Thursday, 31 May 2012

One Step at a Time - DEVAP is Keeping it Simple

Tech to the Rescue! 

Comfort within the new urban environment is crucial to our perception of livability and central to enablement of active communal spaces. Buildings are the containers that, in many geographies globally, will house these spaces and communities. So when we see small advancements such as this one from the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) that point to 80% efficiency break-throughs for building HVAC systems - coupled with significantly noticeable improvements in perceived occupant comfort - we are enthused! 

Coupled with a productization roadmap that puts the new tech in the field rapidly, we can foresee a time where our urban shells can truly lead to sustainable, community habitation 

NREL zeroes in on super-efficient AC system for commercial buildings

Tuesday, 29 May 2012


It starts outside the Cities:

It becomes popularized:

Education is a part of the solution:

With Deep Engineering Focus:

Energy Infrastructures: Building from the Edge to the Whole

The primary enabler (IMHO) for transformation within the global energy infrastructure is the development of a managed, distributed generation/storage capability. Our reliance upon large, centralized generation and a managed transmission/distribution system is (again IMHO:) the primary driver for continuation of current policy and technology. But a realistic path toward Distributed Energy Resources (DER) will truly lead us toward a sustainable energy future. 

The discussion below, by Lux Research's Matthew Feinstein, points the way. And there may be significant momentum to be gained by looking at showcase deployments globally. 

Solar plus storage: gaining steam on both supply and demand

By Matthew Feinstein

Though previously a high-priced fantasy, storage packaged with solar on a distributed 
solar plus storage, energy storage, solar energy, distributed generation
basis is gaining momentum. From the supply side, installer/financier SolarCity is working with electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla – the two companies share a common Chairman, Elon Musk – on a distributed storage product for residential and commercial applications. To date, the companies have installed some beta systems. While still in development, the product will be a battery pack remotely monitored and controlled by SolarCity, with battery technology from Tesla.

Also on the supply side, Bosch plans to leverage its acquisition of Voltwerk Electronics from Conergy for storage products, and LG Chem expects to produce storage products for solar systems in 2013. Battery maker Saft has supplied residential storage systems for solar installations on France's island territories as part of the Millener project.

solar plus storage, energy storage, solar energy, distributed generation
On the demand side, two countries that could pilot storage integration with solar areGermany and Japan – both markets that have publicly announced a move away from nuclear power. To lower ratepayers' increasing costs due to renewables integration, it's more likely that Germany looks to stabilize solar installations at 2 GW to 4 GW annually, while increasing the share of power derived from low-cost wind – another opportunity for storage integration.

There are a number of factors that determine a market's need for storage, as detailed in Lux Research’s recent State of the Market Report "Grid Storage under the Microscope: Using Local Knowledge to Forecast Global Demand." In solar, don't simply look towards high volumes of installations – rather, storage is necessary to balance intermittency in markets with a high penetration level of solar in their overall electricity mix. Lux Research finds that emerging markets like Brazil, Chile and South Africa remain below 2% solar penetration through 2017, indicating that any storage adoption in those markets would come as a result of poor grid quality or generous incentives. A historically strong installation market pushes Germany to 15% penetration in 2017, indicating a much more pressing need for storage.

It's clear that the necessity for storage is increasing in markets that have adopted solar, particularly on the distributed generation side. However, suppliers be warned: The same price pressure that enacted – and prolonged – the solar shakeout will require low-cost battery packs, even in cases where storage can allow for smaller solar arrays optimized for building energy consumption.

Further, a major wild card is policy: In the U.S., it remains a debated issue whether storage is considered energy-generating equipment, and thus qualifies for the Investment Tax Credit (ITC). European solar feed-in tariff schemes incentivize power generated, but don't account for storage in most countries.

In any case, it's clear that storage is less of a high-priced fantasy and more of a probable reality for the solar industry as supply and demand begin making initial strides towards it.

Matthew Feinstein is a research associate for Lux Research, which provides strategic advice and on-going intelligence for emerging technologies. For more information, visit the Lux Research site.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Cities hold the Key - (and note the waste streams!) - Verge London

Speaks for itself. Those of you that could not attend Verge/London might be interested in the virtual archives of the event. 

"Mark Palmer, IBM's vice president for the public sector in Europe, shares some of Riffle’s optimism. “Today’s rapid urbanization is both a big opportunity and a challenge. It’s a big opportunity to make the planet more sustainable,” Palmer said, arguing that greater “instrumentation” -- or gathering hard data to fuel analysis and planning -- is the only route to improving matters."

Why cities hold the key -- and key challenges -- for sustainability

Published May 17, 2012
Why cities hold the key -- and key challenges -- for sustainability
Is the increasing urbanization of the world’s population a good or a bad trend from a sustainability standpoint? That was the key question debated by a panel of experts at today’s VERGE conference in London, an event organized by GreenBiz. While some saw significant grounds for optimism, others perceived a less rosy future.
“I’m definitely optimistic,” said Connor Riffle, head of cities at the Carbon Disclosure Project, a not-for-profit organization that promotes the measurement, management and sharing of environmental information. “Cities let us achieve the efficiencies we need to scale up the world.”
“It’s absolutely terrifying,” countered Anne Power, professor of social policy at the London School of Economics. “The risks are massive.”
The majority of urban population growth is in the developing world, she said, and the biggest challenges center on what she earthily described as “bugs and shit.” Can sanitation, water treatment, waste disposal and recycling keep pace with the rapid growth of cities in countries where these challenges are already neglected? “By nature I’m positive,” Power said, “but we face a lot of tough and messy work on the ground.”
Riffle, by contrast, said that current trends offer a massive opportunity for the developing world to change the balance of power by building modern cities that might be attractive on the global stage. “If you don’t compete [to attract the best people], your city will not survive,” he said.
Mark Palmer, IBM's vice president for the public sector in Europe, shares some of Riffle’s optimism. “Today’s rapid urbanization is both a big opportunity and a challenge. It’s a big opportunity to make the planet more sustainable,” Palmer said, arguing that greater “instrumentation” -- or gathering hard data to fuel analysis and planning -- is the only route to improving matters.
Click to visit the VERGE virtual event
Urban populations are more suited to this kind of measurement, he added, and the resulting insight is a necessary step for greater sustainability. “Technology accounts for 2 percent of emissions and rising, but it can help us do better with the other 98 percent,” Palmer said.
Still, Richard Jackson, head of environmental sustainability at University College London, wonders whether the use of technology will be enough. “Cities have the potential to accommodate mass growth, but the way we do things today, I worry about whether our cities can grow and adapt,” he said.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

A Texas Solution: EPA.x.ATT => 13% savings

Cool buildings, parched cities? EDF and AT&T target water savings

Published May 15, 2012
We live indoors, we work indoors, we shop indoors, we even often play sports indoors! With so much of the modern American economy taking place indoors, and population centers shifting to warmer regions, the environmental and economic impact of building cooling systems is on the rise. We often hear about the energy needed to power and cool this sprawling infrastructure.
But there's another crucial dimension that is only just starting to surface: water.
As water becomes a more expensive, and sometimes contentious, commodity in many regions like the drought-stricken southwest, managing thirsty commercial buildings is going to become an increasingly important challenge for building owners.
In most large commercial and industrial buildings, tens of thousands of gallons of water flow through a big apparatus called a cooling tower (about the size of a two-car garage, they're usually on the roof), where it evaporates out the top.
The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that commercial, residential and industrial buildings use approximately47 billion gallons of water each day. And the EPA found that a typical office building uses more than 25 percentof its water supply for cooling towers.
Now, with all that water adding up, leading-edge companies are starting to rethink these systems.Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is teaming with information and communication technology giant AT&T (NYSE: T), which operates thousands of facilities across the country. Together, we're looking to develop operational improvements and best practices that can cut water, chemical and energy use in these cooling systems and improve overall building efficiency.
AT&T has calculated its water footprint, discovering that just 120 of its facilities accounted for nearly half the company's 3.4 billion gallons of water used in 2010. The company rolled out its Water Scorecard to pinpoint potential water-savings opportunities and trained facility managers in an effort to increase awareness and understanding of water usage. It was clear that cooling towers represented an opportunity to improve efficiency.
Together, EDF and AT&T will build on those learnings. We will evaluate facilities and operations for efficiencies, and explore more creative ways to drive water and cost savings. We will look at the whole cooling process and pursue ways to eliminate cooling tower water use by utilizing cool, outdoor air to cool indoor space where feasible.
Quick calculations suggest that improving operations in the cooling towers at AT&T's largest facilities could save millions of gallons of water per year. Adopted on a broad scale, these solutions could save billions of gallons of water annually.
For example, if operational improvements were adopted across all existing commercial office buildings and manufacturing facilities in the Dallas/Fort Worth area in Texas, the water savings could be over 12 billion gallons per year. That's equal to the water use of nearly 500,000 homes or approximately 13 percent of the water use in the region. Together, EDF and AT&T have agreed to pilot best management practices and new technology at target facilities, and we plan to share our progress as we move forward with the project. Stay tuned for more updates as we uncover opportunities to improve efficiencies at the water/energy nexus.

CIVE: A Vision

Interesting view of a path forward. Replicable and Resilient. Design elements provide cultural skinning as well sustainable operation within working distance of a large body of water. 

My view of granularity may be different, and CIVE does have residential projects more of the scale, if not the particular courtyard style, of the courtyard dwelling. There also is a distinct need for more systems detail (both infrastructure and people) for operational efficiencies. It must learn how to integrate into it's local context/environment.


Project Alpha

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Testimonial to Success

This is a good example of a community system that led to a sustainable balance in their local schools. Transportation, energy use, work/life schedules, and innovative management strategy have led to significant recovery of investment $s.

School System's 'Green Initiative' pays off

From recycling to HVAC control to bus routes, system finds ways to save energy, money

Burt Elementary Paper Recycling Program
Burt Elementary Paper Recycling Program: Burt Elementary began a paper recycling program this year as part of the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System's Going Green Initiative. Early this month, CMCSS was Green Certified by the County.
    Burt Elementary students Colton Waggoner, left, Francisco Rodriguez and Taylor Willard transfer paper to a recycle bin. / THE LEAF-CHRONICLE/GREG WILLIAMSON


    • Anyone interested in helping the school system buy recycling bins can contact Shedrich Webster by email at or by phone at 358-4219.
    CLARKSVILLE, TENN. — Every Thursday afternoon, Taylor Willard, 11, and Colton Waggoner, 12, pick up the black recycling container in the front office of Burt Elementary and collect the school’s recycled paper.
    Blue burlap bags reading “Once is not enough. Recycle” sit in each of the 25 classrooms at Burt. More than 300 students and all faculty and staff recycle the paper, and the proceeds come back to the school for supplies.
    Principal Diana Hara said recycling was previously part of the school’s culture, but it fizzled out. This year, Burt began recycling paper again as part of the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System’s Go Green Initiative.
    “It’s become embedded in us,” Hara said. “We feel it’s a natural fit with parts of our curriculum. It’s a great way to use taxpayer dollars wisely.”
    Shedrich Webster, CMCSS operations foreman, said Burt is a shining example of a school working to promote the initiative. Energy consumption there is down 15 percent from last year around the same time. Webster hopes to place a recycling bin on Burt’s campus to encourage community involvement in recycling.
    Burt is just one of the schools making strides. Earlier this month, the school system as a whole officially became Clarksville-Montgomery County Green-Certified.
    “We are pleased to see the school system continue to seek ways to minimize their environmental footprint and at the same time maximize efficiencies where possible,” said Montgomery County Mayor Carolyn Bowers in a news release.

    Saving energy, saving money

    For the past three years, the system has delved into a smart energy campaign to go green and bring all its facilities under a cost-efficient plan.
    “It started when our facilities operations (employees) went to a conference to keep up with accreditation, and there was a big push for energy maintenance programs,” said Damian Maloney, assistant manager for plant facilities. “We had a scattered approach. Some schools were doing recycling, but we had nothing systemwide. We came up with an energy policy to save money for taxpayers.”

    Friday, 4 May 2012

    It Takes Policy to Enable & Encourage Change

    We know that policy initiatives can make (or break) our march to a sustainable future. The policy framework shaping electrical services in North America are a good example - where policies focused on encouraging electricity delivery from large, centralized generation facilities have long dominated - suppressing innovation and transformation in our energy infrastructure.

    It is with great hope that we see change afoot in the area of public policy initiatives that, from the grass roots level, begin to reverse this 100+ year old framework. The following, describing new building/zoning policies in New York City clearly point the way to how we will change the future by starting from the edge of the grid - making efficient, sustainable buildings without waiting for the transformation of the grid.

    NYC Takes the Red Tape Out of Building Green

    Modifications to the city's century-old zoning law to promote energy efficient and solar-powered buildings will save residents $800 million a year.

    May 4, 2012
    New York City solar map created by the City University of New York. New York City solar map created by the City University of New York. The map shows existing solar installations in NYC and gives an estimate of solar potential for every rooftop in the five boroughs.
    The New York City Council this week adopted the country's most sweeping green building plan, approving citywide zoning regulations that encourage energy efficiency retrofits and widespread adoption of rooftop solar and wind.
    The initiative, called Zone Green, will help the city slash annual energy costs of $15 billion and achieve its goal of trimming global warming emissions by 30 percent by 2030. The city's roughly one million buildings are responsible for almost 80 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, compared to 40 percent for the national average.

    The Zone Green rules involve 10 modifications to the city's arcane and archaic zoning ordinance. The changes will make it much easier for real estate developers and property owners to upgrade buildings and generate energy from renewable sources, primarily by cutting red tape and permitting costs.  

    The city's zoning ordinance—which dictates how tall buildings can be, what they can be used for and where they can be located—was established in 1916 and was overhauled once before, in 1961.
    "Environmental concerns and green buildings were not really understood at that time," said Monika Jain, the Zone Green project manager at the Department of City Planning, in an interview.

    In recent years, that became a problem. "There were several things that the building community wanted to do that zoning [rules] were either discouraging or outright prohibiting," Jain said. Those things included installing rooftop solar systems and energy efficient air-conditioners.

    So in 2008, as part of Mayor Bloomberg's PlaNYC sustainability agenda, the city's Green Codes Task Force began identifying obstacles in the zoning ordinance that limited the ability of people to go solar and modernize buildings. Using the task force recommendations, the Department of City Planning drafted modifications.

    The rules, which took effect Monday, apply to residential and commercial buildings and industrial facilities. They follow a series of measures adopted in 2009 that require building owners to report annual energy consumption data,replace lighting systems and follow strict efficiency standards for new construction and renovations. 

    The city anticipates the new zoning changes will save residents about $800 million on energy bills each year.  Energy efficiency advocates say they could set a national precedent for overhauling antiquated zoning laws.

    "New York taking this step—and taking it in such a visible way—shows leadership and can encourage some competition among other U.S. cities to put this issue of improving codes for energy efficiency at the top of their sustainability and economic development agendas," said Eric Mackres, a senior researcher for theAmerican Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C. "Updating policy that's just outdated and is inadvertently discouraging energy efficiency and green building ... is an important step forward," Mackres said.
    Russell Unger, executive director of the Urban Green Council, the New York chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, said he knows of at least one other city, Philadelphia, which has reworked its zoning codes to remove barriers to green building.
    But New York's modifications are the most ambitious and unique in the country, he said, and are largely the result of many years dedicated to sifting through the complex zoning rules and pinpointing very specific areas for improvements. Unger's group headed the Green Codes Task Force and developed some of the zoning changes.

    For instance, Unger said that New York is likely the first U.S. city to tweak its rules for wall thickness in order to encourage builders to insulate leaky exteriors and save energy. In the past, adding inches to thicken walls to trap heat in the winter or cold in the summer would be counted toward total floor space.

    Now, new and existing buildings can improve their "envelopes" without sacrificing space. "It's removing a barrier, but also allowing for things that weren't going to be done otherwise," Unger said.
    While the real estate industry was generally "thrilled" about the new zoning regulations, some changes met resistance from community groups, Unger said. Historical preservationists, for instance, were concerned that letting builders add insulation to outside walls would cover up historic brickwork. Some neighborhood leaders didn't want zoning rules to encourage already sky-scraping buildings to be built taller. Under the modifications, a new building that meets tough energy standards, but doesn't use all the inches permitted for wall thickness, can apply those extra inches to the building's height.

    Unger noted that while some details may continue to cause divisions, he said there's a bigger picture. "Collectively they represent an important shift" in the evolution of green building policy, he said.
    Here are some of the key changes under the Zone Green modifications:
    • Rooftop Solar Panels: Any building owner can now install solar panels, regardless of the building's height, so long as the system doesn't reach over the parapet, or the protective wall along the roof's edge. In the past, panels couldn't exceed maximum height requirements.
    • Wind Turbines: Manufacturing facilities along the New York City waterfront can now install freestanding wind turbines, while 100-foot-tall buildings can put turbines no taller than 55-feet on their rooftops. Previously, rooftop turbines were prohibited, and freestanding towers couldn't be taller than nearby buildings.
    • Green Roof Equipment: Rules for allowing energy-efficient heating and cooling units, skylights and gardens on rooftops are now less restrictive when it comes to building height and location. Further, food-producing greenhouses, once prohibited on rooftops, can go up on all commercial buildings and schools, but not on homes, apartments or hotels.
    • Sun Control Devices: Awnings or shades to block the high summer sun and let the lower winter sun naturally warm buildings are now allowed to project two and a half feet over windows on any building.
    • Energy Efficient Insulation: New buildings can add up to 16 inches in exterior wall thickness; the first half counts toward the building's total floor space, the second half doesn't. Existing buildings can add up to eight inches without any floor space penalty. 

    Saturday, 28 April 2012

    Re-Birth of Community - Opportunity from Disaster

    Scale informs all of our decisions in planning our new urbanism. The village as a community - lego'd up to the scale of a small town - evolved to a neighborhood of a city. The difficulty of sharing vision becomes one of the primary impediments to sustainability. 

    Our home, our village, we shall rebuild it

    Available in Bahasa
    In September this year I visited a number of communities in Yogyakarta, in Java, Indonesia, who were rebuilding their lives and homes after experiencing a series of natural disasters. The reconstruction process which I saw is perhaps in example of post-disaster community participation at their best.
    Our home, our village, we shall rebuild it
    For progress on reconstruction and rehabilitation after the natural disasters in Java, please visit this link: Building on Success: JRF Effectively Respond to Multiple Disasters in Yogyakarta, Indonesia
    Do you have experiences on community participation during post-disaster rehabilitation? If you do, we’d love to hear about it.

    Wednesday, 25 April 2012

    US Cities in the Global Economy (MGI)

    McKinsey Global provides numerous background insights into urban impact. In this case they focus on US cities and the role they play in the global economy. Do they lead? Do they coordinate with others in global circular economies? Interesting questions and numerous facts (highlighted below). Check it out - and move to a city near you (TIC - really - escape to the desert!)

    Urban America: US cities in the global economy

    In a world of rising urbanization, the degree of economic vigor that the economy of the United States derives from its cities is unmatched by any other region of the globe. Large US cities, defined here as those with 150,000 or more inhabitants, generated almost 85 percent of the country’s GDP in 2010, compared with 78 percent for large cities in China and just under 65 percent for those in Western Europe during the same period. In the next 15 years, the 259 large US cities are expected to generate more than 10 percent of global GDP growth—a share bigger than that of all such cities in other developed countries combined.
    Large cities by GDP
    The overwhelming role that cities play as home to the vast majority of Americans but also as a dominant driver of US and global economic growth argues for a keen focus on their prospects. MGI sheds new light on the role cities play in the US economy and gauges how large they loom in the urban world overall. Other highlights of the research include:
    • The United States has a broader base of large cities than any other region, and that explains their greater economic clout.
    • Of the 600 cities that MGI expects will account for 60 percent of global GDP growth by 2025, nearly 1 in 7 is in the United States.
    • Today, the metropolitan areas of New York and Los Angeles are the world’s second and sixth largest, respectively, by GDP.
    • A considerable swath of middleweight cities enjoy relatively high incomes that help explain the great overall importance of cities in the US economy. The country has just over 255 middleweight cities, and the top 28 cities, after New York and Los Angeles, contribute more than 35 percent of US GDP.
    Still, US cities face turbulent times ahead as the economy strives to recover from deep recession. Policy makers must also confront the dampening impact of deleveraging on economic activity, cope with persistently high pockets of unemployment, and manage an aging population over time. Business and government leaders need to find ways through these difficulties if cities are to play their part in the US economy’s growth and renewal. In the past, diverse US cities found many different ways to expand and become more prosperous. Although there is no single recipe for success, starting from a robust platform of economic clout will provide advantages.

    Sustainable Operations in the Future City

    The 2012 Sustainable Operations Summit in New York

    It's near impossible to attend them all. I'm in Doha - this was in New York - so the net is our medium and allows us to follow the flow from afar. It's about economy - and community flows - and people. At the heart of it - the People:

    Monday, 23 April 2012

    Grass Roots Solutions - or Big Brother?

    Such a choice!!! Will Doig of Salon contrasts alternative tracks to the future in a solid article about our new urban infrastructures. I am of the mind to leverage the power of people to reach to problems and contribute to solutions - through the application of appropriate technologies as contrasted to the big brother master control approach where centralized management becomes the (single point of failure) crutch of a disengaged drone public....

    Your next mayor: A computer

    Technology is helping cities control everything from traffic to disease. But who should control the technology?

    Three years ago, 100 Parisians volunteered to wear a wristband with a sensor in it. The sensors measured air and noise pollution as the wearers made their way around the city, transmitting that data back to an online platform that created a virtual map of the city’s pollution levels, which anyone with an Internet connection could take a look at.

    It was simple, elegant, effective — and a peek at the urban future, when “smart cities” will collect data of all kinds (in all kinds of ways) and use it to make themselves better places to live. The Paris wristband project shows how these efforts are already taking place, as urbanites conceive of solutions to their cities’ problems through creative uses of technology. It’s urban resourcefulness at its finest.

    But it may not last. The smart-city movement is at a crossroads. With the market projected to be worth $16 billion by the end of the decade, big companies like IBM and Cisco have much grander — and more profitable — ambitions than these small-scale projects. They’re going all-in on smart cities, with designs that supposedly do everything from end traffic jams to prevent disease outbreaks to eliminate litter. “Almost anything — any person, any object, any process or any service, for any organization, large or small — can become digitally aware and networked,” said IBM Chairman Samuel J. Palmisano at the 2010 SmarterCities forum in Shanghai. “Think about the prospect of a trillion connected and instrumented things —cars, appliances, cameras, roadways, pipelines …”

    Indeed, the goal of these companies is not just to participate in the evolution of smart cities, but to connect and control virtually everything with massive operating systems that will run these cities in their entirety. “Everybody wants to be the architects of these systems because then you own them forever,” says Greg Lindsay, author of “Aerotropolis” and an urban-technology reporter for Fast Company. “You could say it’s sort of a land grab.”

    Which of these futures should smart cities shoot for — the bottom-up model or the top-down version? A few weeks ago, Lindsay and Anthony Townsend of the Institute for the Future debated just that question. It’s easy to feel a knee-jerk reaction against the top-down, evil-corporate-overlord schema, but it has some things going for it. Rio de Janeiro is perhaps the closest thing the world currently has to a top-down smart city. Two years ago, IBM built an enormous, Mission Control-like facility for Rio, from which emergency services, transit, traffic, air quality, weather, contagious disease outbreaks, landslides and just about everything else is now monitored and managed. “Eighty interchangeable digital panels project live video feeds from 450 cameras,” is how the Daily Beast described it, “plus a dizzying array of tricked-out Google Maps of schools and hospitals, car accidents … and close to 10,000 GPS-tracked buses and ambulances.”

    It’s an undeniably nimble and efficient method (assuming the system doesn’t crash), and will come in handy when Rio hosts both the Olympics and the World Cup in the next four years. But it also consolidates power in the executive branch and creates an unsettling scope of surveillance. Its greatest novelty, however, may be that the system effectively puts a corporation, IBM, partially at the helm of a city of 6 million people.

    “It has something like 70 different city departments under it,” says Lindsay of Rio’s system. “You create this entanglement where IBM almost becomes part of the city government. You couldn’t untangle it if you wanted to.”

    Not to mention the fact that IBM is a computer company, not an urban planning consultancy. In his debate with Lindsay, Townsend asserted that the companies vying for smart-city dominance “know nothing about cities.” In fact, he said, despite having one of the biggest smart-city divisions in the IT world, IBM just hired its first urban planner last year. Why so little interest in what makes cities tick? “That’s probably the whole arrogance of the technology culture,” said Lindsay. “I think the software industry sees urban government as having failed.” Their attitude is: “‘We will come into your city and we will fix it.’”

    It sounds, frankly, like Robert Moses all over again. New York’s “master planner” was notoriously uninterested in conforming his grand designs to urban nuances, with terrible consequences. Which is why the other way to approach smart cities, from the bottom up — referred to, naturally, as the Jane Jacobs method — is not only less risky, but holds vastly more potential.

    “I always go back to the fundamental question of what cities are for, and what they do for us for free if we let them,” says Adam Greenfield, managing director of Urban Scale, an urban-technology consultancy. Rather than looking at cities as things that need to be be “fixed” by a distant force from on high, he sees technology as a tool to enhance a city’s existing strengths — starting with its residents themselves. “I go back to a book I read called ‘The Uses of Disorder,’ which suggests that cities are about maximizing interface between you and others,” says Greenfield. “You’re connected to a variety of people and providing the city itself with information and insights.”

    A great example of maximizing the urban interface is SeeClickFix, an online platform that lets people report local infrastructure problems, from leaky hydrants to dangerous intersections. Other users can then “Like” those reports, Facebook-style, so city administrators can see which projects their citizens consider most urgent. It also saves local government the expense of monitoring every square foot of the city by itself.

    There are other examples of bottom-up smart city thinking. In Seattle, 500 residents attached electronic trackers to pieces of their trash so that the items could be followed through the sanitation system to pinpoint inefficiencies. In Singapore, a group from MIT is developing a website that will show real-time movements of in-demand urban amenities, like cabs during rush hour. And a New York designer named Leif Percifield is prototyping a solution to his city’s combined-sewage overflow problem, in which thousands of gallons of raw sewage are dumped into the rivers when it rains. It would cost untold millions for the city to fix this problem; instead, Percifield is placing sensors in the sewers that will detect when the overflow is happening, so residents, who can opt to be automatically notified, can choose not to flush their toilets till the overflow has stopped.

    Greenfield admits that these could be seen as a raw deal, government shunting its responsibilities onto the people. “But looked at from another perspective,” he says, “it’s empowering.” It’s a bit like how Twitter has become a place where people get their news — sure, a media company could have built and run a similar system itself, but on Twitter we send the links around for free, and gladly.

    The common thread in all of these solutions is data, and much of it already exists, just waiting to be grabbed. “Your iPhone has eight sensors on it,” says Lindsay. “Think about the number of iPhones per city.” Cellphone signals, tracked en masse and anonymously, could be used to reorient transit service toward where it’s most needed, and to see how many people are visiting a city’s parks. It’s no more Big Brother-like than what already exists — the government can and does access cellphone location data all the time — so why not put that data to work for the benefit of cities?

    Lindsay sees a day when the smart city has become so sentient that we can choose to have our phones make us aware of people in our immediate vicinity who would be advantageous for us to meet. A smart city could eliminate unused office space with a system that allows us to seamlessly share occupancy with strangers whose paths we never actually cross. In the future, we may even marvel that there was a time when cars sat unused 95 percent of the day.

    “The city is already smart,” says Greenfield. “The intelligence is just bound up in the actions and behaviors of its users. If we harness that intelligence, we win.”

    Original Aricle