5 Urban Technology Trends Impacting City Planning
January 15, 2013
Smart parking isn’t the only thing that will transform city life. Here are a few fascinating trends coming to a city near you.
The world’s population is rapidly growing, particularly in urban areas. According to the UN, by 2050 69% of the world’s population (or 6.3 billion people) will live in urban areas (as compared to 50% or 3 billion today). In order to accommodate this rapidly growing population, cities must do some serious strategic planning both on the housing front and building efficient and sustainable infrastructure to support these residents.
Here are a few urban technology trends that will help cities adapt to their continually growing populations:
1. Traffic Management
Cities are leveraging Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to reduce gridlock. For example, New York City has recently piloted a program in which they installed sensors along 23 crucial intersections that detect the number of cars waiting for a traffic light by monitoring the number of EZPassreaders waiting in line. A system at the city’s traffic center then analyzes the data in real-time and provides recommendations to traffic engineers to adjust traffic light patterns to help move things along. DC is experimenting with a similar program and also looking at ways to keep traffic signals going during power outages by using a “power over the Ethernet” technique.
2. Smart Utilities
As more and more people start using more and more devices that run on electricity, IoT technologies will be essential to help utilities and consumers alike better manage energy usage. With sensor-enabled meters, the emerging smart grid can now monitor the entire infrastructure in real-time and adjust output to the optimal level for the current usage patterns. Utilities can also automatically identify damaged areas and deploy repair crews to the problem location much more rapidly. And with smart meters and smart thermostats, consumers will be more aware of their own usage patterns to learn new ways to conserve natural gas and electricity.
3. Sidewalk Tiles that Generate Electricity
Even with the smart grid, demands for electricity continue to escalate and we must find creative ways to find new sources of energy to solve this problem. Think solar and wind power are where it’s at? How about foot power? Companies such as the London-based Pavegen are building sidewalk tiles that convert kinetic energy to electricity that can be stored and used to power street lights, signage or even office buildings. While it may be awhile before our footsteps power our cities, it’s not too far-fetched to envision a future where we can dramatically reduce the carbon footprint and power costs from highly trafficked areas such as crosswalks, transport terminals, and more.
4. 3-D Modelling
As cities work to accommodate this influx of new residents and businesses, more skyscrapers, roads, subways, bridges, and other infrastructure will need to be built. From aesthetic changes to the skyline, to increased energy consumption and traffic, to wind dynamics and aircraft flight paths, or to the impact of possible natural disasters, engineers and city planners must take into account many factors to truly understand the impact of these new projects. Historically, planners were reliant on traditional reports, 2D plans, and artist renderings to do their planning, which not only took years to develop, but were also difficult to wrap the brain around. Today, with major advances in 3D modeling, planners can interactively test out various scenarios that can expedite the planning process that will not only be more cost effective, but will also provide more accurate data to planners to evaluate, and easier for the public to envision and support.
5. Online Civic Involvement
Unsightly graffiti, hazardous sidewalks, leaking fire hydrants, broken fences, traffic light timing issues, and more. Cities scores a lot non-emergency issues they must manage each day and they rely on citizens to be their eyes and ears in the field to alert them of these issues. However, many residents don’t have the time or inclination to go through the bureaucratic rat’s nest of reporting these issues. Today, there’s a new app that lets residents submit city issues to their local government via their smartphone. Not only will the report be systematically directed to the correct department, but the app users can include details, photos, GPS positioning, and more to help mangers triage the complaint and work to address the issues more efficiently and effectively.