Smart thinking

Masdar-City

Undoubtedly, cities are the primary aggregate cause of global climate change. To prevent or slow the predicted environmental catastrophe, we must change the way cities are built and operated. But first of all, we must change the way they are designed.

The fact that our cities are pushing the earth’s ecosystems to the brink is surely reason enough to question the ruling urban design paradigm. Contemporary cities are largely based on the mechanistic engineering paradigms of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Unsustainable cities throughout the globe are a culmination of outdated design principles and technologies.

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The idea of the sustainable urban centre in the 21st century needs to include the concept of artificial intelligence to look towards a futuristic ‘eco-tech’ city. It would be more sensible to employ the full power of the advanced information and communication technology (ICT) in all kinds of sustainable applications.

Undoubtedly the task will not be easy due to the complexity of designing a green and smart city. An intelligent conglomerate of landscape architecture, urban design and town planning is the work of a large team of creators of the human environment. At the same time the physical component of the space that needs to be treated with ICT is a challenge we must take on.

Populations are growing fast. The prospect of an additional three to four billion people on top of the current six billion in the next few decades is more than enough reason to turn our cities in eco-tech environments and limit the damage to our natural resources.

Urban designers, planners and engineers must adopt the idea that cities are artificial ecosystems that are able to mimic natural systems and organisms. Smart design can encompass many functional outcomes, not necessarily environmental, as long as it uses computer technology to provide an adaptable version of that outcome.

For decades we have been witnessing simple, effective and efficient operation as a result of smart ITC design, such as the operation of the irrigation system. Similarly, solar panels were invented one hundred years ago and yet their form has not changed much in decades. But bearing in mind that a simple calculator about 35 years ago was the size of the iPad today, the development of smart technology is inarguably disproportional.

As a matter of fact, the operation of different devices has been based on sensors for a long time. Yet we still use umbrellas to protect from the Middle East sun, instead of being protected by awnings equipped with ventilators operated on sensors. The street-lighting poles are still made of aluminum or steel that absorbs heat during the day and emit it at night, instead of the upper part being made of photovoltaic elements that capture energy.

Today, it is imperative to embrace technologically-assisted sustainability while simultaneously preserving and enhancing the beauty of cities.

Georgina Chakar is an Australian architect and a Master of Urban Planning. She works in Abu Dhabi.

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