Smart Cities Arrive, One Piece at a Time

City skyline printed in pop-art style

I’ve seen the future, and it is urban. (Image courtesy Sabrina Campagna)

The “Smart City” is not so much a concrete plan as it is a nebulous ideal, one that encompasses both environmental sustainability and human happiness in the most efficient way possible.  And while it’s a matter of opinion whether a given city is designed well enough to be called “smart” there’s no question the world is steadily raising its urban IQ.  Here are just two current examples of how designers and planners are striving for the best possible city, one step at a time.

First stop, China, where architectural firm Smith & Gill is planning a sustainable suburban development from the ground up.  The new suburb will house 80,000 people outside the mega-city of Chengdu, and it will be connected to the main city by high-speed transit.  The transit, combined with unusually high density and a modern technological infrastructure, will sharply reduce the development’s carbon footprint.  It will also, according to co.Exist, “cut landfill by 89%, wastewater by 58%, and energy by 48% compared to a typical Chinese city its size.”  Top it off with extreme walkability and a ton of green space, and you’ve got a pretty smart place to live.  And if S&G gets their way, it won’t stop at Chengdu – they’re pitching the idea to every major city in China.

cars will be automated one day

Who loves traffic? Raise your hand! (Image courtesy Saad Akhtar)


Now let’s hop across the Pacific to the west coast of the United States, where Los Angeles, California is becoming the first city in the world to synchronize its traffic lights.  It sounds like a simple idea, but it’s more complicated than just making all the red lights happen at the same time.  Sensors at each intersection relay traffic information to a central computer, which makes real-time tweaks to the timing of LA’s 4,000 traffic lights (sometimes with the help of a human operator).  This allows the system to predict – and prevent – congestion before it happens, helping traffic throughout the city move more efficiently.  Since the system went live in February, average driving times have fallen 14%.  In a city known world-wide for its horrible traffic, saving millions of commuters even a few minutes per trip makes a huge difference.  One downside?  The system in question took 30 years to develop and deploy.  Hopefully the lessons learned here can be applied in other cities a little bit faster than that.

That’s your smart-city update for this week!  Please offer your thoughts in the comments, and share this post so your friends know about all the cool stuff that’s happening in the world.

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