Smart Cities – Ho-hum; Let’s Step it Up with Art and Culture Based Climate Action

Even if global greenhouse gas emissions were cut to required levels to keep temperature rise below 2°C this century, the cost between 2010 and 2050 of adapting to an approximately 2°C warmer world by 2050 is in the range of $75 billion to $100 billion a year, according to a recent World Bank report.  Making cities smarter so these financial goals can achieved is essential but ensuring redevelopment and adaptation plans are sustainable requires incorporating various types of intelligence.  In the face of significant pending funding gaps we need visionaries and artists to come forth and bring onto the stage all they can to paint the town green!

New and additional financing options will be required for adaptation measures to succeed and the cities that learn how to engage their citizens will achieve these goals more efficiently and economically.  Those that don’t, well, chances are high they will continue with the same ho-hum approaches used to date to make smart cities.

“For all the talk about smart cities a lot of dumb stuff happens in cities,” says Klaus Philipsen.  “Chicago can’t get a grip on police violence, Flint poisons its citizens with municipal water, Washington DC’s Metro subway is befallen by a series of mishaps and Baltimore can’t count its primary votes so that the State has to de-certify the election results…”

Thinking is good, feeling is essential, but action engages citizens and raises awareness while also creating new climate raising tools.  Smart cities are seeing green artists come alive and push the parameters of what it means to be artistic.  A rising tide of these artists are acting in support of the public good and municipalities that learn to leverage art and culture as a technology for change will find themselves designing and building burgeoning epicenters to only further artistic and cultural energy.  Action like this will not only raising intelligence but also capital as it enables citizens to participate in the process of setting goals, establishing policies, and empowering municipalities to meet their climate change adaption ambitions.

Urban dwellers for the most part don’t currently see what it means to be a smart city.  Providing interactive based responses through data collection means but then also exhibiting it in an artful way will activate intelligence and raise municipal goals beyond touting what the best or the healthiest city is.  In fact, municipalities that pause, reset, and stop looking to make the Human Development Index (HDI) list will take their focus where it needs to be: achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  There are 17 SDGs and all the 193 countries represented at the United Nations have agreed to try and achieve them.  Thankfully we are no seeing innovative cities are following this momentum and in particular one goal – Goal 11 –  specifically aims to build cities that are “inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”  This level of sustainability comes when art, community, and the spirit of climate action is kept alive in a city plan but not in the traditional sense, a whole new level of engagement through the promotion of art and culture is required to achieve climate action.

  • SAMPLES OF ART, CULTURAL & INITIATIVE “TECHNOLOGIES”
    • The Gates – 7,503 “gates” along 23 miles of paths in Central Park, NYC.
    • Stone River – 128 ton sculpture at Stanford University made from salvaged  buildings toppled in the 1906 & 1989 San Francisco earthquakes
    • The Mining Project – aerial photography of impacted sites in the United States transformed by water reclamation, logging, military tests, and mining
    • Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts – the intersection of environmental balance, social equity, economic stability, and cultural infrastructure
    • Project Save Our Surf – collaborations with non-profit organizations to educate and raise awareness about ocean pollution
    • World of Threads Festival – art installations questioning the notions of sustainability and vulnerability
    • Agricultural Compositions –  turning fields of human waste and pollution into colorful landscapes
    • Alliance of Artists Communities – exploring organizational sustainability and applying it to artist residencies
    • Pathway to Paris – a collection of artists, activists, academics, musicians, politicians, innovators bound together in fighting for climate justice
  • ABBREVIATED IMPLEMENTATION STEPS
    • Establish alignment of municipal protocols with the SDGs
    • Create multiple intelligent based city policies – holistic based endeavors
    • Establish artistic residency programs and event-based climate education goals
    • Engage citizens in educational and experiential arts and cultural practices
    • Engage private and public sector companies for sponsorships
    • Build neighborhood based spin-off programs to localize experience
    • Demonstrate to the world what has worked and not
    • Start again, improve, and keep targets on 2050 SDGs
  • KEY STAKEHOLDERS
    • City Planners & Urban Designers
    • Public & Private Foundation Donors
    • EcoArt and Environmental Artists
    • Citizens
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Smart Urban Growth Tackles Mobility and Electricity Distribution Concurrently

Cities can get smart taking control of their electrical grid and electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure as a means of addressing urban growth.  Boulder, Colorado is making a run at it but few outside Germany have taken a serious move in this direction for it requires a long-term vision.  Seeking this urban planning route is not always initiated for economical reasons.  Boulder, for instance, is driven to engage as a means of increasing renewable energy sources in their electricity generation fuel mix.  Here’s the catch, this approach may not a scalable or sustainable solution for all cities  Mega cities; no way anytime soon.  Rural environments; not likely ever needed.  So, Boulder just happens to sit in the Goldilocks Zone but even with it being “just right” the increasing digitalization of the electric grid and new sources of distributed energy will make this endeavor a tenuous pursuit.

Years ago I was involved in dozens of negotiations with municipalities throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico.  Many desired to “take control” of and then offer, as a public service, wireless Internet services for their citizens.  The complexities in equipment management and selection, maintenance, and budgeting were often solely regarded in the context of whether to make the WiFi a free or a for a fee amenity to subscribers.  Thing is, that’s not where the root challenge existed.  Even a little bit of education in these matters achieved a stakeholder stalemate for trying to figure out how to convert a privatized service into a public good without causing bias to an ongoing free market was no simple matter.  The concept of a public-private partnership was alien.

Dealing with increasing urbanization today requires a systemic stakeholder analysis and just the right sitting of pilot efforts in advance of any at-scale execution plans.  To date few cities have taken this approach but Toronto, Canada is on the way.

“...We are designing a district in Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront to tackle the challenges of urban growth…Sidewalk Toronto will combine forward-thinking urban design and new digital technology to create people-centered neighborhoods that achieve precedent-setting levels of sustainability, affordability, mobility, and economic opportunities” – Sidewalk Labs

To do as Sidewalk Labs proposes there must be an integration of technologies, policies, and financial mechanisms that allow for private and public implementation plans to surface, ones in service of many stakeholders.

  • SAMPLE TECHNOLOGIES AT PLAY
  • IMPLEMENTATION APPROACHES
    • Analyze long-tailpipe electricity generation fuel mixes
    • Promote EVs and pilots ONLY in cities that have clean fuel sources
    • Establish population growth and transport demand metrics
    • Conduct customer interviews to fit future needs
    • Create intelligent city policies to cater to DER and EV microgrids
    • Engage private-sector electric mobility companies
    • Educate citizens on mobility and clean energy options
    • Build neighborhood based pilots
    • Engage citizens via engagement workshops for updates
    • Prepared to pivot for at-scale execution
  • STAKEHOLDERS TO ENGAGE
    • City Planners & Urban Designers
    • Public Entities and Administrators
    • Private Technology Providers
    • EV Manufacturers & Infrastructure Providers
    • Load Balancing Software Solution Providers
    • Private and/or Public Electric Utilities
    • Citizens

 

JMB2408 COMMENT TO ANOTHER BLOG POST (Leaf Plates):

This is an excellent solution to consumption and in turn waste. If this was a compostable solution that can be put to use in the local houseplant or compost pile then we’re talking about a dream conversion in consumption to waste. The other thing that would be amazing is to see this scale to shipping boxes or other high consumption transport items. Awesome find, thanks for sharing.

Cows Wearing Backpacks – A Methane Solution

Livestock farming has an enormous impact on climate change. In Argentina, livestock agriculture is prominent with over 51.2 million cows residing in the country. In the United States, methane emissions from animals contribute to 22% of our greenhouse gas emissions. With that being said, methane is also one of the most impactful GHG’s. It is estimated that one cow produces enough methane in a year to do the same amount of damage as 4 tons of carbon dioxide.

The Paris Agreement called for a GHG reduction to prevent the Earth’s temperature rising an additional 2°C compared to temperatures from before the industrial revolution. In order for this to happen, livestock agriculture will have to make strides to reducing their emissions. Aside from the population becoming vegan, there have not been many solutions put forward to make an impact up until recently.

The National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) has created a backpack to mitigate climate change by capturing methane emissions from cows. The backpack would be worn on the cow and captures methane by inserting a tube into the cow’s rumen, or a digestive organ where the gas is produced. Researchers say this does not harm the cow and would capture up to 300 liters of methane per day. This methane can then be condensed and used as fuel for “light” activities such as cooking or lighting.

Although this seems like a humorous solution, it is encouraging to see INTA taking a stab at the methane problem!

Check out my notes below for a summary of the details.

  1. Sustainability Problem: Energy and Climate Change
  2. The following bullet points summarize Argentina’s invention:
    • Methane produced by cows as a result of digestion accounts for 25% of all methane emissions in the atmosphere
    • On average, one cow produces 300 liters of methane per day 
    • The INTA created a backpack that is inserted through the cow’s skin which captures gases emitted through its mouth or intestinal tract
    • The backpack collects the methane and it is then condensed and used to power activities such as cooking, lighting, or driving a car
  3. Organizational stakeholders that would be involved in this technology are:
    • National Institute of Agricultural Technology of Argentina
    • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
    • Local farmers in Argentina
    • Facilities Management Team
  4. The following steps should be taken to deploy this technology:
    1. INTA should test this technology on a few local farms in Argentina.
    2. This technology could be introduced on a continental or international stage at the UN, to debate the efficacy and legality of using this on animals.
    3. Lastly, management teams can be established to discuss maintenance and implementation of these on farms.

If you would like to learn more, check out the links!

http://bigthink.com/design-for-good/this-is-how-you-turn-cow-fart-gas-into-energy#

https://www.good.is/articles/backpack-collects-cow-farts

 

 

Smart Cities Can Weather a Storm

Hurricane Harvey drenched Texas in August, Irma wreaked havoc in the Caribbean and Florida during September, and in October the United States also had major fire storms that burned in Northern California.  As usual, the media fills their audience with scenes of flooded streets, shelters crowded with people, and shows devastation to people, places, and things.  Where is this all going?  “We need to recognize it will be a new normal, a new and different normal for this entire region,” said Texas Governor Greg Abbot, when asked what the future of storms for cities looks like it will be in years to come.

Smart cities and the keys are held not by positions of politics, as they used to be in the past, in the years to come those will be held by those with the ability to advance plan for and swiftly recover.  On a practical level this often has ties to restoring electricity for those who’ve lost it are the citizens of the smart cities.  Without power efforts to return to normal are slow and often fail to deliver.  Electricity loss makes it impossible for those hit by a storm to normalize and in turn their economic occupations are also put at risk so this is an essential element of resiliency planning and ensuring sustainable futures for those residing in cities.

The primary sustainability problem is how to best plan for a disaster.  Often the focus is on recovery only and in the best of circumstances there are resources allocated to solve challenges caused by disasters, figuring how to best shelter people, fix power outages, etc..  These are reactive in nature and for some time now the trend has been to be proactive.  This is what a smart cities needs to do and in regards to electricity this means establishing grid resiliency is the place to start.  Creating infrastructure and deploying technology solutions in advance of pending storms or disasters assures optimal functioning of critical infrastructure and enables the city to recover quickly.

TECHNOLOGY ELEMENTS IN GRID RESILIENCY MASTER PLANS:

  • Self-Healing Grids
    • Identifies failing sections of the electric network, isolates, and reroutes power
  • Sensors and “Smart Switches”
    • Monitors the grid system and redirects power where needs are optimal
  • Microgrids
    • Smaller power systems that integrate with the grid or work independently

Technologies such as these involve many stakeholders – municipal planners, electricity utilities, technology providers, manufacturers of smart grid equipment, and of course the consumers or users of the electricity (just to name a few).  Large “top down” and master planned systems and their distribution approach the challenges in a way that causes different players to be involved coming from one direction while microgrids work from the opposite direction – consumers to utility as opposed to utility to consumers.  This is a fundamental issue in advance that a smart city needs to accommodate for and that stakeholder process and engagement in itself demonstrates the core value of the smart city.  The technology and the outcomes are secondary, albeit critical.

In establishing a smart city that is prepared to weather a storm in a sustainable way the first thing that needs to be done is develop a feasibility plan, especially when opting to incorporate microgrid technologies.  The next most important thing to do is establish areas of highest priority for power need (hospitals, fire departments, shelters, etc).  This is not simple nor trivial in importance.  For example, when Hurricane Sandy impacted New York City one community that was lucky and to not become devastated was the Hunts Point Market area, in the Bronx.  This area is home to one of the largest food distribution centers in the world and yet there is no microgrid and integrated planning in place to ensure it remains without fault.

In fact, to further this concern, Hunts Point is the gateway to nearly 60% of New York City’s food.  Had electricity been cut off, tons of food would have spoiled, distribution would have been crippled, and millions could have gone hungry.  Establishing feasibility is critical and defining, agreeing, and engaging in priorities with public involvement and the stakeholders is needed well in advance.  Also, even if a smart city can decide on priorities for power requirements it doesn’t mean it can address the issues of financing.  Public-private operations in themselves are significantly complex to negotiate and there is a massive difference in solutions solely run through the utility or a private enterprise endeavor.  In fact, more critical to this is the policy and regulation matters that drive these concerns for even those vary greatly throughout the United States and the pricing models established for ratepayers are far from uniform.  Everywhere it makes sense for a city to ponder these matters and aspire to smart but when considering the use of modern technologies to weather the storms that assuredly to come it means there is no better time than the present to get plans in order.

 

JMB2408 COMMENT TO ANOTHER BLOG POST (Instantly Rechargeable Batteries…a Game-changer for Electric Vehicles!):

You’ve hit most of the big bit bullet points in terms of the inhibitors that stop people from getting into an electric vehicle and buying. There is no doubt the charging infrastructure is an issue and has been used as an excuse for a long time now. If this technology can deliver, then it would be a game changer BUT it won’t address the other big problem – range anxiety – unless it really is nearly as fast as a fill up.

A lot of the “smart city” solutions are hitting the VW settlement funds to roll out chargers (think EVgo – https://www.evgo.com) and that can only work for so long. It’s exciting to see a push for technologies like this but it points to the bigger problem, who pays? If a gas station business model then this works fine as it’s just another pump, but if it’s a whole new set of infrastructure this is an issue that no city is prepared to manage well, especially one as large as New York City.

Thanks for sharing, cool work here!

CO2-Capturing Nanomaterials

1. Sustainability Problem: Carbon Dioxide in the Atmosphere

The amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere has been rising rapidly. After five years of growth rates exceeding 2 parts per million (ppm), the atmosphere now contains over 400 ppm of CO2. This explosive growth makes it decreasingly likely that climate change targets can be met.

Category: Waste

Sources:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/atmospheric-carbon-dioxide-hits-record-levels/

https://climate.nasa.gov/climate_resources/24/

2. Technology: NanoCO2 Harvesters

Source: “3 ways nanomaterials can combat pollution”, Greenbiz (https://www.greenbiz.com/article/3-ways-nanomaterials-can-combat-pollution)

  • This article discusses the use of nanomaterials – materials composed of particles thousands of times smaller than the diameter of a human hair – to clean up the environment
  • Specifically, nanoCO2 harvesters are nanomaterials that can absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and convert it into useful products
  • For example, scientists developed a nanoCO2 harvester that uses water and sunlight to transform CO2 into methanol, which can be used for a range of purposes, e.g., as engine fuel
  • The main issue to solve at this moment is making the nanoparticles economically viable
  • Other applications for nanomaterials exist and include using them to clean up water by absorbing and converting pollutants such as dyes and heavy metals or to accelerate anaerobic digestion for transforming organic waste into biogas fuel and solids

Tags: #sustainability #climatechange #co2 #nanomaterials #pollution

3. Stakeholders

The key stakeholders for the nanoCO2 harvesters would be industrial facilities managers. They would have to be convinced that using these nanomaterials is superior to using current pollution management processes and to switch over to this new technology.

Regulators are also stakeholders because they need to understand how this material behaves and affects the environment and health. If the material is safe, they could work on making the use of this material mandatory for the production of certain materials.

4. Technology Deployment

  1. Commission and analyze studies to test for the effect these nanomaterials have on the environment and health
  2. Build relationships with facilities managers and regulators
  3. Set up pilot programs with a few facilities

5. Comment on Another Post

I commented on “Circular Mushroom based products”

A TED talk on this technology made the additional point that this production technique supports local and distributed manufacturing. The agricultural waste to which the mycelium is added can vary depending on where production takes place and which agricultural waste is prevalent there. This simplifies the supply chain of creating the material and reduces the carbon footprint associated with securing and transporting the necessary inputs.

Source: https://www.ted.com/talks/eben_bayer_are_mushrooms_the_new_plastic?language=en#t-326671

 

Smart Water Sensing Technologies

The World Wildlife Fund states that by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages and ecosystems around the world will suffer even more.  In addition, an excess of 6.5 billion people are projected to live in cities by 2050, according to recent UN estimates.  The sustainability problem of water scarcity is mounting at a global scale but solutions require highly localized implementation.  We are well beyond mere civil engineering matters at this point and pressures are also growing for cities to get “smart.”  This means that looking to improve water and wastewater management, power generation, and urban demands on rural agricultural production are at the top of the list.  The matter of addressing water scarcity involved many stakeholders – householders, residential and commercial property owners, industrial operations, municipalities, water utilities, regulators, policy makers, lawyers, ecosystems, and farming communities.

This matter of water access is an age old one and has made the big screen more than once (think back to 1974 and the movie Chinatown) but today water is increasingly being managed like a commodity (think the documentary Water & Power: A California Heist) and has become a driver of fear to the point of perception that we’re on the bring of a age of water wars.  To date the value of predictive analytics and maintenance of water based assets has been touted as an area of great hope for these concerns but many of these management approaches and their associated methodologies have sought to conserve water, reduce scheduling of repairs costs, maintenance efforts, and eliminate failures without accounting for many “soft” factors.  Worse, these tactics neglect lower hanging fruit that is readily available.  For example, during a period of about 18 months during the years 2013-2015 the largest provider of water and wastewater services in the United Kingdom, Thames Water, worked with Accenture to try to figure out how to best use sensors, analytics, and real-time data to “help the utility company anticipate equipment failures and respond more quickly to critical situations, such as leaks or adverse weather events.”  A good and necessary start but far from systemic when considering the scale of implementation plans needed for the years 2025 to 2050.

Today water management and smart water sensing technologies exist even for the DIY home owner and this is indeed a great place to start.  It’s low hanging fruit like residential consumers that can lead to increasingly addressing other higher volume end points of water consumption.  Installing Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) is nearly a dead ringer for water utilities so they can better mange for otherwise they’re unable to measure and that’s a death spiral nobody can afford these days.  The growing pressures on infrastructure that urbanization will bring with it are well known and so to get a smart city one must prepare for growth in commensurate ways that are also able to process the worldwide urbanization phenomena.  Smart water sensing technologies and in turn the education of water consumers is a logical place to start for at scale impact.

 

JMB2408 COMMENT TO ANOTHER BLOG POST (Automated Underground Bike Storage):

This concept of storage is pretty amazing in high density environments and of course next to nowhere in the United States will this ever generate enough users to financially justify it but it’s really amazing to think it could be part of a future “smart” city plan. In Boulder, CO there are a lot of bikers and some amazing bike lock options in cage-like structures near the train stations and public transit. A scaled down version of this but one applicable in the United States.

 

Smart Cities: Microdosing as a Future Sustainable Technology

CASE EXAMPLE LOCATION: Silicon Valley, California

California and in particular Silicon Valley has long been at the forefront of innovation.  Recent use of a new “technology” is gaining momentum and it may hold the keys to better understand how we can make cities smarter.  Surely GDP isn’t a sole measure of success but Silicon Valley and California have been studied and well documented to be far in excess of what some countries generate.   The fact that Silicon Valley corporations have drawn top talent from around the world and in turn they built a subculture operating on success principals directly tied to a willingness to experiment is unique.  This approach has generated innovations that have many times over changed our planet so surely within are insights on how to make a smart city.

TECHNOLOGY SOLUTION: Microdosing

Increasingly professionals in Silicon Valley are taking small doses of psychedelic drugs in an attempt to increase performance.  The mass media (Huffington PostBBC, and Rolling Stone) is well aware of it and drivers to increase creativity, multi-tasking, and focus are are behind this movement.  This practice, known as “microdosing,” fits all to well with the already pervasive agile software development subculture, venture capital market outputs, and the solution is far from high-tech.  The method is quite straight-forward; minute quantities of drugs such as LSD, psilocybin (i.e. magic mushrooms), or mescaline (sourced from a Peyote cactus) are taken regularly, just like most take a morning vitamin.

SUSTAINABILITY CHALLENGE: Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) & 2030

People are in denial, time lacks to use education based methodologies as a means to build capacity, and raising awareness is a tedious and long-term challenge.  The World Bank has tried for decades to meet these challenges with hit and miss success.  Insufficient economic support exists to solve at scale infrastructure transformation and even if the means of building capacity  were free through means such as online education it would still lack the human experience based elements required to change human behavior. 

In the period of time we’ve left to work up solutions that can respond to climate change or meet the SDGs we need much more corporate, citywide, regional, state, and federal engagement.  The effort to sync policy for just the 2030 targets is daunting and already many think tanks engaged have concluded we are likely to fail.  There is an increasing number of institutions and experts starting to conduct gap analysis reports and thus we’ve turned the corner, all  evidence transcends wondering if climate change exists.  Science now seeks to determine what the worst and best case scenarios will could like in the years to come.  Earth needs a “quick fix” and societies respond well the belief that simple solutions exist so working toward motivating people to change, finding techniques to catalyze increased awareness, and make people “smarter” to the challenges is critical.  The development of sustainable solutions lies in the challenge of how to best learn from those with a history of sustainable thinking, a methodology to economic success, and who demonstrate the ability to make change at scale.  Manufacturing that recipes they use and distributing them on a global basis just might be the magic bullet, otherwise the world we are about to leave to those who shall live in 2050, especially when accounting for population growth, is frightening to ponder.

IMPLEMENTATION PROCESS: Pilot Science Based Clinical Studies

Clinical research with psychedelics was stopped in the 1960s and many of the substances were scheduled by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) as Schedule 1.  This means at present there are no legal routes forward with this microdosing technology but some experiments are surfacing.   In fact, now that we’re past the rush of popular cultures interest in the 1960s psychedelic scene many of these substances have been significantly altered in their use and societal acceptance.  Recent interests are now supported by rigorous scientific research and pharmaceutical scale financial support.  The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is a premier solution provider for any implementation plans and can aide in the development of pilot study experiments with this microdosing technology.  Further research can develop understanding how microdosing may impact people’s choices to engage in environmental issues and ultimately reveal what’s behind the making of one of the smartest regions in the world, Silicon Valley.  Take note, no research exists today on microdosing, it’s a newly developing technology.

STAKEHOLDERS: Famous Technologists as Leaders to Market Adoption

Silicon Valley has a history of psychedelic drug use and famous people have attested to the use having direct impact on their ability to become more creative and contribute.  Some of the founding pillars in our technology world today are people such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, famously attributed to their own personal experiments with LSD.  Engaging high-profile supporters in partnership with clinical organizations such as the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) would be sufficient start to establish case studies that will comply with the standards created by the FDA

From there, based on success in treatment and use studies, the means to further promote and engage stakeholders in the use of this technology as well as how to best apply it to make cities smarter is nearly brainless in effort.  There are hordes of people willing to experiment with these substances at much higher dosages and use them for recreational purposes, garnering interest in microdosing and recruiting subject cities, regions, states, countries, etc. is a matter of presenting science results and signing up participants.