The Future of Smart City Technology, From an MIT Professor – Curbed

On the long list of seemingly futuristic concepts that seem to be rapidly coming to fruition, the idea of a smart, tech-enabled city is one that seemingly can’t arrive soon enough. With cities worldwide expected to rapidly expand in the next few decades due to massive population shifts, it seems like an ideal time for technology to arrive to help make our crowded urban centers more efficient and elegant.

How can governments do a better job of testing and encouraging innovation to bring about new smart city development?

“We see the key thing is establishing great design. How can we experiment with new things to bring about a transformation of the present? Cities need to adapt that definition. Science is about how the world is, design is about how the world could be.”

Are there any cities doing a great job of innovating?

“There’s not one single city doing everything right, but there are many doing great things. Singapore is doing well in the field of mobility, Copenhagen in the field of sustainability, and Boston is great in the field of citizen participation.”

As cities become more and more wired, there’s an incredible amount of data being generated regarding people’s lifestyles, habits, and actions. How do we keep it useful and open, while still protecting people’s privacy?

“There are a lot of times when open public data is good, such as when cities track the location of buses or public transportation. Cities have opened up APIs for public transportation, and with that data, citizens have created apps and programs that help organize and even improve local transportation. The work that we did with HubCab a project the Senseable City lab did in New York City that analyzed taxicab data to see how ridesharing might affect transportation, led to a collaboration with Uber and an examination of how shared rides might work with programs such as UberPool. That’s the kind of experimentation that can come from open, shared data.”

One of the topics you discuss in your book is this idea of buildings being more reactive and smart. How interactive will architecture get, and how will it change the look of oiur cities?

“I think it’ll be very interactive. But overall, the interaction will happen through people; our lives will change a lot, but public space won’t. A city from Roman times doesn’t look terribly different from a city today. The shift is more about how our human life and interactions in the city will change, not the shapes of buildings. That’s where we’ll see a lot of transformation.”

It’s not really as much about infrastructure changes, but how we interact with the infrastructure.

“Yes. The city will talk to us more. We’ll have new buildings, new materials, and more interactive facades, but overall, the key components will remain the same. Buildings are about horizontal floors for living, vertical walls for partitions, facades that protect us from the outside, and windows that give us a view of the outside. They were like that a hundred years ago, and they’ll be there tomorrow and in the future.”

What are some great examples of these new types of buildings and architecture?

“The project we did at the World Expo in Zaragoza, Spain, the Digital Water Pavilion, offered a vision of digital, fluid architecture. Think about a park; there are so many things you can do, between interactive lights and more responsive technology. This coming technological change is like the internet. That transformed so many parts of our lives, and the upcoming Internet of Things will do the same to our environment and cities. For instance, the city of Melbourne successfully developed an “internet of trees,” which allows residents to visualize and map urban forests.. It’s a platform, like an open street map for trees, that will help them grow, monitor, and measure, and help people take care of their parks, and compare them against those of other cities.”