Future Cities Digest #10 (31.01.2014)

by Lukasz Alwast

#car #free #zones #Hamburg

The city of Hamburg declared recently that it is planning to have a car free city centre within the next 20 years. City officials proposed a ‘Green Network’ that will cover 40% of the city, incentivising citizens to travel through it by public transport, on foot or by bike. Some argue that this scheme will take up land that could otherwise be used for housing, while others, that the green network will attract educated and competent people to the city. Similar projects, at a smaller scale, are also being happening in Auckland, New Zealand – for example a ‘pop up’ car free zone that closes up its streets to cars on a Saturday afternoon. An interesting piece collating similar visions appeared a few months ago in Web Urbanist, exploring 14 concepts for mobility intervention and master plans for car less cities.

#mobile #data #analytics #patterns

Scientist at the Institute de Physique Theorique in Paris decided to use mobile phone data to map the structure of cities and how people use it throughout the day. The group worked on a database of mobile phone calls made by people in the 31 Spanish cities that have populations larger than 200,000. The results reveal some interesting patterns – for example “every city undergoes a kind of respiration in which people converge into the center and then withdraw on a daily basis (…) almost like breathing”.  As it turns out, during the week the number of phone users peaks two times – at about midday and then again at about 6 p.m. Interestingly, the second peak starts about an hour later in western cities, such as Sevilla and Cordoba. As they suggest “these results point towards the possibility of a new, quantitative classification of cities using high resolution spatio-temporal data”.

#design #flooding #drainage #resilience

Design is at its most significant when it works not just as a tool for aesthetics, but a tool for creating safer, more resilient cities. Urban designers from De Urbanisten have come up with a clever way of treating urban drainage as an art form, while controlling the flood levels of the city. Interestingly, their solution takes into consideration that the city will flood, but instead of fighting against it, they embrace the presence of water through the use of rain gardens. Another valuable case of urban drainage is a design from Denmark which also cleverly incorporates drainage with recreation. Not surprisingly, some of the major developments in this field are happening in Venice – a city which is prone to flooding and gradual sinking.  In the recent weeks the city has successfully tested giant robotic gates to keep the water at bay, but in parallel, they are also experimenting with architect and researcher Rachel Armstrong  on how to use ‘programmable water drops’ to carry limestone to fortify the island foundations Venice sits on.

#vertical #farming #food #GreenFarms

The New Scientists dedicated recently a column to the increasing presence of vertical urban farming facilities. The concept is not particularly new – promoted strongly since the end of the 1990’s by Columbia University ecologist Dickson Despommier – but as it seems, some projects are beginning to gain some momentum. In March, the world’s largest vertical farm is to set up open in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The storey covering will reach 3.25 hectares, housing 17 million densely stacked plants, with an expectation of up to 14 crops per year for some vegetables (eg cabbages). Similar attempts are also taking place in Singapore and Sweden. Also DARPA experiments with vertical farming, as in its Texas facilities it produces genetically modified plants that make proteins useful in vaccines. An particularly interesting aspect to these projects are the parallel developments in facility management software & hardware systems which allow the farm managers to remotely operate nutrient levels, soil pH and light exposure of their farms.

Recent reports out there:

  • 100 Data InnovationJan 2014, The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation [highlights: a long list of data-driven innovations that happened in the last year in business, government and non-profits [mostly US]
  • Cities Outlook 2014 – Jan. 2014, Centre for Cities [highlights: recent statistics on UK cities, incl. employment and migration patterns, start-up ‘density’ and ‘chunk’ rates, patent data on city level]
  • 2013 Global Go To Think Tank Report – Jan. 2014, University of Pennsylvania [highlights: trends and challenges facing international think-tank organizations, ranking of top institutions in different expertise areas – ranging from development, sci. & tech. to governance]

This weeks’ artefact from the future:


Feral Zones (IFTF)
Some places just aren’t safe to drive—and your insurance company knows it. What’s more, it can warn you as you enter feral zones where it simply won’t provide coverage. And some of these zones might take you by surprise. You don’t have to go to Afghanistan to find an economy dominated by the opium trade. Northern California’s seemingly pastoral Mendocino County, long known for its hidden forests of marijuana, is now a growing zone for poppies and headquarters for a nationwide drug distribution network that keeps the unemployed living an apparently middle-class existence.