Posts tagged with "Smart Cities":

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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.
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$1.2 billion eco-friendly district will rise in Reno, Nevada

Architect and developer Don J Clark Group and landscape architects Office of Cheryl Barton (OCB) are currently at work on the initial phases of the world’s first high desert biome eco-district, West 2nd District, a new $1.2 billion purpose-built neighborhood in the heart of downtown Reno, Nevada.

The project proposes taking over a series of underutilized lots in order to jumpstart an ecologically driven neighborhood containing 1,900 housing units, 450,000 square feet of office space, and 250,000 square feet of retail space. The nearly 30-building district will provide needed market-rate and workforce housing as well, with 20 percent of rental units available as affordable housing for those who qualify.

The construction of a new district—bounded along its southern edge by the Truckee River, a tributary to Pyramid Lake and Lake Tahoe—also represents a special opportunity to connect Reno to nature more efficiently than piecemeal implementation would. OCB is looking to integrate the district’s street life with the surrounding natural habitat in biome-specific ways. “We are very interested in the authenticity of the landscape and in bringing the larger ecology into the city,” Cheryl Barton said. Barton aims to plant over 300 trees across the 17-acre site; the firm aims to establish and expand a sense of pedestrian comfort on the street by reducing heat-island effect. OCB is also embedding expanses of vertical and horizontal gardens throughout the plan, including on rooftops. Barton explained further: “We are taking an artistic approach to the paseo design—there will be broad, shallow channels [embedded in the paseos] that can be used for patio seating regularly and, during the rainy season, can collect water.”

The district will be fully integrated with regard to stormwater sequestration and wastewater treatment, and will also employ a variety of digital tools to monitor and control these adaptive systems. For Barton, the relationship between these technical components and her efforts to make Reno’s streetscapes more bearable are two sides of the same coin. “Landscapes are a system like any other: It’s all about understanding the climate, the water, the soil, and the connectivity of that system, and bringing that understanding into the public realm.”

One hope is that the West 2nd District can feed Reno’s booming technology industry. Reno is affordable—and a 45-minute flight from Silicon Valley—so it is absorbing regional economic and population growth. Tesla operates its Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada, just outside Reno, and Apple operates cloud-computing servers in the area as well.

The influx of technology-related capital is a boon for Reno, and continued investment will likely fuel the continued growth of West 2nd. “We are focusing on a lot of categories,” said Don Clark, “from being an eco-district to pursuing LEED accreditation to focusing on walkable communities and complete streets—and are ultimately making a new, next-generation, integrated section of a city.”

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Sidewalk Labs may develop its own district to test smart city tech

This May 3 to May 6, the Brooklyn Navy Yard's Duggal Greenhouse is hosting the inaugural Smart Cities NYC conference and expo. Smart Cities NYC is ambitious in its scope, with a global selection of speakers whose backgrounds include government, the tech industry, academia, real estate/development, and design. Autonomous vehicles, public health, construction technology, resilient urban landscapes, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are just a few of the subjects being discussed. The Architect's Newspaper is covering the first two days of the conference—see yesterday's coverage here! Dan Doctoroff, C.E.O. and co-founder of Sidewalk Labs, Alphabet's urban innovations company and designer of LinkNYC, today laid out his company's vision for driving smart city technology into the near future. Before delving into Sidewalk Lab's goals and methods, Doctoroff painted a picture of an industry facing intrinsic challenges. "Getting things done in cities is really hard.... no city in the world does a good job of truly integrating the physical and the digital," said Doctoroff. That's why, he said, venture capitalists hadn't invested deeply in smart city technology companies. Additionally, as infrastructure crumbles and cities become unaffordable, the public loses faith in government's ability to solve problems. Yet, he believes that technological innovations in materials/fabrication, social media, machine learning, and related fields have the ability to revolutionize cities the same ways that steam engines, electric grids, and cars did in the past.   Doctoroff then discussed an ambitious plan to accelerate the innovation process. Sidewalk Labs is "looking into developing a large-scale district" that would serve as a smart city technology testbed. The company is currently in the feasibility studies phase, and it remained unclear if this would be ground-up construction, but it sees this test bed as critical. Thanks to its district-scale size, it will attract an aggregation of innovators whose collaborations and synergies will create positive feedback loops of experimentation and success. Put differently, the sheer scale of the testbed will make its technologies greater than the sum of their parts. Once successful models are discovered, he predicted, they will be quickly dissimulated. He cited The High Line (a Bloomberg-era project that Doctoroff oversaw as deputy mayor) as an example of a globally and rapidly copied idea. Throughout his speech, Doctoroff often repeated that such innovations would only be successful if they improved quality of life, health, opportunity, equity, and other laudable goals. To that end, he outlined several specific areas where Sidewalk Labs was pursuing its ideas. One was the more efficient use of real estate; Sidewalk is currently looking into prefab modular housing, sensors that monitor building performance in real-time, and robotic delivery services that would reduce the need for residential storage space. Another area is mobility systems that would replace private cars, which Doctoroff said were a financial burden to many ($9,000 to $10,000 per year for a single family), as well as creators of sprawl, lethal accidents, and carbon dioxide emissions. Sidewalk Labs is exploring self-driving cars, car shares, optimizing existing road network usage, and the incentivizing of walking and biking. Sidewalk Labs's third area of focus is sustainability. Most notably, Doctoroff cited a thermal exchange system in development that could capture buildings' wasted heat, thereby reducing energy usage by up to 80 percent over a year. He also mentioned more familiar techniques, like greywater recycling and Passive House technology. A fourth area involved urban commons: the "public realm that is the city's living room or backyard," as Doctoroff put it. Innovations in that department included the use of retractable ETFE canopies to protect bike lanes and sensors that monitor air quality and the status of public assets (presumably benches, streetlights, and similar infrastructure). Lastly, Doctoroff referenced the "close-knit community that uses data to improve services." This area of focus included ensuring universal access to broadband and undertakings like LinkNYC. The improved collection and analysis of data could improve healthcare delivery and new democratic forums. On the whole, Sidewalk Labs's plans were ambitious and brimming with technological optimism, despite the challenges that smart city technology companies face. The question of top-down versus bottom-up efforts was a final and critical undercurrent of its vision: "You can never truly plan a city, you can [just] lay foundations," said Doctoroff. How exactly that plays out, and where the public has an opportunity to shape and direct these technologies, remains to be seen. Want more technology news for the architecture, engineering, and construction industries? Don't miss The Architect's Newspaper's Tech+ expo, coming to New York City this May 23!
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Driverless cars, bikes, and the future of urban transportation at Smart Cities NYC

This May 3 to May 6, the Brooklyn Navy Yard's Duggal Greenhouse is hosting the inaugural Smart Cities NYC conference and expo. Smart Cities NYC is ambitious in its scope, with a global selection of speakers whose backgrounds include government, the tech industry, academia, real estate/development, and design. Autonomous vehicles, public health, construction technology, resilient urban landscapes, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are just a few of the subjects being discussed. The Architect's Newspaper is covering the first two days of the conference—stay tuned for another article tomorrow! Transportation was a fixture of the first day's programming. At the "Integrated Urban Mobility" panel, the conversation revolved around how car and bike sharing companies were changing cities and their streetscapes. The panel kicked off with an urban design question: How will cities treat curbside parking now that, with the advent of car sharing, it's less necessary? Now that it's free for other uses, "space along the curb [may soon] be very valuable," said Jay Walder, CEO of bike share company Motivate. However, "one of the most challenging things cities need to do" is to determine how to regulate, share, and maintain these spaces as private care ownership disappears. While parking may be a relative afterthought for architects, it was a critical part of the transportation future for the panelists. Aaron Landry, general manager of car2go North America (a car-sharing service), explained how his company minimizes how long its cars occupy curbside space. By predicting and optimizing where car pickups and dropoffs happen, car2go's vehicles are rarely parked for long. Developers are also fighting parking requirements in new developments, instead opting to provide residents with transit subsidies or dedicated car share pickup/dropoff/storage points. Without parking requirements, developers can allot less valuable land to unproductive hardtop. The gradual elimination of parking also led to another major question: If parking meters, registration fees, tolls, and other related taxes disappear with car ownership, how will cities fund road maintenance? "We should absolutely have road pricing," said Walder, referencing tech-driven systems that track where and when individuals drive. Members of this panel, as well as later ones, agreed that such a system would be essential to funding road infrastructure in the future. The panel also tackled how bike and car shares fit into a city's larger transportation system. "We don't compete with the transit system," said Walder, "we're part of it." He stated that 40 percent of Citibike trips start and end near public transit. Similarly, Dan Curtin, vice president of Zipcar's Fleet and Supply Chain, said that private car ownership—not public transport—was Zipcar's primary adversary. In fact, he described how Zipcar customers use more public transit services once they give up their cars. (At a later panel, Michael Masserman, senior director of Federal & International Government Relations at Lyft, said that certain cities subsidize commuters to take Lyft to and from public transport, solving "last mile/first mile" challenges. Masserman also said car ride sharing services like Lyft could replace inefficient bus routes, such as those that run late at night and carry few customers.) Lastly, in cities everywhere "patterns of travel are more fundamentally complex than before," declared Walder. Greg Lindsay, the panel's moderator and Senior Fellow of the New Cities Foundation's Connected Mobility Initiative, pointed to apps like Portland's TriMet that consolidate various "subscriptions" of private and public transit in a single place. In theory, this would let commuters move fluidly between transportation options. Kristof Vereenooghe, CEO of EV-Box, a company that supplies electric charging stations and related services, added that such apps are already common in Europe. Overall, the panel seemed optimistic these changes would steadily snowball into a full transportation revolution. People are realizing the value of short commutes and, in a future of shared commuting, the financially vulnerable can also be freed from the monetary burdens of car ownership. Add developers into the mix of transportation-savvy urbanites, and there's a strong driving force for change. The "Transforming Transportation" panel dealt with a related topic: driverless cars. Dan Galves, chief communications officer at vision-based driver assistance systems company Mobileye, started the panel by saying fully driveless, autonomous, mass-produced cars could be here by 2024 to 2025. As compared to the previous panel, this one was even more bullish on the future: "All this technology is leading to seamless intermodal transportation—faster, safer, more tailored," said Scott Corwin, managing director of Deloitte Consulting's Future of Mobility Leader initiative. And as with a similar panel at another recent transportation conference, the consensus was that networks of shared, driverless, electric vehicles would be the ideal future scenario. But before we get there, the panel agreed that cities would act as crucial testbeds, using their varying and unique layouts to expose weaknesses in autonomous driving systems. One "tremendously huge challenge" does remain, said John Moavenzadeh, head of Mobility Industries and System Initiative at the World Economic Forum. Each city and country has its own "culture" for how to pay for its roads. A road pricing system (also a subject in the previous panel) will be a challenge to create. Corwin helped conclude the panel on a forceful note, saying we "need creative, digitally-based, sustainable, equitable solutions," because there will be no more 2nd Ave. Subways or Robert Moses to fix transportation challenges the old way. Want more technology news for the architecture, engineering, and construction industries? Don't miss The Architect's Newspaper's Tech+ expo, coming to New York City this May 23!
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Step into Rio de Janeiro’s smart city nerve center at Storefront’s latest exhibition

As an architect or urban designer, how do you represent "smart city" technology? Something that deals with environmental conditions, government bureaucracies, and endless data streams as well as public space, human movement, and architecture? Governments and businesses are rushing to develop and implement these technologies, making this a pressing challenge for any designer seeking to represent contemporary cities. Control Syntax Rio at the Storefront for Art and Architecture offers its own evocative approach by avoiding the all-too-familiar format of wall-mounted photos, diagrams, and timelines. Instead, Control Syntax Rio uses an enormous streetscape model whose detailed tableaus—animated by sound effects, film, and vibrations—immerse visitors in a complex and unique piece of smart city command-and-control infrastructure in Rio de Janeiro. Control Syntax Rio was designed and curated by two Columbia GSAPP faculty members: Farzin Lotfi-Jam, principal at multidisciplinary studio farzinfarzin, and Mark Wasiuta, co-director of the GSAPP's CCCP program. The pair were tasked with creating an exhibition on Rio de Janerio's Centro de Operações Rio (The Center of Operations Rio, abbreviated to "COR") by the Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam. The institute had been organizing a series of exhibits and events around the theme of the Olympics and the COR was developed to prepare Rio de Janeiro for hosting the 2016 Summer Olympic games. As Wasiuta told The Architect's Newspaper (AN), the city's "topography, infrastructure, population distribution, disparities between the formalized and informalized parts" make it difficult to manage. "The International Olympic Committee (IOC) wanted Rio to develop something like the center of operations, in order to demonstrate... that they were capable of managing the metabolism of the city." At the heart of the COR are a series of "if, then" statements—an algorithm that originated from IBM—that govern how the city responds to escalating levels of crises. The system first detects and categorizes a disruption (which range from quotidian "incident" and "event" to "emergency" and "crisis") then coordinates a response. Along this spectrum falls everything from traffic jams and peaceful gatherings to police actions, earthquakes, and landslides. Complicating Farzin and Wasiuta's task was that this system isn't hidden from the public eye: in addition to serving as a management device, the COR is a public relations tool aimed at Rio's residents and the IOC. The COR is how this smart city "sees itself, how it portrays that image of ongoing information extraction and control, how it portrays that image back to its residents and an international audience.... A representation producing device and mechanism for the city," said Wasiuta. Farzin and Wasiuta grappled with how to represent the COR in its dual functions. To tackle both challenges, Farzin said they created two intertwined "paths" to follow in the exhibition's model. One is physical: a single street leads the visitor through a series of events, emergencies, etc., that are frozen in time. Placed at eye-level (some may have to go on their tippy-toes), the model immerses you in each scene. Opposite the model is twenty monitors that depict the second "path," the algorithm itself. Half the monitors show a live feed streamed by small surveillance cameras trained on the model. The other ten monitors display a pre-recorded film of the model that moves from tableau to tableau. The film is supplemented by a monotone computer voice that narrates the COR algorithm at work: which sensors detected the event, current environmental conditions, the nature of the event, the coordinated response, etc. "We forced ourselves to put these multiple fragments and inputs into a singular whole... a continuous narrative" that depicts this "emerging computational urbanism," said Farzin. You feel almost as though you're the algorithm itself: hearing your own thought processes as your cameras—not penetrating beyond facades and hardtop—scan the streetscape. Meanwhile, it also feels like a performance: faced with scenes of perpetual crises, the COR is always there to respond. "We don't really want it to read like a model," Farzin added. "It's not such much a model as it is a movement path, a decision path through the city, and it's a film set. We wanted it to read that way more than an object." The end result is a fascinating depiction of the COR and how the COR depicts itself, all rolled into one. Thankfully, the exhibition is not a fetishistic enterprise of documenting the actual COR in all its high-tech, "situation room" glory. Instead, it takes us inside how the COR thinks and evokes how it would like to be seen—methodical, calm, and efficient in reacting to disruption. (It did make me wonder, however: What happens when technology enables cities to be proactive, even aggressive, in preventing disaster? When algorithms and controls shape how we use the cities, subtly or otherwise, to either prevent disasters or increase efficiencies?) Ultimately, the definition and practice of "smart cities" are still up in the air. Farzin and Wasiuta are currently looking at a project in South Korea that's built from the ground-up with smart city tech; it's a very different exercise as compared to retrofitting an old city like Rio de Janeiro. But faced with this specific urban condition in Rio de Janeiro, one where narrative and self-representation are critical, the pair eschewed a standard exhibition format. "We made a conscious decision not to be didactic or documentary in the sense that one might be," said Wasiuta. "Which isn't to say those projects can be amazing. But it was a conscious experiment to position the research within that space of representation and ask, 'What's still legible within that?'" Control Syntax Rio runs from March 28th to May 20th, 2017 at the Storefront for Art and Architecture (97 Kenmare St, New York, NY). It was originally commissioned by the Rotterdam-based organization Het Nieuwe Instituut, where it was on view from June 2016 to January 2017.  
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Brooklyn Navy Yard to host four-day smart cities conference

This May 3 to May 5, multiple venues across the Brooklyn Navy Yard will host the inaugural Smart Cities NYC conference and expo. The conference is ambitious in its scope: it features a global selection of speakers with backgrounds ranging from government to technology, academia, real estate/development, and design. Key topics of interest to architects, designers, and developers will be transportation (from biking/walking to driverless cars), public health, innovations in construction risk and public/private partnerships (with panels on the LaGuardia Airport redevelopment and Penn Station), resiliency, and the Internet of Things (IoT). Smart Cities NYC Founder Jerry MacArthur Hultin told The Architect's Newspaper that the conference:
...represents what we're trying to do more broadly as a strategy: Build a capacity to use technology in cities to get people a better life. We're looking at any of the levers that make that happen so that young people start inventing more things, governments pick up on these ideas and do them, companies finance them and make them happen, citizens help design them. The more there's an ecosystem of activity, the better.
Notable participants include a team from Columbus, Ohio handling the city's $50 million "Smart City" grant, Matthew Claudel of MIT's Design X (who will be on the panel "Anticipatory Urban Design for the Age of Autonomous Vehicles"), New Lab, Ger Baron, the Chief Technology Office of Amsterdam, James Ramsey, co-founder and creator of the Lowline (who will be on the panel "The Repositioning and Revitalizing of Cities"), and Daniel Zarrilli, senior director, climate policy & programs chief resilience officer, New York Office of the Mayor—and that's just to name a few. See a full list here. The conference will feature lectures, workshops, and social gatherings spread across the Navy Yard venues, which include the 35,000-square-foot Duggal Greenhouse, 30,000-square-foot Agger Warehouse, and the 5,737-square-foot Building 92. The former two are large, open event spaces while the latter features a cafe, terrace, and multipurpose room. There will also be tours outside the Navy Yard (details TBD). "Architects have been beginning to see that this new technology is really going to influence urban design, building design," said Hultin. "Seeing the new technology, debating, imagining what you can do with it, it's really essential." For more on Smart Cities NYC '17, see their page here. Tickets range from approximately $420 to $1,250.
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New initiative seeks to map Chicago’s underground infrastructure

Chicago-based consortium City Digital is working on a project to map the subterranean infrastructure of the Windy City. Their underground infrastructure mapping (UIM) platform will “generate, organize, visualize, and store 3D underground infrastructure data,” such as the location and depth of gas lines, water pipes, and fiber optic, and is expected to save the city “millions of dollars in construction and planning processes,” according to a press release by UI Labs, a partner in the project. Though still in its testing phase, the platform will work alongside existing construction and development as engineers and city workers open holes in streets and sidewalks. They simply take a snapshot of the pipes and wires that are revealed underneath the pavement surface, which is then scanned into the mapping platform to extract information such as depth, height, and width of the pipes or cables. Afterward, the data will be layered onto a map of Chicago’s streets, and with continued use, the platform will be able to extrapolate the layout of other untapped areas with increasing accuracy, according to CityLab City Digital's project isn't the only smart city initiative underway in Chicago. The Array of Things is seeking to install approximately 500 sensing devices across the city that will collect data on temperature, light, ambient noise, pedestrian and vehicle traffic, among other factors, and will eventually be able to provide insights around urban flooding, precipitation, and pollutants. The project explicitly states their interest in “monitoring the city’s environment and activity, not individuals,” arguing that the “privacy protection is built into the design of the sensors and into the operating policies.” Array of Things is spearheaded by the Urban Center for Computation and Data, a research initiative of the Computation Institute of the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory. In implementing these new projects, Chicago seeks to join the ranks of the world’s leading smart cities, such as Barcelona, Singapore, and London, which have made significant increases in efficiency by embracing new technologies. Still, the developments have raised concern about privacy, and whether the projects will serve to make real improvements in urban life, or to simply make big tech vendors even richer, according to The Chicago Tribune.
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The City of New York says no to free porn (at LinkNYC kiosks)

You can't watch porn on the street.

That's what New York City is telling its citizens who use LinkNYC, the free wifi kiosks that the city installed in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Queens last February.

Designed to replace 7,500 anachronistic pay phones, the 400 kiosks let people check maps, the weather, recharge portable devices, and stand around for hours streaming pornography, sometimes while enjoying a beer or other substances.

To combat misuse, the kiosk operator, LinkNYC network, is suspending internet browsing at all stations (the wifi will still be available for personal devices, and users can still make phone calls). The city and LinkNYC network are working out a plan that hopefully will provide free internet to the public but restrict access to the more lurid corners of the internet.

“These kiosks are often monopolized by individuals creating personal spaces for themselves, engaging in activities that include playing loud explicit music, consuming drugs and alcohol, and the viewing of pornography,” said City Council member Corey Johnson in a letter last month to city and LinkNYC officials.

“I don’t think anybody should be able to sit there and watch movies all day long,” borough president Gale Brewer said. “People are pulling up sofas or chairs or what have you.”

A spokesperson for LinkNYC called the kiosk design "iterative" and noted that the speakers, which some users blast music on, are now turned down at night. The company's experimented with adding filters to block objectionable content, the New York Times reported.

This is why we can't have nice things.

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Washington, D.C.’s new digital kiosks and sensor network will harvest a wealth of urban data

At seven feet tall and featuring 55-inch screens, the 30 kiosks coming to downtown D.C. will be much more than glorified digital ad machines. Designed by New York–based Smart City Media, the kiosks will feature timely information relating to nearby restaurants, retail, events, and public transportation. This pilot program is led by private nonprofit DowntownDC Business Improvement District (BID), which is supported by the property owners within its 138-block area northeast of the White House and Constitution Avenue.

The kiosks will monitor noise levels, temperature, air quality, humidity, and barometric pressure. This data will be supplemented by an array of sensors placed on the BID’s buildings that will also monitor the surroundings. Unlike the kiosks, these sensors won’t have a conventional data connection; they’ll use a technology specially developed for “Internet of Things” applications: Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN). LPWAN devices send small bursts of encrypted data over radio to a base station. While the data bursts can’t be large—you couldn’t transmit a song or movie—the sensors gain range and long battery life (up to 10 years, depending on usage). Companies like Portsmouth, New Hampshire–based Senet—which is building a new LPWAN network in D.C. for this project—arebetting that LPWAN is the future backbone of smart-city technology. Conventionally connected sensors elsewhere within the BID’s buildings will monitor energy and water usage, along with waste production and data related to occupancy. Combined with public data—such as bike share usage—a formidable data set emerges for the entire D.C. BID.

Much like New York’s LinkNYC program, these D.C. kiosks will offer free wi-fi and pay for themselves with new digital ad revenue. However, the BID’s efforts will tap into deep technological infrastructure already in place in the nation’s capital. Soon, researchers will be able to map loads of information onto D.C.’s urban landscape.

After the sensors collect this data, but before it’s distributed to stakeholders, software from New York City–based maalka will aggregate that information and—in the words of its CEO Rimas Gulbinas—“slice and dice” it for easy sharing. BID members will log into maalka’s software to track the performance of their buildings, and the BID will roll out a private/public access point in the future. (The BID is currently determining what data sets will be public, as some information may be sensitive.) Once released, this information could be used for an endless amount of analyses, including exploring connections between the environment and health, measuring the impact of policy initiatives, tracking sustainability, and optimizing transit. “Once this data becomes available and collaborative cities provide data in the same way, it creates an opportunity for app development that is cross-city which has not existed until now,” said Wilfred Pinfold, CEO of Urban.Systems, a consultancy working with the BID.

As for the data itself, the BID isn’t claiming ownership. “We don’t plan on owning any data,” said DowntownDCBID director of sustainability Scott Pomeroy, “but we will protect data that our stakeholders want to have protected.” He added that transparency and openness are actually the main objective: “There’s a value in that transparency because it can be analyzed and worked with” by app developers, researchers, and policy makers, Pomeroy added. Nearby shops will be able to broadcast ads on nearby kiosks, meaning, “you’re going to get stuff that’s locally relevant as opposed to [the big box businesses] out on the street now,” said Smart City Media CEO Tom Touchet.

Among the many entities behind this kiosk project—including the BID, maalka, Smart City Media, and more—there is a strong consensus that this effort represents a recent convergence of technological know-how and political will-power. For example, the BID also operates an EcoDistrict initiative that’s committed to improving sustainability; the U.S. General Services Administration owns 30 percent of the buildings within the BID and has been a key driver of the initiative. D.C. city government also has its own PA 2040 initiative, a similar “Internet of Things” undertaking that may eventually integrate its data streams with the BID’s. Working at a district-wide scale, according to Gulbinas, there are new opportunities to experiment, engage with citizens, and get feedback: “What we’re creating is this living lab of live data…and if things work, they can be translated to other districts.”

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Chicago debuts first of 500 sensors that aim to transform urban data collection

Starting today, the City of Chicago is piloting a "Fitbit" for its city streets. In collaboration with researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory, the University of Chicago, and a few corporations, the city last week installed two of 500 planned sensors for the Array of Things, a project to measure the city's performance on an array of environmental metrics. The 10-pound sensors are mounted to light poles and will gather block-level data on noise levels, air quality, air and surface temperature, barometric pressure, vibrations, and atmospheric gasses. Two cameras per box will surveil pedestrian flows, vehicular traffic, sky color, cloud cover, and standing water. The video below gives an overview of the Array of Things and potential applications for the wealth of data the project will generate: “There are a ton of hit-and-miss experiments being done in cities around the world, but they are not being measured,” Charlie Catlett, lead investigator of the Array of Things, told USA TODAY. “We’re not able to take a success in Chicago and say this is why it succeeds, and this is how you can adapt that to Denver or Los Angeles or New Orleans. I want to see this project help city designers and planners navigate better.” Data will be instantaneously available to residents online beginning in October. The data, city officials say, could aid infrastructure decisions in the pursuit of Vision Zero goals, or pinpoint areas with poor air quality for intervention. It could also help enable strolling residents avoid desolate blocks or help parents determine how much outdoors time their child with asthma should have. In a city that already has a problem with the gross misuse of cameras, officials addressed the potential for mass surveillance with assurances that the images collected by the devices will be deleted in "tens of minutes." The next 48 boxes will be installed by the end of the year, with 450 more coming to the Windy City by 2018. Spurred by a $3.1 million National Science Foundation grant, in the coming years the project will migrate to Seattle, Chattanooga, and Atlanta.