One of the first projects undertaken by MCP was based at the New York Academy of Science where we investigated and advocated for the application of advances in science and technology to urban systems.
We are now in the third generation of urban infrastructure development. The first breakthrough dates back to 3,000 – 2,500 BC in Egypt with planned walled cities, the grid system, and complex dwelling patterns as well as the pyramids and temples.
The second was the industrial revolution at the end of the 19th century in Manchester, England. Our current urban infrastructure and building systems are still based on those outmoded, costly and resource-intensive technologies developed at a time when today’s scarcity of natural resources and enormous urban agglomerations were inconceivable. These include: indoor plumbing; electricity/the light bulb; the telephone; the electric trolley; the internal combustion engine/ automobiles; the subway; and steel frame buildings along with elevators —making skyscrapers possible.
The third set in science and technology have been focused in large part on defense systems, military intelligence, outer space exploration and –to a lesser extent, consumer products. There has been a noticeable lag in applying these new materials, techniques and intelligent feedback loops for the benefit of urban livability.
Promising areas for adaptation involve decentralization, more efficient resource use, creative use of under- or un-utilized natural resources and regeneration of depleted urban ecosystems. Promising areas include:
- continuous process robotics (e.g. for fire-fighting equipment)
- satellite communication (e.g. disaster preparedness and management)
- photonics (combining laser light and fibre optics) e.g. for global urban meetings, traffic flow management, road diagnosis, intelligent vehicles
- simulations, computer-aided design, etc. (e.g. testing interactive planning, greening, shading and urban service options)
- microprocessing with electronic memory (e.g. could give every cell phone access to entire Library of Congress in own language)
- hi-tech ceramics and new materials (e.g. housing, buildings and street paving)
- biotechnology (e.g. health. sanitation. water treatment etc).
- rooftop heating and cooling systems using day and night solar/lunar energy.
- information feedback loops for bridge and road maintenance;
- urban agriculture, rooftop gardens; edibles that can be raised in window boxes;
- recycling from cradle to cradle.
We see great promise beyond the stereotypical “smart city” or “intelligent city” which presume large municipal budgets and advanced IT systems, prioritizing crime surveillance over infrastructure coverage and stress detection. In our work, we explore blending of pre-industrial and post industrial solutions, depending on the needs and resources in each location.
Some key findings here are:
- What we now discard as waste (solid, liquid etc.) can be creatively used as raw materials for productive processes, building and paving;
- natural elements of sun, wind, bio-gas, geo-thermal and compost can generate energy and nourish urban agriculture and aquaculture.
- It is much more costly to retrofit existing infrastructure than to install resource-conserving and sustainable systems from scratch.
- Therefore urban informal settlements which lack infrastructure entirely (and will shortly house ¼ of the world’s population) can be the first to adopt these new systems.
- However, this must go hand-in-hand with new building codes mandating the new systems because low income communities will only accept appropriate technologies when the rich are using them as well. They do not want to have “second class” solutions.
This provides the opportunity to LEAPFROG from the 19th to 21th century systems, by-passing the 20th century entirely.
Other projects we have undertaken in the area of science/technology innovations for cities include work with the NY Hall of Science in Queens on ‘SCIENCE CITY” – an educational program of “found science” and “how the city works where we cannot see”; collaboration with Bio-Sphere sustainability research and applied projects in Saint George’s Gra