A smart city develops from a unique social fabric.
One of the most prominent themes I have noticed as we travel through European smart cities is the importance and the influence of the people within. In the presentation with Smart City Amsterdam, they expressed that “smart people make smart cities.” These people are not simply “smart” because they know how to use the apps on their smartphones, but also because they are open and connected to their communities. The communities here seem tighter-knit than those in the United States. They are also far more diverse, and this may be due to the fact that cities attract people of various backgrounds. Diversity improves innovation and garners richer ideas and solutions. In the United States, there is a lack of this social cohesion. US citizens experience a lower frequency of personal interactions as they travel from garage to office to garage. Whereas people in smart cities seem to be far more comfortable moving about in their communities. I believe this is an essential tool to create a smart city. I would love for everyone to accept each other and live in an integrated manner. As a Resident Advisor, that is my main focus for incoming first-year students: help them transition to college life and create a comfortable home in the residence hall. In the European smart cities we have traveled, I have not felt uncomfortable once. Even at a time when I, as a white woman, was the minority. And why is this? The society here understands the significance and power of people. The social network is stronger than anything I have experienced. People who love where they live are more likely to take action to improve their communities and lifestyles. To develop a smart city, one must first begin with the people, then the infrastructure will follow.
The first step to forming a smart city is connect the people. Plan events and festivals that provide platforms for interactions. While in The Hague, I experienced a high number of these celebrations within a short period of time. I went to the Thailand Grand Festival, organized by The Royal Thai Embassy, and watched a Thai band play while eating Pad Thai. On the same day, I passed The Hague Cultural Parade and Festival, where I browsed through booths of African jewelry and clothing and partook in a drum circle. These festivals expose the cultures present in The Hague to others in the community. People are given the unique opportunity to gain insight into their neighbors’ cultures. This develops empathy. I also visited a food and drink festival with live music outside Escher in het Paleis. Vendors from all different kinds of restaurants occupied booths, where one could purchase food and drink with tokens bought from a stand. From oysters to Vietnamese street food to the best hot dog I have ever eaten. I saw groups of friends having drinks in front of the stage, and families sitting at picnic tables while the children ran about. Often at food events in the US, a line of food trucks or stalls are set up on a street, but there is nowhere to sit and mingle. Here, with outdoor seating at each vendor, people have the opportunity to enjoy their communities and connect with the people around them.
Events like these can be immensely effective. Diverse populations are welcomed to share cultures and mix amongst themselves. In the United States, this ought to be our primary step toward becoming smarter. Improving the social network and increasing the number of personal interactions of an individual will create a community that wants to progress towards a smarter future.
A brief overview of some negative outcomes of urban bicycle infrastructure.
Since being in Europe I have noticed that bicycles, perhaps over all other means of transportation, are favored. It doesn’t seem to matter where you go, you will see some hint of bicycle infrastructure, and while this development is impressive and positive towards the end of reducing CO2 production, there are two issues I would like to bring up. The first is regarding the significant portion of the population who is completely left out of this transportation mode altogether: the physically and mentally disabled. The second surrounds the relatively inefficient use of road space that bicycles occupy compared to public transportation such as busses and trams.
There’s no getting around the fact that someone with any sort of significant mental or physical handicap is left out of the bike discussion entirely. Most of these individuals are not able to operate any form of personal transportation (assuming motorized wheelchairs are not considered serious means of transportation). This means that they are one of the most vulnerable segments of the population when is comes to mobility insecurity. As one cannot live without effective mobility, the growing predominance of bicycles presents an existential threat to this community. With increased adoption of bike infrastructure taking up space on streets, there is less room for car-sharing, buses, trams, and other forms of transportation which would be accessible to someone in this position. That brings me to my second point: the inefficient use of road space by bicycles.
While bikes may be significantly smaller than cars or buses, their fluidity on the road means that, even in cities where space is allocated for them, most of the time bike traffic moves in clumps, over occupying their appropriated space, or in single-file lines, under occupying the same space. If the goal of a city is to increase the quality of life of its inhabitants, one of the first issues it must face is eliminating or slimming down existing street cover. This is a necessary development, but it also means that there is less space for remaining roads. With bikes occupying at times half of the road, it’s easy to see where the conflict arises. Instead of continuing to pursue this carbon-neutral form of private transportation which excludes handicapped individuals, I recommend that cities put more energy into designing minimal roadways which are intended only for maximal-occupancy public vehicles such as car-sharing schemes, buses, and trams. These solutions can be made electric or otherwise innovated in order to achieve carbon-neutrality, but this is the direction we need to move in.
To conclude, I must admit that I see why bicycles appear to be the answer of today. They are cheap, small and do not produce CO2. I personally enjoy the experience of cycling and fully recognize its attraction to consumers and city-planners alike, but the reasons I have enumerated here still carry more weight than the positives of bike ridership. Mobility is requisite for a comfortable life and the exclusion of those who cannot operate bicycles makes their predominance unacceptable. I believe that the path towards a smarter tomorrow in cities will be paved through the complete elimination of private transportation vehicles which occupy street space.
How countries are spurring innovation and how America could as well.
Both Germany and the Netherlands are world leaders in innovation. Why is this? Instead of always looking for better ways to improve solutions we already have, they think outside the box. They re-invent the problem and a new, unique solution is found. What are the catalysts that help prompt this change? One of their keys to success is re-inventing the work place. Traditionally, workplaces have been centered around individual companies working alone to promote their business and expand their trade. This mindset promotes a monoculture of ideas within a company. While this system did work to an extent, it also stemmed the creation original ideas. As a result many companies, such as Kodak, who were originally industry leaders fell away as they lacked the innovation to compete with technological advances. In Germany and the Netherlands, the idea of an innovation cluster or hub has been used to counter the traditional workplace and provide a new medium for advancement in industry.
Innovation clusters are prevalent throughout Europe. Various hubs are located in Eindhoven, The Hague, Amsterdam, and Freiburg. Many of these clusters use a bottom up approach in which smaller companies take the initiative and provide the key advancements in industry. Such companies collaborate in a high density, easy to interact way. The repurposed Philips industrial area in Eindhoven is the perfect example. Formally an industrial campus for just one company, Philips, this area thrived when first created. Over time, Philips had to change their business strategy or risk going out of business and as a result this industrialized park was not used anymore. Since then, the campus has been repurposed to fit this high density collaboration hub. Physical makerspaces are combined with software makerspaces. A law firm was created to work in conjunction with the local companies. Community colleges providing education are available on site and feed directly into many start-ups. Other amenities are added such as food courts and shopping stores to round out the area. Areas like these as well as the plethora of green spaces promote for contemplation and employee satisfaction. Consequently, companies such as Amazon have recognized the importance of these areas and have sent projects such as their Kindle product department to Eindhoven.
Can these specialized hubs be utilized in the United States? Absolutely. The Research Triangle Park, or RTP, is an excellent candidate for a renovation geared toward an innovation hub. Created in 1959, RTP was envisioned as a spread out research campus geared toward automobile transformation. And for a while it worked. Now, two changes in RTP would spark more innovation: updated transportation and high-density collaborative hubs.
The RTP campus depends on cars for transportation. For a 21st century innovation center, this is outdated. Within the park itself, public transportation needs to be deployed.
This transportation would mirror HTM’s “first and last mile” philosophy where employees would be picked up at a SMART traffic managed parking lot and then delivered near their work location. This will promote cars to stay outside of the research triangle park allowing for more green space. Additionally, this will provide a more time efficient way of transporting employees to their company as they do not have sluggishly inch forward in the campus itself. For on- campus transportation, trams and smaller trains would be utilized. The system would have a new train arrive every five minutes in peak hours and drop to fifteen minutes in non-peak times. Additional analysis and rider trends gathered in the first few years of implementation will allow the transportation company to refine these times as well as consider additional services to save money and improve rider satisfaction.
Another transportation improvement that would significantly help with traffic issues and make RTP a smarter campus would be the implementation of an electric car sharing service that utilizes self-driving cars. While this technology is not available yet, it will be soon. These cars would complement the public transportation and continue the “first and last mile” mindset. Parking need on campus would be greatly reduced and more structured traffic patterns could be established with automated cars. Additionally, the opportunity to power the electric cars with renewable sources of energy would push for RTP to be eventually emission neutral. Positives all-around.
This transportation system fits perfectly with implementing a high density collaborative hub. This hub would consist of big, open spaces full of natural light and easy for casual, quick collaborating. Researchers across a wide range of scientific and technical fields would be in close proximity promoting a cooperative relationship accelerating technological breakthroughs. Even though these companies are physically close to each other, the high density hub will only be a facilitator. It will provide resources and a support structure for participating companies but the actual running of the business will be up to each individual company/start-up. This still allows each company to be unique.
The Research Triangle Park has had success so far in North Carolina but to be a real game changer, they must adjust with the times and follow models that have shown success in Europe.