Posts tagged with "Smart 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.
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.”
...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.
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.
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.”