Being raised in a rural village in Belgium, living in the busy and polluted city of Barcelona makes me crave for some fresh air every now and then. I am certainly not the only one. 90% of the world’s urban population is breathing polluted air. Sometimes called the silent killer, air pollution is responsible for nearly half a million premature deaths a year in Europe alone. I know everyone is freaking out about ISIS right now, but the real killer is all around us and we have created it ourselves.
By 2050, about 75% of world’s population will live in cities. Cities play a key role in developing resilient and sustainable societies.
With the coldest of winter behind us and the promise of spring in the air, the gardeners under my readers might feel the call of nature to start growing food again. Or maybe you would love to grow some yourself, but happen to live in an urban area with little open space? Do not despair! IKEA’s designer lab Space10 has the solution for you: the Growroom. Meant to be a community garden to grow local vegetables and herbs, the designers recently made the plans available to everyone. Team up with your neighbors and friends and get building –only 17 steps!
It’s no secret that China has serious problems with air pollution. In December last year, the situation in the capital Bejing became so bad it halted everyday life: schools were closed, planes grounded and cars banned from the roads. In a radical move to fight the issue, Chinese urban developers are envisioning forest cities where offices, hotels and residential buildings are covered in a blaze of plant life. The first step is underway in Nanjing, the capital of China’s eastern Jiangsu province: the Nanjing Towers.
Exactly one week ago I embarked on one of the most exciting journeys of my life. With a oneway ticket to Barcelona, I exchanged the safety of my comfortable life in rainy Belgium for the Spanish vibes in Barcelona. Having no place to call home yet, I booked a cosy hostel to start my apartment hunt in the Gracia neighbourhood — popular with students, young professionals and families alike. With its abundance of second hand shops, vegetarian restaurants, ecological streetmarkets and low-traffic streets, it didn’t take long before I fell in love with this village within the city. No wonder rooms are expensive and hard to find.
But Gracia has not always been like this. It was only after a major reorganisation of the neighbourhood in 2003 that the streets were given back to the people. The urban concept behind the area-wide urban experiment is the Superille or Superblock. The superblock idea was first outlined in 1987, after studies revealed noise and pollution levels in the capital of Catalunya are far above what can be considered healthy. Madre mia! Disclosing a territorial unit smaller than a neighbourhood but larger than a residential block for public space — therefore bearing the name superblock — are meant to improve the quality of life and conditions for local residents. Car traffic is deviated to a couple of large streets enclosing the superblock, within pedestrian and bikers are king.
As an energy engineering student, I come across a lot of inventions that are about to save the world. At least, if they would ever get further than their inventor’s desk. Sometimes low-tech solutions can have a way bigger impact, simply because they happen. Urban development site de Ceuvel in the up-and-coming Amsterdam Noord area is a gem that exemplifies exactly what I’m talking about.
When I was walking trough the streets of Prague some months ago, I stumbled upon something interesting. I noticed that the wastebins in the old city centre have solar panels. It turns out that Prague choose an increasingly popular solution for waste management: the Bigbelly.
Historically, gut feeling and experience were used to figure out when to sent out teams for emptying the wastebins. With the Bigbelly solution, this has changed. The award-winning technology offers a novel and smart way of organising waste collection and recycling in cities, corporations and campuses. With a fleet of smart waste bins, it’s possible to optimise the collection schedule to asure wastebins are never overloaded, nor emptied too early. The smart wastebins are remotely connected with the cloud and deliver real-time data about their fullness. All the data is brought together in an online tool which helps to schedule the best collection timing and route. This saves a lot of fuel and labour time.
But there is more. The solar-powered wastebins also compact the litter so it can hold up to five times more garbage in comparison with a traditional system. The enclosed design keeps bad smell out and makes sure animals cannot get in.
The waste bins’ side panels are the perfect place to communicate with people about the benefits of recycling or other sustainable solutions in the community. This way, the ugly waste bin of the past is turned into a smart recycling station and communication platform. It’s a big win for everyone: it saves money, encourages recycling, conserves fuel, frees up labour, keeps out the pests and eliminates waste overflow. You see, building a smart city sometimes starts with the small things.