have a dramatic impact on urban life, blurring the distinction between private and public modes of transportation. “Your” car could give you a lift to work in the morning and then, rather than sitting idle in a parking lot, give a lift to someone else in your family—or, for that matter, to anyone. As a result, a single vehicle can go from one-hour usage per day to 24 hours. Under such conditions—and increased sharing of rides—we have calculated that the mobility demand of a city could be met with just a fraction of today’s vehicles.

There could also be dystopian scenarios, however. Car transportation could become so cheap that it might drain customers from subways and buses, turning our streets into an instantaneous gridlock. The impact of autonomous vehicles will depend on the policy decisions we make. I agree with my friend Robin Chase, founder of Zipcar, when she says that “simply eliminating the drivers from cars, and keeping everything else about our system the same, will be a disaster.”

Beyond urban infrastructure, your firm is focusing on infrastructure at the building scale—interior climate systems specifically. This goes all the way back to a 2011 paper you helped author, but most recently it was the focus of your app-driven design for the Agnelli Foundation headquarters. Why this interest in temperature, occupancy, light, and energy usage?

The 2011 paper shows that a staggering amount of energy is wasted on heating empty offices, homes, and partially occupied buildings. That finding prompted a series of projects where we tried to better synchronize human presence and climate control. The Agnelli Foundation, which opened just a few months ago, is the first application of such ideas at the architectural scale. We equipped a historical office building with digital sensors that monitor variables such as temperature, lighting levels, and matched this data with occupancy information.

When a person gets into a building and sets her preferences in term of temperature or lighting, the building-management system recognizes her and automatically responds by activating the system accordingly. It generates something like a “thermal bubble,” following a person within the building as she moves across the various rooms and corridors. The final outcome is better comfort for users as well as a substantial reduction in energy consumptions—estimated up to 40 percent. When all occupants leave, the room returns naturally to “standby mode” and saves energy, much as a computer would do.

We imagine that more and more buildings will be equipped with sensor networks—making architecture increasingly able to “sense and respond.” By designing climates, we might get closer to the vision of architecture as a third skin—an endlessly reconfigurable space able to adapt to human needs.

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Austin is getting its own “smart” street

Smart city technology is a burgeoning but embryonic field: Kansas City has its "Living Lab," New York City has its LinkNYC, and Toronto may get an entire Sidewalk Labs–developed smart city tech testing ground—and that's just to name a few. While each project is different, many involve using a network of sensors, wi-fi stations, and smartphone apps to better connect residents (and tourists) with local businesses, events, and public transportation. Now, Austin is joining this cadre of smart city testers. Austin CityUP Consortium—an alliance of businesses, government agencies, nonprofits, and other organizations—is behind the Smart 2nd Street Living Lab, an effort to bring a similar smart city network to five blocks of Austin's 2nd Street. (The Lab will extend from Guadalupe Street to Trinity Street on 2nd Street, to be exact.) This system will, according to the Consortium, "collect [and] analyze data such as: pedestrian, traffic, sound, air quality, video, and more to determine safety, quality of life, and other needs." Helping to power this undertaking will be Connecthings, a French company that has already implemented similar technology in European cities such as Lyon and Barcelona, and even farther afield in Rio de Janeiro. How does it work? Generally, it goes like this: many already-existing apps benefit from knowing your location. If they know where you are, the apps can show you geographically-relevant information on local events, transit notifications, security alerts, etc. That's what Connecthings does: it deploys small battery-driven sensors and software that ensures location-specific information gets to the relevant apps on your phone. In the case of Austin, Connecthings is just providing elements of the software while BlueCats is deploying the beacons. Additionally, the Austin test won't initially involve apps—instead, when users with Bluetooh and Chrome approach certain bus stations, they will receive the option (in their notifications/widget panel) to connect to a location-specific URL. Selecting that URL will provide real-time bus schedules for that stop. This feature will be operational as soon as the sensors are installed in September. Down the line, as early as October, other apps will enable the project's full range of "use cases," which includes the ability to find open parking spots, locate alternative transportation options (e.g. ride-shares, public bicycles, taxis), receive wayfinding assistance, or learn about pop-ups and public art. Additionally, the city can use the sensors to record the street's environmental conditions and learn how people are using the streetscape itself. “Austin embraces new technologies that empower its citizens and visitors to get access to real-time information—hence facilitate daily life in helping navigating transportation services,” said Laetitia Gazel Anthoine, CEO and founder of Connecthings. “AustinCityUP is Austin’s key innovation enabler that fosters partnerships and helps make an impact in the city, right away.” If successful, according to the Consortium, this network could extend beyond 2nd Street.