Is digital trust the key to sustainable planning? wondered Nicole Bennetts, Senior Urban and Regional Planner in an ARUP blog. The answer follows.
Is digital trust the key to sustainable planning?
Our growth challenges in cities globally are becoming more complex. Now more than ever, we need new solutions and creativity to help us shape more resilient and sustainable cities in the future.
For the first time in history, we have access to dynamic urban data to understand people’s collective behaviours in real time. If used, this expansive evidence base can help planners, designers, and decision-makers make more informed decisions about the future of our cities.
However, the timing dilemma is an obstacle in harnessing this data. While urban environments typically develop every 50 years, technology moves more rapidly, significantly improving every five years, creating a disparity between urban planning and urban living.
So how does the planning industry keep pace with digital technology to create sustainable outcomes? One way is to improve our relationship with the digital world and put trust and confidence in digital tools and innovative solutions.
While urban environments typically develop every 50 years, technology moves more rapidly, significantly improving every five years, creating a disparity between urban planning and urban living.
While urban environments typically develop every 50 years, technology moves more rapidly, significantly improving every five years, creating a disparity between urban planning and urban living.
Why should planners trust data and digital?
Our cities are where urban planning and living come together. They are a super ‘neural network’ of interrelated systems. To create intelligent, responsive cities, urban development must embrace new possibilities using data and the internet of things (IoT).
Technology and data have never been more available. As a result, urban planning has a massive opportunity to unleash its full potential by investing more time and resources into harnessing data and digital planning.
Tools like the ‘digital twin’ are likely to become an indispensable part of future ‘urban infrastructure’, enabling the seamless integration of the ‘physical’ and ‘digital’ worlds and redefining how we plan.
Similarly, digital master planning is a framework to test thousands of options based on various variables and parameters to test failure, resilience, adaptative pathways, optimal living conditions, human health and welling, energy efficiency and more.
The planning industry must adapt to this changing paradigm, by matching the efforts and confidence invested in building the cloud system and IoT coverage, or risk being left behind.
To create intelligent, responsive cities, urban development must embrace new possibilities using data and the internet of things (IoT).
How Arup planners are using the power of digital
Projects worldwide show the value and credibility of digital tools to create growth and provide sustainable outcomes.
Cities urban tree canopy is a critical component of green infrastructure providing comfortable environments and reducing heat. Arup’s leading Urban tree canopy analysis used is a study for the City of Gold Coast, which uses a computer algorithm to determine the percentage of vegetation cover over different time intervals to show canopy changes.
Terrain is Arup’s bespoke artificial intelligence and land use analysis tool. It harnesses the power of data analytics, machine learning and automation to accurately digest large quantities of data and satellite imagery. Using this tool, we calculated seven cities’ sponginess by measuring the green and blue infrastructure areas to understand how cities can better use this infrastructure to face increasing threats from climate change – including heavy rainfall and extreme heat events.
Another Arup tool is the City Algorithm Tool (CAT) which tests hundreds of growth scenarios using different development and community value parameters to determine optimal outcomes for urban living. For example, Smakkelaarsveld in the Netherlands used algorithms to optimise the scheme design against multiple KPIs, including sustainability and environmental objectives.
Similarly, digital master planning can test site and precinct options based on various variables and parameters to test failure, resilience, adaptative pathways and optimal living conditions.
The last example, solar analysis helps test hundreds of layouts and orientations to achieve optimal living conditions and thermal comfort. For example, for Mahindra World City Jaipur, we used solar assessment tools to determine the optimal orientation for the plots and streets to provide thermal comfort in a hot climate.
Small risks, great rewards
Trust in the planning process is the foundation for our cities to take the best path to sustainable growth. Taking small, calculated risks in improving our digital capabilities now can lead to great rewards for our cities.
Taking small, calculated risks in improving our digital capabilities now can lead to great rewards for our cities.
Speed and efficiency, automating tedious and repetitive tasks and allowing more design and collaboration time.
Test 3D scenarios, assessing hundreds or thousands of options during the planning process against agreed parameters or criteria.
Facilitate approval process, comparing design scenarios with consented planning schemes and existing site conditions for faster agreement on key issues.
Identify client priorities; testing many possibilities can help identify what is most important.
Improve participatory design; with more data, we can understand community needs and improve community engagement.
Saudi crown prince unveils design for NEOM’s futuristic, smart linear city ‘The Line’
The city’s design will be completely digitised and the construction will be industrialised by significantly advancing construction technologies and manufacturing processes
Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and chairman of the NEOM board of directors Mohammed bin Salman has announced the designs of ‘The Line’, a 170 kilometres long smart linear city.
According to the crown prince, the designs of The Line will embody how urban communities will be in the future in an environment free from roads, cars and emissions. The city will run on 100 percent renewable energy and will prioritise people’s health and well-being over transportation and infrastructure as in traditional cities. It will also put nature ahead of development and will contribute to preserving 95 percent of NEOM’s land.
Last year, the crown prince launched the initial idea and vision of the city that redefines the concept of urban development and what cities of the future should look like.
“We cannot ignore the livability and environmental crises facing our world’s cities, and NEOM is at the forefront of delivering new and imaginative solutions to address these issues. NEOM is leading a team of the brightest minds in architecture, engineering and construction to make the idea of building upwards a reality,” said the crown prince.
He added, “NEOM will be a place for all people from across the globe to make their mark on the world in creative and innovative ways. NEOM remains one of the most important projects of Saudi Vision 2030, and our commitment to delivering The Line on behalf of the nation remains resolute.”
The city’s design will be completely digitised, and the construction industrialised to a large degree by significantly advancing construction technologies and manufacturing processes.
The Line, which is only 200 metres wide, 170 kilometres long and 500 metres above sea level, will eventually accommodate 9 million residents and will be built on a footprint of 34 square kilometres, reducing the infrastructure footprint of the city.
Further into The Line’s design, NEOM revealed that the city will be designed with the concept referred to as Zero Gravity Urbanism in mind. The idea of layering city functions vertically while giving people the possibility of moving seamlessly in three dimensions (up, down or across) to access them. Unlike cities with just tall buildings, this concept layers public parks and pedestrian areas, schools, homes and places for work, so that one can move effortlessly to reach all daily needs within five minutes.
The Line will also have an outer mirror façade, allowing it to blend with nature, while the interior will be built to create extraordinary experiences for people living within the city.
Cities: how urban design can make people less likely to use public spaces
Urban beautification campaigns are usually sold to local residents as a way to improve their daily lives. Design elements – from lighting systems to signs, benches, bollards, fountains and planters, and sometimes even surveillance equipment – are used to refurbish and embellish public spaces.
Designers refer to these elements as “urban furniture”. And the projects they’re used in are usually aimed at increasing social interaction, heightening safety, improving accessibility and generally making life in the city better.
Cities aren’t only identified by their monuments or signature buildings. You can tell New York City and Palermo apart just by looking at what people are doing in public. A New York scene is more likely to feature someone on a skateboard eating a burrito, while a Palermo image might include a group of men in a street watching a football match on television through a shop window.
Urban space is where city children learn and play, students read and people work, walk and relax. It is through these different activities that any single city’s urban culture is created.
Architects, infrastructural and spatial designers carefully configure the built environment – the constructed fabric of our cities – and this has a lasting effect on how we use or inhabit them.
In cities around the globe – from Algiers, Auckland and Chicago to Hanoi, Mexico City and Seoul – research shows that transforming public spaces markedly affects the diversity of what people do in them, and whether they use them.
In Algiers, the Algerian capital, neighbourhoods were formally designed in the 1970s in a rigid modernist style. Design elements including shady trees, benches and lights at night made people feel comfortable carrying out activities such as playing cards or gathering to chat, but huge buildings, wide streets and large spaces also caused people to feel insecure and lost.
Further, the land was landscaped in the kind of homogenous way characteristic of other big cities including Los Angeles, Auckland and Sydney. These large-scale and non-contextual designs have also been linked to antisocial behaviour.
After the area was transformed in 2013, there was a notable decline in the diversity of the activities people undertook there (family and religious gatherings; street art; music; informal vendors). Instead, the law now prioritises touristic activity over local people’s everyday needs and allows the authorities to operate a zero-tolerance approach towards anything deemed disruptive. Vendors have become nomadic, packing up and hiding as soon as the police are nearby.
In the Cheonggyecheon-Euljiro area of Seoul, South Korea, meanwhile, redevelopment led to 50-year-old workshops being torn down. This in turn has threatened the historical and cultural values of the local population and disrupted social networks.
How cities are co-created
In his 1968 book, The Right to the City, the French Marxist philosopher and sociologist Henri Lefebvre described the city as a co-created space. This contrasts with the more capitalist definition in which urban space is a commodity to be bought and sold, Lefebvre saw it as a meeting place where citizens collectively built urban life.
This idea that public space is a public good that belongs to everybody has been increasingly challenged in recent years, with the rise of privately owned public space. Most of the parks in London (roughly 42 kilometres squared) of green space in total) are owned by the City of London Corporation, the municipal body that governs the City of London, but increasingly squares within new developments are owned by corporations.
Urban theorists have long noted the connection between how a city is designed and how life is conducted within it. The US scholar Jane Jacobs is famous for highlighting that cities fail when they are not designed for everyone. And Danish architect Jan Gehl’s output has consistently focused on what he has termed the “life between buildings”.
As Gehl has explained, for a city to be good to its residents, those in charge of designing it have to be aware of how it is being used: what people are doing in its spaces. To be successful, urban designs have to be focused on and geared towards people’s daily lives. Gehl has explained that designing a city for pedestrians – at a walkable scale – is how you make it healthy, sustainable, lively and attractive.
Research has also highlighted how democratic this can be. But it is contingent on those spaces being designed in consort with residents. When a public space, by contrast, is overly designed without people’s needs being taken into account, it does not get used.
Following another year of record-breaking temperatures, droughts and heatwaves across the world in 2021, it is time to look again at our options to manage summer heat, particularly in towns and cities, which suffer from the Urban Heat Island effect.
This occurs when darkly-paved roads, car parks and dark roofs absorb solar radiation and release it back as heat, instead of reflecting it back into the atmosphere, along with waste heat from buildings. It can lead to temperature differences between urban and rural areas of as much as 6-12ºC, particularly at night.
High summer temperatures are not only uncomfortable, but also lead to excess mortality, particularly among vulnerable groups, including the elderly, and those with disabilities and underlying health conditions.
Governments and people look to air conditioning to cool down but in the long-term, reliance on private AC for urban cooling would cost the planet dearly.
Owing to climate change-induced temperature increases, by 2050, the number of air conditioners globally is projected to grow from 1.6 billion to 5.6 billion. This would result in additional emissions, created by excess energy demand, that could add 0.5ºC of global warming, pushing the Paris Agreement target of 1.5ºC maximum beyond our reach.
Many air conditioners are cheap and inefficient window-mounted units. Studies of cities ranging from Phoenix to Tokyo show that large increases in these types of air conditioners can add as much as 1ºC to outdoor heat. This creates a feedback loop; if the outdoor temperature becomes hotter, air conditioners are needed for longer, thus increasing the outdoor temperature, and so on.
When air conditioners are stacked one above each other, floor after floor up the sides of buildings, they heat up the intake air of the AC units above, making them less efficient.
Worse, the AC units may not work when we need them most: electric grids are most likely to break down during peak use periods, and for most of the world this is determined by AC usage during the hottest days, when people are at greatest risk of heat-related deaths.
The strategy of indefinitely expanding air conditioning to cool buildings and people in warming cities will simply not work in the medium- and long-term.
So, what is the alternative to ever more air conditioners? One option is to cool the city and its neighbourhoods by altering the urban fabric itself.
“Smart surfaces” are defined by the Smart Surfaces Coalition (SSC) as any surface that better manages sunlight and rainfall than dark, impervious surfaces. They include reflective, porous and green surfaces that, if installed in combination with increasing tree and solar PV coverage in urban environments, can work to decrease the impact of heat in built-up areas.
Regular concrete has higher reflectivity than asphalt, shingles or slate, the most common roads and roofing surfaces. It can be increased by using lighter coloured materials in the concrete mix.
The material with the biggest impact is sand, which is much more visible in the surface of concrete than the typical aggregates used. In addition, urban vegetation, in the form of parks and green spaces, can, in combination with broad application of highly reflective surfaces, cool surrounding areas by as much as 5ºC.
The SSC’s coalition of leading health, planning, architecture, city policy, energy, affordable housing, energy and other organizations is dedicated to supporting expanded adoption of smart surfaces globally. Prior studies of potential city-wide smart surfaces adoption by Baltimore, El Paso, Philadelphia and Washington DC demonstrated smart surfaces to be a cost-effective, city-wide strategy to address climate change mitigation and adaptation that would also improve equity and create jobs.
The SSC’s study of Baltimore modelled 12 measures, ranging from planting more trees to making roof and car park surfaces porous and more reflective with lighter-coloured materials. This included the use of low and even negative carbon concretes, which are important shared objectives of the World Cement Association and the smart surfaces Coalition. According to this study, by 2050, adoption of a select set of smart surfaces could cool greater Baltimore by 1.7ºC and downtown Baltimore by 2.4ºC.
Additionally, the benefits to health, employment, tourism and lower energy bills are ten times larger than the costs: the net present value to Baltimore over 30 years could be as much as $20,000 per person.
The study also revealed that the greatest decreases in temperature could be achieved by putting smart surfaces in lower-income neighbourhoods, which are typically less green and built with more dark, impervious materials. Residents here are much more likely to live in inefficient buildings and disproportionately suffer from respiratory and other health problems.
While energy costs make up about 1% of total income for the highest-income renters in the USA, among the lowest-income renters, tenant-paid household energy costs are approximately 15% of income. This inequality has broad income, health, quality of life, and cost impacts. Smart surfaces, such as reflective roofs and trees, can cut these energy bills by up to a third.
It is clear that a cleaner and more effective solution than air conditioners is needed to ensure that our towns and cities remain habitable and safe in the face of global climate change. Implementing smart surfaces, in the form of urban greening and reflective surfaces can make a tangible difference to communities, particularly those who are already vulnerable to extreme heat.
Greg Kats is founder and CEO of the Smart Surfaces Coalition; Ian Riley is CEO of the World Cement Association; Manon Burbidge is policy and communications manager at the World Cement Association.
The standalone solar-powered Papercast displays at bus stops are providing live arrival/departure times and other important information to travellers at the busiest stops in the capital city of Manama.
The bus stops in Manama use technology from e-paper specialist Papercast
Bahrain is replacing paper timetables with solar-powered e-paper bus stop displays to provide live, accurate bus arrival/departure times and other important information to travellers at the busiest stops in its capital city of Manama.
The bus stops use technology from e-paper specialist Papercast, which is working in partnership with integrated traffic and transport systems provider Spark City (Gulf).
This project has been undertaken on behalf of the Government of Bahrain’s Ministry of Transportation and Telecommunication, responsible for implementing the infrastructure, which is operated by the Bahrain Public Transportation Company.
It is part of a national strategy to modernise public transport and transform mobility for all users. The initiative contributes to Bahrain’s sustainable development strategy that is aligned directly with Goal 11 (sustainable cities and communities) of the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
“Using public transport is important for the energy transition and making our cities more sustainable, and this is a smart contribution to that”
The system serves as a stepping stone to deliver real-time passenger information across the entire public transport network, with the first ever metro project in the pipeline.
“It is great to see Spark City and Papercast rolling out this valuable new information system. It will help people to use the bus network flexibly and in the future link into the Metro,” said Roddy Drummond, British ambassador to Bahrain. “Using public transport is important for the energy transition and making our cities more sustainable, and this is a smart contribution to that.”
Papercast reports it was selected due to its robust e-paper technology that can withstand the harsh weather conditions of Gulf countries, along with its content management system. Following a successful trial of a Papercast display at the new Bahrain International Airport, Spark City went on to win a public tender.
“This project is close to my heart. I was dependent on the bus shelter RTPI displays when I studied in London and strongly believe that they are fundamental to a positive passenger experience,” said Hamad Fawzi Behzad, director of Spark City (Gulf). “The authority shared my vision and the solar powered nature of Papercast technology aligned with its sustainability goals.”
“Bahrain is on the verge of breaking new ground and I am excited to see how this develops with Papercast across the rest of the transport network.”
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