Our weekly synopsis of stories & signals that might impact the way people live in future cities

Month: June, 2014

Future Cities Digest #31 (26/06/2014)

by Diana Phiri-Witty

#NYC #transport safety #VisionZero #25 m.p.h

New York City is set to slow down to 25 miles per hour following the state legislature approved plan that aims to address the issue of traffic safety. Transportation officials have begun to plan ‘highly technical’ changes such as adjusting automated enforcement cameras, and changing the timing of traffic signals throughout the city. New York’s transportation commissioner Polly Trottenberg predicts that citizens will notice little change in travel times because efficient driving time is ‘determined by the intersection far more than it’s determined by the straitways.’ Criticism against the scheme however points out the challenges in lowering the speed in an already ‘traffic choked city,’ and others suggest ‘any safety gains from the changes would be limited without more aggressive police enforcement.’ Mayor de Balsio’s ‘Vision Zero’ plan to end traffic deaths by 2024 however had speed reduction as a top priority, and New York adopted this plan from a Swedish traffic safety model. It will be interesting to see how an international model can be adapted to fit the streets of New York.

 #RIBA #Sterling Prize #british architecture #long list

56 buildings have been long listed for the 2014 prestigious RIBA Sterling Prize. The competition awards a £20,000 prize to the architects of the ‘building that has made the greatest contribution to British architecture,’ each year. RIBA has reported that this year has seen the completion of ‘high quality confident public buildings’ due to a ‘recession trend,’ that has led to a low number of private and commercial buildings gaining recognition. Amongst the most recognizable long list are western Europe’s tallest 87 storey building the Shard, and it will be coming up against the curved London Olympics swimming pool. Other buildings across the UK are the artistic and sustainable new Everyman Theatre in Liverpool, the multiuse New Generation Centre in Lewisham, and the Library of Birmingham with ‘a shimmering façade clad with interlocking metal rings.’ The shortlist for the Sterling prize will be announced in July. Meanwhile here is a full list of the National Award Winners.

#autonomous vehicles #car sensors #Cruise #Y Combinator

An interesting innovation seems to be happening in the (semi-) autonomous vehicles industry. Cruise Automation, a new technology and business idea from the well-respected Y Combinator start-up accelerator, released a computer controlled driving system that can take control over the car while you’re behind the wheel. The product is a mixture of custom-designed sensors that are mounted to the top of a car; actuators for the steering wheel, brakes, an accelerator, as well as a computer system that’s installed into the trunk to process data from the sensors and stream it back to the wheel. According to The Verge, the company’s grander plan is ‘to map freeways and share that data between vehicles, creating a large network of road data that’s being constantly updated’. The device, placed between the 100k $ Google research car and an old-school speed control system, is still quite expensive for a consumer product (10 000$), but the price is expected to steadily decrease.

 #disruptive innovation #debate #Lepore #Christensen

A fierce, and widely commentated debate about the nature and evidence behind the concept of ‘disruptive innovation’ hit the ground after Jill Lepore, acclaimed Harvard University historian, challenged Harvard Business School strategy-guru – Clayton Christensen. Disruption, as Lepore argues, has become an ‘all-purpose rallying cry, not only in Silicon Valley – though especially there – but in boardrooms everywhere, and it’s a theory of history founded on a profound anxiety about financial collapse, an apocalyptic fear of global devastation and shaky evidence’. According to Andrew Hill, Financial Times columnist, Lepore’s article has struck a nerve in Silicon Valley where disruption is ‘the raw meat for hungry pack of attacking start-ups’. Paul Krugman described Lepore’s argument as a ‘careful takedown’, pondering whether ‘the whole era of innovation might collapse from its own overhype’ (resembling some earlier management fads). You can read Lepore’s article here (caution: long read), Christensen’s response in Businessweek here, and quite a good commentary on Uthotherescue.

 Recent reports and publications:

  • London: Digital City on The Rise – June 2014, Bloomberg Philanthropies (highlights: framework for studying the impact [size & growth] of London’s tech-info sector, comparative analysis with other tech-hubs)
  • Urban Mobility in the Smart City Age – June 2014, Arup & Schneider (highlights: intro to ‘smart mobility’, examples of service types and user groups, value chain for ‘sustainable urban mobility’)

This weeks artefact from the future
A Machine that Visualises The Ghostly WiFi Waves That Surround Us (Luis Hernan)
‘Living in a major city, Internet signals and WiFi waves surround us like ethereal spirits or phantoms. There have been multiple occasions when we’ve wondered if the seemingly omnipresent local networks could be visualised, or even animated as unique shapes and bodies. Luis Hernan, a PhD candidate with the Architecture and Interaction Design Group at Newcastle University, is exploring such a concept, as he’s developed a machine that turns Internet signals into vibrant, LED-based forms.’ 


Future Cities Digest #30 (19/06/2014)

by Lukasz Alwast

#electric vehicles #superchargers #patent sharing #Tesla

Tesla Motors, the Californian car manufacturer of electric vehicles, made a bold statement last week claiming that ‘All Our Patents Are Belong to You’ and the company ‘will not sue anyone who uses Tesla’s patented technology (…) in hopes of cultivating a bigger industry for rechargeable vehicles’. Elon Musk, the company founder, says his offer should spur wider development of electric vehicles as he is disappointed by ‘big car companies’ “small to non-existent” investments in electric cars’. According to WSJ, electric vehicles still represent less than 1% of cars and light trucks sold each year. One of the key aspects of this ‘patent move’ is releasing intellectual property of the company’s supercharger stations (EV equivalent of gas stations) – expecting for larger economies of scale, which would allow Tesla spread costs and open more stations in their expanding EV charging network.

#transport systems #benchmarking #global cities #Siemens

A recent study commissioned by Siemens investigated the economic value that ‘high performance, improved transportation systems’ could have across 35 global cities.  Pursued by Credo, a London-based transportation consultancy, it looked into network densities, journey times, service reliability, and crowding, as factors that impact the efficiency of a city’s transport system. Cities were compared to each other in various categories, for example: economic costs of low efficiency transport networks or present economic cost of transport as % of GDP per commuter. Copenhagen turned out to be the best performing city overall, due to its current high level of efficiency and future investments. Singapore ranked best in another category due to ‘strong governance and high capacity’, and Santiago ranked as ‘best performer’ in emerging cities for meeting the ‘changing demand of its population’ and modernizing its bus network. For more details have a look into the executive summary.

#urban modelling #social research #anthropology #China

Two months ago in the #20 edition of the digest we’ve covered a story about a group of Cambridge researchers trying to use behavioral and location data to determine events we’re most likely to attend. Recently, in Beijing, a group of Microsoft researchers explored a hypothesis whether people who are local in town have significantly different mobility patterns than visitors, or individuals who just recently moved to certain neighborhoods. The question that the team wanted to answer was: given a particular user and their current location, where are they most likely to visit in the near future? In practice, that meant analyzing the user’s data, such as their hometown and the locations recently visited (from a Chinese equivalent of Foursquare), and coming up with a list of other locations that they are likely to visit based on the type of people who visited these locations in the past. This type of research is particularly interesting for migration studies, and as one could imagine, similar insights might be useful to understand the way immigrants become a part of a larger, local community.

#starchitecture #smart globalisation #design culture #architecture

“As leading architects race to put their visual signatures on every nook and cranny of the world” – in a trending New York Times article, one critic wonders whether globalization is really such a good thing. The piece debates how a social art, such as architecture, is being treated as ‘a medium of individual expression.’ The author argues that attracting high-powered international architects to design cities can add value to the ‘perception of a place as a creative hotbed’, however, local architects (‘locatects’) arguably may have an inherent understanding as opposed to international (‘starchitects’) intellectual understanding.  The transferable nature of innovation and design often sparks a wide range of views, which brings to mind the Rockefeller Foundations concept of Smart Globalization, which holistically looks beyond the built environment and considers connecting individuals, institutions and communities with tools and techniques, ideas and innovations to build better futures.

Recent book publications:

“How do you describe emerging trends within a forming field? In this book, you will find a distilled conversation, filtered through the collective and embodied practices and experiences of eight diverse individuals. We have, in our hands and online, an attempt to characterise and discuss the emerging trends within urban interaction design, freely available for anyone to read, reflect upon and improve.”

“This book offers a comprehensive introduction to urban design, from a historical overview and basic principles to practical design concepts and strategies. It discusses the demographic, environmental, economic, and social issues that influence the decision-making and implementation processes of urban design. This Second Edition has been fully revised to include thorough coverage of sustainability issues and to integrate new case studies into the core concepts discussed.”

“This book looks at the phenomenon of new robot technologies, asks what impact they might have on the economy, and considers how governments, businesses and individuals should respond to them. It raises important questions for all of us – how society uses new technologies is not a foregone conclusion. It depends on political decisions, cultural norms and economic choices as much as on the technologies themselves. This book features views from a range of disciplines, including economics, engineering, history, philosophy and innovation studies.

This weeks’ artefact from the future:
The Digital Serenity Pilot (NYC Foresight)
“Our belief is that today’s cities not only have to connect their citizens but also have the responsibility to protect and preserve its citizens digital health and cater to the impacts of the increasing digitization of our cities and takes into account the weaknesses, anxieties and privacy of it’s citizens to achieve a balanced digital health. Based on the outcomes of the Lower Manhattan Pilot. Digital Serenity is the first roadmap to regulate the digital layer and enable regulated digital disguises and ways to protect our locational privacy to cater to our small vices, mishaps and wishes of us as citizens in our daily lives.”

Future Cities Digest #29 (12/06/2014)

by Diana Phiri-Witty

#pop-up buses #predictive analytics #Bridj #Boston

The New York Times covered an interesting story about an emerging ‘pop-up’ bus service in Boston this month. Technology start-up Bridj aspires to become a ‘data-driven’ shared transportation service, and has started offering a smartphone app that aggregates data about peoples commutes (reportedly, from Foursquare, Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin), and tailors shuttle-bus services depending on demand. The service is a bit more up-market than the bus or metro-tram, but much cheaper than taxis or services similar to ZipCar. On tested routes the service is said to save approx. 1h of daily commute (2x 30 minutes), it arrives on time, and offers onboard services such as Wi-Fi and refreshments. Back in 2013, similar services designed for tech-companies in Silicon Valley were met with public protesters accusing the idea of being a process  of gentrification, but it seems San Francisco is keen to experiment with its own pilot programmes. Worth noting that one of the primary financial backers of Bridj is Jill Preotle, an early investor in Zipcar, who said she was drawn to the company because of its potential to reduce car ownership, and therefore traffic and air pollution.

 #air quality #sensors # citizen participation #Know your air

The potential of citizen deployed air quality sensors was discussed this week in an interesting article that explored methods in which sensors have been introduced into various neighourhoods across the US and Europe. Some of the benefits of citizen participation in air quality data collection are that it could potentially lead to greater area coverage and thus better levels of comparative analysis. The article also mentions the work of Boston College professor Mike Barnett who sees the distribution of sensors as a way ‘…to get science in places where people wouldn’t normally see it, and get people talking about it.’ Barnett’s ‘Know your air’ project works by placing sensor kits in local stores and community centers, and linking the sensors to interactive display screens for the purpose of educating the public. However there is awareness that citizen deployed sensors are cheap and therefore often inaccurate, which questions whether governments will encourage collaboration between city driven and citizen driven air quality data.

#Keiichi Matsuda #Mobility #Augmented Reality #Technology

Imagine a subjective city that visually caters to your preferences and needs. Keiichi Matsuda is the latest designer to discuss his vision of the future of mobility for the Dezeen and Mini Frontiers exhibition, which will open in September. Matsuda envisions a city where virtual worlds can be layered onto physical spaces. The content of the layers could be personalised so that individuals could select the layers best suited for their tastes and interests. For the exhibition Matsuda will present a video showing what the driving experience might be like through augmented reality. The ability to see numerous layers whilst driving could open up new levels of perception and thus revolutionise how people interact with transport infrastructure. As for the interface from which the virtual world could be accessed, Matsuda envisions going beyond surfaces like Google glasses and interacting with virtual reality through smart contact lenses or even direct projection onto the retina.

#shared-economy #market valuations #Uber #Airbnb

A few months ago some big news in the tech-world was Airbnb’s market valuation at $10 billion, more than the market estimates of long-established hotel chains such as Hyatt Hotels and Wydham.  Now, the valuation frenzy has moved to the next ‘shared-economy’ wonderchild – Uber. According to Businessweek, the on-demand ride service has just raised $1.2 billion venture capital in a fundraising round which now values it at $17 billion. This makes its valuation higher than the market capitalization of rental-car giants such as Hertz ($12 bln) and Avis ($6 bln). Whether this is reasonable or not, you can try to deduce from 4-nicely laid arguments in Slate. According to some critical voices, although these companies (Uber & Airbnb) facilitate the use of underutilized resources, their business models might be based on evading, or lagging with the spirit of times regulations. This weeks protests of cabby drivers in London is an example of how the market reacts (or, defends the ‘status quo’).

Recent reports and publications:

This weeks artefact from the future:

Recycling shower of the future (Orbital Systems)
A Swedish technology company called Orbital Systems is tackling the issue of water conservation with a new household shower that purifies any water that goes down the drain and sends it back to the shower head. By the company’s estimations, its closed-loop system could retain over 90 percent of the water and 80 percent of the energy consumed by an ordinary shower.