Gaza is a landscape of extreme economic deprivation born of the region’s complicated political dynamics – but one whose contours may soon become more common. So why may The Gaza Strip be The City of The Future? Let us see what World (c) 2021 and Zach Mortice, Bloomberg tell us.
When Americans turned on the TV or glanced at their smartphones for news of the deadly clashes that engulfed the Gaza Strip in May – or if they followed the more recent spasm of violence in August that threatened to break the region’s fragile truce – many saw scenes that looked familiar: streets flooded with protesters, engaged in a struggle against highly armed security forces on the streets of a battered-looking city.
In many ways, the political and physical conditions of the Gaza Strip are unique: Nearly 2 million people are packed into a 25-mile-long rectangle of land along the Mediterranean roughly the size of Philadelphia. For decades, the territory has been home to Palestinians displaced by the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, and subject to Israeli occupation since the 1967 Six-Day War. But since 2007, after the political wing of the Islamist group Hamas was elected to power, Gaza has been under an Israeli blockade. In response, Hamas militants have attacked Israel with suicide bombers and missile attacks, and the two sides have settled into a gruesome rhythm of low levels of violence punctuated by intense conflagrations. In May’s fighting, as many as 260 Palestinians were killed; in Israel, 12 people were killed. Gaza is a landscape of extreme economic deprivation born of the region’s complicated political dynamics – but one whose contours may soon become more common.
That’s the premise behind the recently released book Open Gaza: Architectures of Hope, published by imprint. Edited by, an urban geographer who focuses on the Middle East, and essayist, theorist, activist, and provocateur Michael Sorkin, the book presents a vision of Gaza as a glimpse of an imminent future, where violence, surveillance, resource scarcity and provisional use of an extremely compromised built environment are visited on all.
Sharp sees connections, for example, between the unrest in Gaza and the racial justice demonstrations in U.S. cities after the murder of George Floyd in 2020: In both, the key issue is who has a right to the city – the right to claim contested urban space. “The Black Lives Matter protests and that broader movement and recognition of the types of oppression that are going on [in Gaza] is something that’s been made visible,” he says.
The Gaza Strip, the book’s promotional copy declares, is “one of the most beleaguered environments on earth.” But the territory and its urban center, Gaza City, is appallingly understudied in terms of architecture and urbanism. That makes it a fitting swan song for Sorkin, who died last year of Covid-19. “Michael wanted to go where others wouldn’t dare,” says Sharp.
Featuring contributions from scholars, urbanists and architects from the occupied Palestinian territories, Israel, India, the U.S. and the U.K., the book’s essays explore the extant condition of Gaza and its wider socio-political context, and offer speculative designs aimed at wresting back sovereignty and dignity for its residents. It posits that the ad-hoc, low-carbon design techniques that Gazans have developed look ahead to a planet failing to meet the challenges of a climate cataclysm, a global pandemic, and growing inequality. As brittle regimes are wracked by crises, mass migrations harden borders, and infrastructure buckles, Open Gaza suggest that the rest of the world may start to look more and more like Gaza.
Or has already. Anyone who’s searched for clean water in Flint or has seen their home destroyed in wildfires or floods might understand what who contributed to the book, means when she says, “The Palestinianization of cities is happening worldwide. It’s happening by destruction and erasure, but also with dramatic climate change.”
Eco-Adaptation by Necessity
Open Gaza isn’t content to just praise the ingenuity and resourcefulness of Gazan and allied urbanists and architects; nor is the book interested in depicting Gaza purely as a dystopian prison. “You could call [these visions] utopian, but I think these are alternative possibilities,” says Sharp. “They’re not fantasies.” Instead, the collection serves as a “demand that [Gazans] be able to live and shape their urban context and infrastructure, and social lives in ways that are dignified and respectful of their humanity,” he says.
The book presents Gaza’s architectural condition – extant and speculative – as defined by its power imbalance with Israel. This asymmetry means Open Gaza is free of the antiseptic techno-solutionism that often populates architecture tomes. Such documents often claim that low-carbon buildings, made from nothing more than the trees and dirt on their plot of earth, will exist in an atmosphere of happy consumers sipping lattes poured by robots, munching on locally sourced avocado BLTs. Open Gaza tells us this scenario might be a fairy tale. The book’s prescriptions operate with found conditions and severe local constraints on materials; it suggests that your first shower warmed by solar power might happen in between air-raid sirens.
This reality is why buzzwords like “sustainability” or “resilience” don’t mean anything to the average Gazan, says Palestinian architect Salem Al Qudwa, who writes about the territory’s quotidian, everyday buildings. , recycling brick may be a way to save carbon and bestow new buildings with the patina of age. But in Gaza, there is no choice.
Al Qudwa has developed “incremental housing” templates, he says, that begin by setting foundations and structural columns, and letting Gazans fill in the gaps, creating a low-cost lattice for expandable housing units that feature shaded courtyards and roof decks. Homes often lack electricity, so cross-breezes are essential. Made from local materials, they offer climate-attunement Al Qudwa says non-local NGOs intent on building often miss. “My people need decent shelter,” he says. “A good house with proper insulation, with natural light, etc.”
There is no nostalgia for vernacular buildings or ways of living, says Sharif, but these practices are critical. “Gaza is looking at environmental practices out of necessity,” she says. “The only way forward is [through] traditional ways of living because there is no alternative.”
Rafi Segal and Chris Mackey’s “Solar Dome” – whose name riffs on – makes the convincing case that there are few places better suited to an entirely solar grid. Gazans uses less than 2% of the average American’s energy footprint, and Gaza’s sunny climate further reduces the need for expensive energy storage. And the concept of “energy independence” takes on new meaning when citizens acquire utilities from . As such, Segal and Mackey recommend a system of building-scaled photovoltaic panels augmented with solar water heaters, and a district-scaled system of concentrated solar power towers.
Similarly, a chapter by Denise Hoffman Brandt unveils a plan for pavilions that collect fresh rainwater and use sunlight to desalinate groundwater, and floating ocean desalination pods made from trash.
Sharif’s “Learning Room” plan, detailed in her chapter of Open Gaza written with Nasser Golzari, addresses the imposed mutability of Gaza’s built environment. A system of modular, mobile shelters made from, rammed earth, wire mesh, bamboo, and more, it’s a migrating community center for exchanging skills, made from rubble itself. “The idea of the was not to see it as a permanent structure that is going to shape the identity of the city,” says Sharif. “It was an experimental space [you] can keep modifying and changing. It’s not a new urban structure. It’s more of a lab to allow new structures to happen.” In this way, the Learning Room underscores the difficulty of long-term planning in Gaza.
It also distills the tactical flexibility Gazans must demonstrate to keep themselves housed. Western architects have made it a polemic to use only materials close at hand – to design their buildings as a bird builds a nest. Architect Jeanne Gang , but it’s unlikely Gazans need such a reminder.
The most visceral and imaginative collision of low-carbon aspiration with apocalyptic utility arrives in Helga Tawil-Souri’s chapter on the IPN: “The Internet Pigeon Network.” To surmount Israeli restrictions on electricity and bandwidth, the NYU media scholar proposes a decentralized network of pigeon roosts, trainers, and pick-up nodes. This avian internet would fly pigeons with flash disks tied to their necks from point to point, offering a faster and more secure way to share information. Reliant on local knowledge and labor, it’s another way of Gaza asserting infrastructural independence.
A Different Kind of Smart City
But it’s not as though the built environment of Gaza is untouched by technology. In some ways, the digital network that monitors the city and its residents represents a variation on the data-intensive “smart city” concept – another way Gaza looks ahead to the future.
Since 2014, Gaza’s reconstruction has been managed through an online database called the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM). , the GRM records all the building material that flows in through its border, along with what it’s to be used for and who will receive it. The mechanism, designed to ensure that resources aren’t being used for military purposes by Hamas, was agreed upon by Israel and Palestine, and was meant to be temporary. But Franceco Sebregondi of says it puts Israel in an “ultimate supervisory role”: His chapter in Open Gaza, called “Frontier Urbanization,” details how the GRM gives Israeli authorities a granular picture of Gaza’s built condition, and the ability to delay Gaza’s rebuilding.
Such omniscience is increasingly a goal of the design and building industry, where there’s a push to translate plans into data and ensure that what’s built closely aligns with digital models, to more efficiently manage construction and operational performance. But that’s not the only way it could be used. How much of this information, for example, might a refugee resettlement nonprofit at the U.S.-Mexico border want to share with immigration authorities? While the GRM is relatively primitive, its broad usage across Gaza still creates a map of its reconstruction that exists nowhere else.
For, who earned a PhD on the architecture of the Gaza blockade from Goldsmiths, University of London, this intrusion reveals that the problem of the smart city is not technical. It’s political. As with sunny visions of our eco-friendly future, design and urbanism themselves have no inherent autonomy to resist political agendas, and their calls for ease, efficiency, and low-impact living make ready Trojan Horses for power. “Who will be in charge of accessing certain data?,” says Sebregondi. “What levels of transparency and access [are] granted by using this infrastructure? I don’t think that the technologies behind smart urbanism cannot be re-engineered toward serving another idea of collective urban environments. But the ones that are currently marketed and very light-heartedly deployed across our cities tend to pursue the opposite.” This, he says, is a “dark horizon we need to avoid and fight against.”
The complex intimacy of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has turned the region into something of a proving ground for purpose-built surveillance technology that could be plugged into a future smart city. Indeed, Israeli companies are selling cybersecurity technology all over the world, including the U.S., where it’s used in a new training center .
Sebregondi sees Gaza as further along a continuum of ricocheting colonial violence: As states become more fragile and defensive and climate change adds layers of stress, inequalities skyrocket and people divide into camps. Where these two groups are anywhere near each other, the market for surveillance and control technology booms. Debates over the on the streets of U.S. cities and the rise of privacy-eroding public safety technology have collapsed the distance between Palestine and Pittsburgh.
“There is an extent to which Palestine becomes a sort of crystal [ball] of this particular future, within a very compacted and dense territory, [featuring] some of the most striking aspects of this splintering urbanism,” says Sebregondi. He describes the “boomerang effect of colonization,” where techniques to wield control over restive populations in distant countries eventually come home, as with the NSA’s experiments using the.
It’s a cycle that’s eradicated distance, says Sharp, pulling Gazans and the rest of the world closer together, and bringing the front lines, already at their doorstep, into ours.
“These circulations of violence and containment,” he says, “come back to haunt us all.”
Published on 20 September 2021, in E&T, AJ Abdallah’s question of How will artificial intelligence power the cities of tomorrow?
How will artificial intelligence power the cities of tomorrow?
By AJ Abdallat, Beyond Limits
Achieving a decarbonised future will require efficiency-boosting measures that AI can help to identify and implement.
Artificial intelligence is taking the stage as smart cities become not just an idea for the future, but a present reality. Advanced technologies are at the forefront of this change, driving valuable strategies and optimising the industry across all operations. These technologies are quickly becoming the solution for fulfilling smart city and clean city initiatives, as well as net-zero commitments.
AI is becoming well integrated with the development of smart cities. A 2018 Gartner report forecast that AI would become a critical feature of 30 per cent of smart city applications by 2020, up from just 5 per cent a few years previously. Implementation of AI is rapidly being recognised as the not-so-secret ingredient helping major energy providers accomplish their lowest-carbon footprints yet, along with unparalleled sustainability and attractive profit margins.
What makes a city ‘smart’ is the collection and analysis of vast amounts of data across numerous sectors, from metropolitan development and utility allocation all the way down to manual functions like city services. Smart cities require the construction and maintenance of arrangements of sensors, equipment and other systems designed to create sustainability and efficiency.
Altering the strategy behind a city’s utilities operations is one of the major keys to making it smarter and more sustainable. AI solutions are already making significant strides where this is concerned. As the CEO of an AI company creating software for the utilities sector, the impact that advanced solutions are already having on the industry is something I’m very excited about.
One real-world example of AI powering smart city utilities is the Nvidia Metropolis platform, which uses intelligent video analytics to improve public services, logistics, and more. Nvidia describes it as being designed to: “create more sustainable cities, maintain infrastructure, and improve public services for residents and communities.” The company collects data from sensors and other IoT devices, city-wide, to provide insights that can lead to improvements in areas like disaster response, asset protection, supply forecasting and traffic management.
Another solution at the forefront of building smarter cities is a project led by Xcell Security House and Finance SA that aims to build the world’s first power plant guided by cognitive AI, driving utility development in West Africa. As the earliest implementation of an AI-powered plant from the ground up, it will employ advanced sensor-placement technology and techniques that embed knowledge and expertise into every part of the facility’s processes. Stakeholders will have streamlined access to facility-scale insights, creating a plant environment with greater risk mitigation as well as maximised efficiency and productivity.
These are just two of many emerging applications of AI in smart city development. When applying AI, the sector also stands to achieve greater cost and operational efficiencies in several key areas such as predictive maintenance, load forecasting/optimisation, grid reliability, energy theft prevention and renewable resource optimisation.
When discussing energy efficiency, many factors enter the picture, including the impact of environmental factors as commonplace as temperature and humidity levels. Historically, experienced human operators were best equipped to identify efficiency-boosting adjustments. Today, cognitive AI is making moves to encode that human knowledge and expertise across providers’ entire operations, delivering recommendations at a moment’s notice. Explainable AI creates the trust necessary for operators, engineers and stakeholders to solve acute issues quickly. The system’s shrewd situational awareness helps detect, foresee and solve problems, even when circumstances are in constant flux – scenarios as critical as an entire city’s water and power supply.
AI is already playing a principal role in supporting the move towards smarter cities by helping entire sectors get closer to efficiency and net-zero objectives. Achieving a decarbonised future will require more resourceful processes that boost efficiency and reduce waste. AI for utilities can elevate productivity, yielding more attention around resource consumption, and hastening the adoption of renewable, carbon-friendly strategies on a global scale.
According to a report from IDC, smart city technology spending across the globe reached $80 billion in 2016 and is expected to grow to $135 billion by 2021. It is imperative that companies, industries, and other entities looking to participate in this important stage of digital transformation seek out industrial-grade AI companies with software that provides holistic, organisation/sector/city-wide insights through sensor placement technology and data collection techniques.
Governments at every level, as well as public and private organisations, are facilitating technological implementation and digital transformation. Private and public partnerships have become a major mechanism by which cities can adopt technology that makes them smarter. The best course of action is to embrace AI that blends knowledge-based reasoning with advanced digitalisation techniques, helping stakeholders distinguish unanticipated scenarios and make tough choices.
Choosing the most dynamic form of AI to transform the utilities sector will contribute remarkably to the development of smart cities. Enhanced communication, strengthened collaboration, increased fuel savings and decreased waste will help companies – particularly in high-value industries – to increase their profits. Indelible process improvements, like streamlined operational capacities where all facilities function more efficiently in harmony, are the future of smart city technology.
A Bankers without Boundaries made a proposed mechanism to address the challenge of scaling energy efficiency measures in the urban built environment. It is suggested in this article as a Green Neighbourhoods as a Service for all concerned a welcome step in the right direction.
The above image is for illustration and is of Climate-KIC.
Reducing net energy consumption in the built environment is one of the most significant and hardest problems for cities to solve to meet net zero carbon timelines. In our experience, typically, these emissions contribute 30-40% to a city’s total CO2 emissions. In this article we look at why it is so challenging and propose a mechanism to kickstart retrofit at scale.
A Challenging Problem
Reducing emissions in the built environment is an extremely complex problem with multiple components. Many of these complexities arise from an underlying assumption, in nearly all jurisdictions, that solving the problem is the responsibility of individual property owners. Multiple individual actors must make independent decisions leading to a fragmented response to the challenge.
Even ignoring this fragmentation, targeting individual property owners with economic incentives alone is failing anyway due to two interlinked problems
The value of returns (energy savings) is not connected to the capital spend. Returns occur over many decades and a building owner must be confident that they will enjoy those benefits for at least 30 years to have a hope of creating a positive economic case. Most building owners cannot commit to owning the property over that period; therefore, the net present value of energy savings is undervalued by the capital spender relative to its true worth.
Even assuming the building owner can commit to 30 years of ownership, the economics of delivering deep decarbonisation in a way that is attractive to citizens (Deep, Community Retrofit) has poor economic returns (negative IRR) even assuming a 30-year investment period.
Figure 1: Not all retrofit is created equal
If economic rationale alone is not enough, decision making and financing must balance competing goals – economics, decarbonisation, community benefits and social & health impact, which requires a broader viewpoint than an individual building owner.
As a result, current solutions, which are frequently designed to be adopted by property owners, are failing. This has led to the paralysis we see in the market with negligible levels of building level improvements which improve energy efficiency (“retrofit”) occurring, despite various subsidy schemes being offered and financing costs being at historically low levels for some time.
Most existing solutions start with a premise that since it is down to individual property owners to commission work on their own properties, it is also therefore assumed that the energy and maintenance savings benefit accrues to them too and that this should form the economic rationale to carry out the project.
Even after discounting other barriers to entry (complexity of deciding what work to commission, project managing multiple trades, applying for subsidies, the misalignment of landlord and tenant incentives in the rental sector) the economic returns are not high for ambitious retrofit and require the property owner to remain in the property for decades to realise them. Therefore, the net present value of these savings is not being leveraged to solve the problem in the most effective way.
The sheer scale of retrofit that is required to improve inefficient buildings is also often touted as a problem. The costs of an ambitious retrofit programme are huge and go well beyond the public purse. To compound the problem the energy savings that can be achieved are not high enough for traditional financing on its own. To achieve this scale public finance will need to be blended with private capital in some way to provide the level of finance needed to achieve the scale required. In addition, retail investment and citizen engagement need to play their part in the equation to increase visibility and feasibility.
An interlinking issue for many countries is that of regional inequalities. Governments, such as the UK, have made levelling up regional differences a key policy initiative. Existing retrofit plans stand to exacerbate this issue. In the UK for example average house prices in London are £661k, but only £200k in the North East and North West. Average loan to value ratio is 82%. Retrofit costs are broadly uniform across the country, so a deep retrofit at £40k would equate to 6% of property value or one third of average equity in London, but 20% of property value or 110% of equity in the North. Clearly a policy led strategy that forces retrofit debt onto house owners would be deeply regressive for the North.
Any scalable solution must address the fragmentation of the problem which arises from individual decision making, allowing more systemic decision making to happen, economies of scale to materialise and progress to finally be made. This requires a fundamentally different approach.
There is also real opportunity in this space.
Figure 2: Opportunities
Green Neighbourhoods as a Service – A Proposed Solution
To address the mismatch between ownership of the capital spend and of the value of benefits, tackle the fragmentation issue, overcome barriers to entry, allow aggregation of projects and matching of different types of finance that will be needed, we propose a new more centralised model which we call Green Neighbourhoods as a Service (GNaaS).
GNaaS envisages the establishment of a central entity in a city or region which designs, commissions, manages and funds deep energy retrofit on a street-by-street scale with incremental community investments at no cost to the property owners, regardless of ownership and usage typology.
By centralising the design process, more systemic energy decisions are made, for example around local energy systems and integration with district heating.
By centralising procurement, greater economies of scale are realised, improving economics and providing a lead market to the supply chain creating an environment for investment.
By operating at a community scale, additional projects such as resilience building, co-working spaces and green infrastructure in the shared spaces can be implemented at lower marginal cost. This drives greater impact and citizen engagement, changing the process from a “retrofit programme” to a “neighbourhood greening and investment programme”.
By centralising funding, projects can be aggregated on a neighbourhood scale allowing access to completely different types of funding and crucially removing the requirement of indebtedness for individual property owners, which is a key barrier.
To fund the work, a mechanism is needed to attach the long-term energy and maintenance savings to the centralised funding source. The proposal is that this takes the form of a long term (30 year+) comfort and maintenance contract with the resident. The contract would be embedded into the property deeds so that it automatically novates to whoever lives in the property and does not follow the individual when they move away. Alternatively, the resident would be offered the option to contribute the funding for their property directly in which case they would receive the full benefits of reduced energy requirement going forward without any need to engage in the design, procurement and delivery process.
Figure 3: Operating Mechanism
This is not an ESCO model (1). The resident would retain their relationship with existing utility providers for any grid power that they require post retrofit. The significant reduction of energy use achieved through demand mitigation measures and maximising localised heat and electricity generation would create the financial space for the payment of the comfort and maintenance fee at no aggregate increase in cost to the resident.
Contracting all the energy and maintenance savings to the GNaaS organisation would maximise the potential for return-based finance in the funding model. Implementing governance structures that align the decision-making processes with the overall goals of the city could create a mechanism for social outcome goals to be included in contractual terms.
This mechanism could provide a theoretical lever to the public authority to leave part of the savings with the resident enabling the mechanism to become a powerful tool in tackling fuel poverty.
Figure 4: Funding Flow Through the OpCo / FinCo model
The Capital Stack That Will Be Needed
From the modelling work we have done with several cities, the internal rate of return (IRR) provided by the energy savings from this blended set of neighbourhood interventions is consistently negative, even assuming a 30-year payback period. But by considering a large enough layer of various non-repayable funding sources, or impact finance, we can move the IRR for the remaining funding requirement into positive territory. Furthermore, adding returns from other sources, e.g. health improvement, can further improve the pay-out profile.
The resulting model creates a potentially multi-billion, stable and low returning financial investment opportunity for sources of patient capital that also value a robust set of impact metrics such as decarbonisation, healthcare improvement, fuel poverty abatement, educational outcomes, air quality improvements or biodiversity gains. We would argue this could be a good fit for sources of capital such as pension funds and insurance companies, which are increasingly demanding products which offer impact related benefits in addition to a financial return, under pressure from underlying asset owners and regulators.
Further, it is a structure that can take in repayable, but zero or ultra-low coupon, finance from multilateral or development finance institutions seeking climate change impact and/or post-COVID recovery funding.
In addition, there is an opportunity to offer participation for local communities to invest through a community bond type structure allowing direct participation in the returns.
For the non-repayable layer of finance, various components will need to be combined.
Funnelling existing municipal budgets earmarked for improving energy efficiency of public owned properties into the mechanism
Repurposing existing subsidy schemes into the mechanism
Additional national/supranational grant funding schemes aimed at decarbonisation and/or post-covid recovery; the work is labour-intensive and community wealth building activities relating to asset maintenance and green infrastructure can be incorporated.
The potential to incorporate other outcome seeking pools of funding, for example allocation of healthcare budgets into what would become a preventative programme reducing future burden on the health care system, biodiversity improvement funding etc.
An option for building owners to fund the work themselves and have the occupant benefit from the energy savings. They still benefit from the centralised orchestration, better economics and broader impact.
Exploration of the potential to accredit such centralised and scaled retrofit programmes as sources of carbon credits for voluntary carbon offset schemes allowing corporates to achieve their own net zero targets by buying credits that directly improve the communities they operate in and their employees live in.
Figure 5: The proposed Capital Stack with illustrative figures
There are significant governance issues to solve in designing how this entity would operate and to align its actions with those of the public sector. We propose it would be a not-for-profit organisation using a standard return-based fund management fee structure to cover its own operating costs, with involvement from public sector officials in supervisory committees etc to ensure alignment.
We are not claiming that this proposal is yet a finalised solution; there are many complexities to work through (several which are being tackled in pilot projects planned in Milan and Zagreb). However, we are convinced that this concept has the potential to unlock the scaling of improved energy efficiency in the built environment in a meaningful way.
Integration with a mechanism to help scale beyond pilot phase, taking learnings from models like LABEEF in Latvia to enable an ecosystem of private sector contracting firms to take over the heavy lifting work of much of the OpCo envisaged above, thereby creating competition leaving the OpCo part of the retrofit company as a commissioning and refinancing engine for implementation firms.
Technical assistance funding is required to further develop this work, on the finance side, but also to develop the engagement process with citizens, scope out the legal challenges around contracting as well as integration with the supply chain
Pilots will need to be run in multiple cities to prove out the concept. We would envisage these covering 2-300 residential units at a total funding cost of €10-15m each. Pilots are in advanced stage of design in Milan and Zagreb) though engagement has begun in multiple cities across Europe including Copenhagen, Leuven, Vienna, Krakow and Edinburgh.
Funding providers, including private sector impact finance firms, development finance institutions and philanthropic outcome purchasers will need to engage who are willing to partner with cities to develop these structures so that they can grow to commercial scale.
1 ESCO – Energy Service Company – is a company that provides energy to customers and services to improve efficiency. An ESCO typically sits between the consumer and the utility providers.
Rain Jordan elaborates on how Urban Experimentation may help Develop Better Sustainable Policies as per a study that addresses the notion of urban sustainability observatories. This is all very well for the developed countries of the world but what about those that are developing. For instance, cities of the MENA region that have emerged against a backdrop of harsh environmental conditions, scarce natural resources, and limited arable land would nowadays be in great need of what is proposed here. The above image for illustrative purpose is of The BMJ.
Study Shows How Urban Experimentation May Help Develop Better Sustainable Policies
In the twenty-first century, humanity is undergoing revolutionary transformations, including rapid urbanization, the advent of disruptive mobility technology services, and new data sources created and consumed by urban and mobility processes.
The study addresses the notion of urban sustainability observatories, which use continual data gathering and analytic capabilities to leverage urban experimentation.
The researchers also go through the difficulties of constructing and maintaining these observatories and how the university, community, and industry collaborations may create effective observatories that act as essential drivers of research, technology transfer, and commercialization.
Decades Long Efforts
Since 1991, when an expert committee was established for that purpose, achieving urban sustainability has been one of the primary aims of European Union policy. Consequently, several research requests were held in this area during the fifth, sixth, and even seventh Framework Programmes.
According to the findings, indicators of urban sustainability were shown to be the most effective means of measuring urban sustainability and defining a set of sustainability targets.
Recent Sustainable Actions
(Photo : pexels)
In the last ten years, cities have grown at an unprecedented rate. As a result, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities, with the United States accounting for 80 percent.
By grouping creative, inventive, and educated individuals and companies, cities have grabbed more than 80% of global economic activity and provided millions of social mobility and economic success. However, clustering populations may exacerbate both excellent and bad factors, with many contemporary cities facing rising inequality, debility, and environmental deterioration.
In recent decades, urban sustainability concepts have driven development in urban and metropolitan regions to attain higher social, economic, and environmental sustainability standards.
Practitioners and academics in the field of urban sustainability are constantly developing and implementing new approaches. Examining the range of innovative techniques that have been adopted in certain metropolitan regions might give insight into whether and how these methods might be adapted and applied in other cities.
Annie Brown, Contributor AI writes in Forbes that developing Coherent AI Infrastructure for Smart Cities is a case in which the Emerging technology in artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming cities, making them smarter, faster, and predicting opportunities for improvement. So here is her write up.
The picture above is for illustration and is of SmartNations.
Developing Coherent AI Infrastructure For Smart Cities
56.2% of the world’s population lives in cities. The issues that impact cities are felt everywhere. From commuting and congestion to economies and supply chains, increased efficiencies in urban areas are net positive for communities around the country, and the world.
Emerging technology in artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming cities, making them smarter, faster, and predicting opportunities for improvement.
Myriad fresh-off-the-R&D stage AI tools proliferate in urban environments. Because of dense populations, and a concentration of equipment and machine based projects, AI’s ideal testing ground is a city. The truth is that AI is also most aptly applied in an urban environment.
Overhauling infrastructure is often associated with large capital expenditure and timelines spanning decades. Those barriers are being addressed through innovative solutions: AI and machine learning can upgrade the urban infrastructure fast, and at a fraction of the cost.
AI-Powered Smart Transit to Get Cities Moving Again
Innovators in the space are leveraging innovative computer vision technology—aided by machine learning—to transform the urban transit infrastructure and deliver reliable, sustainable and equitable public transportation. For example, Hayden AI, based in Oakland, CA, has built the first autonomous traffic management platform with vision-based perception devices.
These devices are mounted in a city fleet, such as transit buses, street sweepers, and garbage trucks. Each vehicle-mounted perception device is equipped with precision localization technology, enabling it to detect and map objects such as lane lines, traffic lights, street signs, fire hydrants, parking meters, and trees. This data then creates a “digital twin,” or a rich 3D virtual model of the city.
According to Vaibhav Ghadiok, co-founder and VP of Engineering with Hayden AI, “The network of spatially aware perception devices collaborate to build a real-time 3D map of the city. These devices learn over time and from each other to provide data and insights that can be shared across city agencies. This can be used to make buses run on time by clearing bus lanes of parked vehicles or help with city planning through better parking and curbside management.“
Ghadiok leveraged his expertise in robotics, computer vision, and machine learning to architect the Hayden AI platform with a firm belief that efficient and improved access to transit systems lies at the heart of building sustainable cities.
One of Hayden AI’s first tests was on inner city traffic. Stop-and-start, people circling for parking, and blocked bus lanes cause traffic jams everyday in major cities. When bus lanes get blocked by motorists, it slows down buses, decreases ridership, and increases costs for the MTA. Ridding bus lanes of parked vehicles can positively impact millions of lives.
It can also be used to identify parking meters, so cities can improve parking management. In addition, it can be used to alert drivers to available parking spaces nearby, alleviating the problem of driving around continuously looking for parking. The technology can even perform traffic pattern analyses to determine how many pedestrians are walking across an intersection at certain times of the day.In the future, these systems could be used to schedule curb space, enabling, say, a delivery truck to park in a typically restricted area for 15 minutes to drop off packages.
Take asset management, as an example. If a city wants to know when to trim a tree, data can be provided to assess the need for maintenance. How many fire hydrants are there and are they accessible?
Achieving this with fixed cameras is impractical given the steep cost of installation that can exceed $100k, time required to install, coordination of multiple civic agencies overcoming red tape and multiple rounds of approval. Ghadiok commented, “Mobile perception systems can be easily installed and are not only more cost-effective but accomplish more with fewer devices.” He further added, “An advantage of being a non-safety critical device is that we can rapidly iterate and deploy state-of-the-art algorithms to a street near you.”
The possibilities for what perception systems can convey, and the strategic decisions that can be made, are virtually endless. Social responses to these proposed improvements have been countered by concerns about privacy and regulations. That, too, is being proactively addressed by the global community of innovators.
New Paths for Politics and Society
AI unlocks the capacity for data to be used in transformational ways, but it still requires guidelines. A growing body of AI specialists see the powerful potential of AI to play a role in both politics and society, if the right standards are in place.
It’s called the AI World Society (AIWS) and aims to build “A Better World With AI.” Composed of leaders from around the world, this body is attracting leaders from technology, world governments, and innovators who recognize AI’s key role in building a better tomorrow.
With representation at the UN, the G7 Summit, the AI International Accord Conference—and with a growing body of sponsored research and thought leadership—AIWS may provide much-needed guardrails to the ever-increasing supply of AI-powered tools, including smart cities.
AI has the potential to optimize life-saving, life-sustaining resources, including water, electricity, traffic, housing, and education. As the prevalence of AI tools increases, politicians and citizens alike must be empowered to understand and use technology.
Two initiatives by AIWS that have sparked worldwide interest are the AIWS Ecosystem and AIWS City. Co-founder Tuan Nguyen, an esteemed mathematician, explains the concept of the AIWS Ecosystem in this way: “Many things function with a team of systems. AI makes it possible to need and use only one. Enhanced applications make it possible for people to become innovators.”
Data scientists, technologists and other leaders are supporting a structure of models for facilitating a digital age. As an example of their activities, at the 2020 Riga Conference, leaders from AIWS relayed a new policy brief entitled “Social Contract for the Artificial Intelligence Age: Safety, Security, and Sustainability for the AI World.”
AIWS has a growing presence in Paris, Rome, Riga, Vienna, Munich, and now further west into the United States. This body could make it possible for every person to have access to AI tools that make their lives better and easier. In fact, it is their stated mission to provide support to urban environments, but also to rural areas, reducing inequality and connecting people to centralized tools and information.
The City of the Future
Emergency services, community improvements, infrastructure, and the very roads that convey vital goods could all be enhanced by AI-fueled technologies. Some of the simplest ideas have the potential to go the furthest. Dedicated leaders are committed to using AI in safe, thoughtful, and tested ways. Their shared goal? To improve the quality of life for every person in every community around the world.
Annie Brown is the founder of Lips, a feminist technology organization at the forefront of the inclusive design movement, building products designed to unlock opportunities for previously underserved and intersectionally marginalized communities. Currently, Lips is building more inclusive Machine Learning and Contextual AI technologies that can be used across industries to improve the online experience of traditionally marginalized communities.
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