Week 5: Cities in the Information Age

MOOC Summaries - Designing Cities - Smart City Week 5: Cities in the Information Age

“Managing Energy Consumption… Smart Cities… Intelligent Cities… Spatial Patterns That Promote Personal Communication… Flooding… Mixing Home, Work, Culture and Recreation…” 


  • 5-1: Introduction
  • 5-2: Managing Energy Consumption
  • 5-3: Intelligent Cities
  • 5-4: Spatial Patterns that Promote Personal Communication
  • 5-5: Mixing Home, Work, Culture and Recreation

5-1: Introductory Discussion

  • Explore issues that are mostly invisible to many of us, that affect how cities are designed and can be designed.
  • Such as energy consumption, communications networks, why more and more people (especially young people) are moving into cities even as communications makes it easier and easier to live apart.
  • And how do cities promote spatial contact, and how can they mix work, live and play; this runs counter to what city design was a century ago i.e. separating and dividing the uses (e.g. workplaces and housing) instead of mixing them all up.
  • A major design development trend today is the smart city.
  • In a Smart City, technology makes information available: how we move in the cities, transportation, energy use etc.
  • Predictions in the past suggested that with technology, people would choose to become more and more apart from each other. Studies by Jan Gehl suggest the reverse is happening that more technology means more people wanting to come together in physical places.
  • The public space, how we design them, and being able to walk from one place to another becomes ever more important.
  • The old values in history of what attracts people to cities remains very important even in a technological-based city.
Chop Chop MOOCs’ summary of https://class.coursera.org/designingcities-001/lecture/51

5-2: Managing Energy Consumption

  • How can city design help to optimize energy consumption?
  • We have to manage energy consumption (type of energy, how we use energy, and what energy is used for etc) because it is not possible to have a zero energy city – energy makes cities possible.
  • Designers need to think about energy matters in the city because:
    • it is costly to produce and distribute;
    • replacing current energy types (e.g. fossil fuels) with alternatives means putting in new networks and systems;
    • it contributes to global warming (biggest component).
  • Some data:
    • in U.S., buildings and what takes place inside them use ~40% of all energy used;
    • transportation is ~30%.
  • We can manage energy consumption by:
    • reducing demand (e.g. urban forms that are more energy efficient and requires less use of transport);
    • improving supply (e.g. changing to renewable energy, reuse waste heat etc).
  • Reducing demand – some examples include:
    • research that shows that denser cities consumes less gasoline (e.g. for cars);
    • Toronto and transit and green belt;
    • Vancouver and green belt;
    • mixing housing, retail, schools and entertainment;
    • building transit lines before development (so that habits for driving do not start e.g. Hammarby in Stockholm, Sweden);
    • making dense areas cooler to walk such as planting trees and plant rooftops etc.
  • Improving supply – some examples include:
    • some cities survey their buildings to see which are energy efficient and which are not, and then direct subsidies accordingly;
    • new buildings can use systems that use renewable and natural ways to reduce energy use (eg. Bank of America’s new building in New York);
    • using waste to generate energy, or using other sources like wind (e.g. Logan Airport, Boston) and solar (e.g. Freiburg, Germany);
    • Hammarby (mentioned above) is a series of closed loops, where each system feeds into another (e.g. waste is burnt to generate electricity and the waste heat heats buildings etc).
  • Every urban structure can generate and/or consume energy.
  • Many of these structures and systems need management, control, sensors and tracking systems; these make it possible for cities to look at energy comprehensively across all the city’s systems.
  • Next topic: taking this topic further to look at electronic networks.
Chop Chop MOOCs’ summary of https://class.coursera.org/designingcities-001/lecture/63

5-3: Intelligent Cities

  • Electronic networks move something very important to cities: information.
  • Designing cities for these electronic and information networks has several monikers: Intelligent Cities, Smart Cities, Techno Cities and Digital Cities etc.
  • How smart/intelligent a city is lies in how the systems and human intelligence are combined:
    • One is top-down intelligence: systems created to control cities centrally (such of most of what are in place such as energy management systems, traffic control systems, incident management systems etc);
    • There is also bottom-up intelligence: begins with people looking for what they want and pushing for it.
  • Examples of top down: Rio de Janeiro’s central operations center (the entire system has sensors, data, predictive models and displays); other examples include Barcelona, and what companies like Siemens, IBM, Hitachi, Ciso and Toshiba are doing.
    • Cities build these smart/intelligent cities projects to make technological advances, attract investment, and retain talent e.g. Songdo in Seoul, Konza Technology City in Nairobi, PlanIT in Portugal.
    • But these cities look pretty conventional and people’s lives seem largely the same. It seems all these smart and intelligent technologies have created a fundamental rethinking of urban design.
  • Example of bottom up: Bogota, Colombia where capital for building a new project came from crowdsourcing (My Ideal City).
  • Example of a rethink AND bottom up intelligence: Bjarke Ingels Group’s design for BMW competition on city future:
    • intelligence in autonomous cars and in the roads/pavements means streets become smart, public spaces to vary according to needs, and curbs are flexible;
    • city becomes plastic;
    • people and cars have zones of influence and safety (and people can wander at will, and cars can share space).
  • Two stages for this intelligent/smart city:
    • First stage: take new technology and apply them to current activities (usually make them more efficient);
    • Second stage: exploit the potential of new technologies and reinvest what we do.
  • Electronic networks (because they are intelligent and smart) means we can design cities in ways we have not considered or seen.
  • Next topic: in these intelligent and smart cities, what is the role of face to face communication?
Chop Chop MOOCs’ summary of https://class.coursera.org/designingcities-001/lecture/65

5-4: Spatial Patterns that Promote Personal Communication

  • Anomaly: if communication technologies are so powerful today, why do coffee places still fill with people, elderly people sit at park entrances to watch the world go by, and neighborhoods drawn to farmers’ markets?
  • People have an innate desire for contact and communication.
  • What are the physical forms that promote personal contact?
  • If First Places are homes, Second Places the workplaces, then Third Places are such physical forms, where people come for conversation, communication and connection.
  • Ray Oldenburg, who wrote about this in his book The Great Good Space – Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Hair Salons and Other Hangouts at the Heart of the Community, identified some of the characteristics that make Third Places work:
    • First principle is these places have to be neutral ground i.e. no one group is stopped from coming or using it (e.g. New England Town Common);
    • Second principle is these places are accessible to all and a leveler i.e. all people are equal (e.g. Bryant Park in New York City, sidewalk cafes where you can see, talk and listen – which is important to communication);
    • Third principle is Third Places are a home away from home for many (e.g. public libraries).
  • Additional principles from the professors (and not from Ray Oldenburg):
    • Need easy entry such as putting them at the paths people use (e.g. Copley Square, Boston);
    • Make room for performers and spectators, as it makes it easier to have something to comment on with the others;
    • Distractions, as they set the mood for the place and are conversation starters too;
    • Food and drink, which are great motivators for contact and communication;
    • Regular transactions (e.g. at the market) as they help build communication bit by bit;
    • Adaptable to conversational and privacy needs (eg. moveable tables and chairs).
  • Third places should stay informal; once they are formalised (e.g. taken over by someone or entity), their value is usually lost.
  • Two case studies: Harbin neighborhood, China; and New York City, U.S.
  • Such Third Places require that we  put aside conventions such as rigid separation of work, live, play spaces etc.
  • Key lesson: central purpose of cities is creating possibilities for human contact such as through chance meetings and new peoples, and through these, cities acquire economic energy.
Chop Chop MOOCs’ summary of  https://class.coursera.org/designingcities-001/lecture/67

5-5: Mixing Home, Work, Culture and Recreation

  • Cities were not always seen as places for contact and creativity (as they are seen today).
  • During industrialisation in European and American cities, cities where places why factory workers stayed; thus for a long time, governments thought their job was to divide the different activities within the city i.e. the city was made of up single use areas.
  • This could be considered an anomaly as before industrialisation, cities were places where uses were all mixed up.
  • Cities are rediscovering the value of mixed use e.g.
    • Buildings (John Hancock Tower, Chicago; Jin Mao Tower, Shanghai; Burj Khalifa, Dubai etc);
    • Neighborhoods (e.g. Rockridge Market Hall, Oakland, California; Heritage on the Garden, Boston; Harijuku, Tokyo etc);
    • Other case studies: Almere, Netherlands; Sony Center, Berlin; Atlantic Station, Atlanta etc.
  • Mixed use saves land, creates 24×7 cities, are safer (because of eyes on the street, and not left uninhabited and dark at night) and builds a market for retail, leisure and culture (e.g. the most successful cultural attractions in a city usually have housing nearby).
  • Live, work, play, shop etc in a small neighborhood is now the formula for attracting the creative class; and it can be seen in big cities (e.g. Tribeca, New York City) and small suburban ares (e.g. Orenco Station, Portland, Oregon).
Chop Chop MOOCs’ summary of https://class.coursera.org/designingcities-001/lecture/73

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