The Smart City of 2020: An Ecological Partnership

Ed Note: This post is Jan Lee’s entry into Masdar’s 2014 blogging contest for a shot at a trip to Abu Dhabi.  If you’d like to enter, there’s still time.  Just follow these instructions. The deadline is Jan 3nd!


How can cities contribute to the advancement of sustainable development and address issues including water, energy and waste?”

Today’s most efficient communities are an example of partnership. They coalesce what is most desirable as a living environment with what works most efficiently for the whole. They find ways to integrate smart technology and affordable features into everyday living spaces. And they adapt to their environment, rather than attempting to adapt the environment to the resident’s personal space.

In Las Vegas, Nevada, an ecological transformation is underway. It isn’t the kind of makeover you would expect for an entertainment paradise known for its spacious mansions and perfectly manicured lawns. Rather, it’s a realization that comfort and efficiency is determined as much by one’s environment as by the technology and resources at hand.

Spacious green lawns and non-native flower beds have been replaced with foliage that resembles the austere beauty of their surroundings. Living spaces are designed to conform to the dry and often intense climate, with “cool rooftops” that reflect the heat. Housing communities that are currently underway integrate smart appliances and intelligent water usage with attractive year-round living spaces that can adapt to climate change and yet minimize its contribution to global warming.

It’s a thinking that is at the heart of sustainable living. In larger, high-density cities like Vancouver, communities have integrated three essential components: residential living spaces, public services and commercial infrastructure. Multipurpose buildings combine residential living spaces with community-run libraries, community centers and shopping areas. Walking and biking paths  and multiple forms of public transportation are close by. These close-knit combined living and shopping areas help spread out congestion by creating satellite communities and diffusing congestion in the traditional downtown core.

But a truly sustainable city reaches beyond what its environment dictates by using smart technology and advancing concepts to meet the needs of its future citizens. Smart grids that rely upon more than one energy source, such as concentrating solar power, photovoltaic solar panels and wind turbines stabilize energy production, reduce power outages and decrease dependence on fossil fuels.

Smart_cityThe_C1_Electric_Vehicle_by_Lit_Motors_IntelFreePressSmart transportation grids are also essential to a city’s sustainability. Through the years, city transportation systems have adapted to what has worked for a growing and aging population. But today’s best innovations incorporate environment, mobility concerns and cost into the framework. They take into consideration that climate change often means reduced mobility in adverse weather and that a community that is well-equipped with multiple choices and options functions as a safer and more efficient city.

Some of the most recent advances in city planning and transportation systems that are under development to address these needs include:

  • Car- and bike-share programs that intersect with other forms of transport, like rapid transit, bus and car pools. Shared services promote a sense of community ownership and participation, while reducing vehicle emissions in high-density areas;
  • Superbus transports that shuttle riders to individual destinations and rely on alternative power sources. The bus would ideally operate on “super lanes” that would be heated by geothermal energy to cut down icing and increase efficiency. The current prototype being designed in the Netherlands is aerodynamic, fuel efficient, smart-designed and attractive;
  • Smart highway systems, also under development in the Netherlands, alert drivers to adverse weather and hazards, and are equipped with a charging lane for electric vehicles. The charging lane not only promotes sustainable travel, but reduces the need for fixed charging stations;
  • Alternative transportation methods like the Muv-E scooter that folds up and can be carried on public transportation;
  • Increased community-designed and solar-lit walking paths that link satellite communities and parklets, or mini park areas in high-density neighborhoods, and are accessible by residents of all mobility levels;
  • New construction methods that increase lighting during cloudy or rainy weather and cut down on heat penetration during hot, sunny days. Some of the newer developments include windows made with nano-crystals that “control” intense heat penetration while lighting living areas from the outside;
  • Enhanced focus on green building materials and a sustainable supply chain that ensures that other communities are benefiting from local choices, as well.

The architects of the city of 2020 will be building not only with an eye on what its residents desire and find most comfortable, but what will most benefit the ecology around them and the changing needs of a global environment.

Photo of Smart Highway courtesy of Studio Roosegaarde

Photo of Lit Motors’ C1 electric vehicle courtesy of Intel Free Press

Jan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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