Monday, October 01, 2018

Smart Cities in Our Foreseeable Future

          By Brian Orlotti

It's worth noting that many of the tools developed to generate large amounts of "actionable" Earth imaging data from the space program are also used to connect that data to practical terrestrial technologies designed to improve our life on Earth.

As outlined on the Elevate Toronto Smart Cities web page, "We are witnessing the highest levels of urbanization since World War One. With this, cities must adapt and innovate with technology to support this influx in demand. World leaders will tackle this problem by demonstrating innovative solutions to improving energy efficiency, sustainability and communication." Photo c/o Elevate Toronto.

Several local examples illustrating this, and other areas of interest relating to the concepts surrounding "smart cities," were explored during the Smart Cities track of the annual Elevate Toronto Festival, held on September 26th at the Design Exchange in downtown Toronto.

The first session, ‘Smart Cities, Same Old Blind Spots,’ was a ‘fireside chat’ between Design Exchange CEO Shauna Levy and Toronto ON based Doblin Canada's executive adviser Zahra Ibrahim. The theme of their chat was how smart city planners could minimize resistance to and improve the design of smart cities. Levy and Ibrahim stated their view that the key to achieving this is ‘inclusive design.’

The two went on to define inclusive design as incorporating all stakeholders into the design process, rather than just corporate interests or academics. In this view, urban design should be both aspirational and reciprocal. Being aspirational was defined as building public works of art as well as using artistic elements in public areas in order stimulate creative thinkers, create warmth and a shared sense of space.

Reciprocity involves bringing traditionally marginalized groups into the design process. Levy and Ibrahim used the example of Detroit, where redevelopment efforts adopted a shared governance model. Under this model, indigenous peoples were brought into the design process to foster a spirit of reciprocity as well as to dispel perceptions of the redevelopment as exploitative.

In ‘Public-Private Partnerships: Finding the Sweet Spot,’ Uber Canada public policy manager Chris Schafer discussed Uber’s partnership with the City of Innisfil ON to creative an alternative form of public transit.

The city government had done an extensive study on building tradition public transit surface bus routes but concluded that this would be both prohibitively expensive and unable to meet the needs of Innisfil’s diffuse population.

In 2017 Uber, sensing opportunity, approached the city with an innovative alternative.

The company created a custom Uberpool for Innisfil in its smartphone app, offering residents $3-5 CDN flat rate fares funded by both a $100,000CDN grant from the city as well Ontario’s municipal gas tax. Innisfil’s Uberpool is geo-fenced for travel in the Innisfil/Barrie area only.

The project was a success with both Innisfil residents as well as the city government, which has saved an estimated $8Mln CDN over traditional public transit.

The centre piece of the event, was ‘Expanding the Public Realm in the Smart City’ by Toronto ON based Sidewalk Labs director Jesse Shapins.

In his talk, Shapins outlined the vision and philosophy behind Quayside, the Smart City being planned for construction on Toronto’s eastern waterfront. Sidewalk Labs envisions Quayside as both a test-bed for innovation and an opportunity to correct mistakes made by past Toronto city planning.

Quayside, Shapins said, is designed as a ‘living room’ not a formal room, meaning not too polished or perfect. In past decades, Toronto city planning adhered to the Modernist school, resulting in a variety of diverse neighborhoods that were isolated from each other. Sidewalk Labs considers this a mistake, and Quayside is intended to remedy this by having its neighborhoods interconnected.

Shapins laid out a vision of city blocks laid out not in a traditional grid separated by streets, but connected to each other by an internal network of narrow pedestrian streets. Shapins said that this design harkens back to the layout of medieval European cities. In Quayside, these internal streets will contain public gathering spaces, playgrounds and markets.

Continuing with the theme of interconnectedness, Quayside will avoid the traditional segregation of residential, commercial and industrial zones and experiment with new building types that combine all three. Shapins argued that this will make Quayside’s neighborhoods more compact and walk-able, doing away with long commutes and fostering a greater sense of community.

Quayside’s buildings will incorporate simple, low-cost systems to make outdoor spaces usable year round, i.e. retractable canopies to shield people from wind and rain. Shapins also showed a modular pavement system which will come in three types: heated (for melting ice/snow), dynamic (with built-in LED lights) and green zones (trees and other vegetation).

For his final topic, Shapins unveiled Sidewalk Labs’ plans for enlarging and extending the Jarvis Street Slip. Currently used by freighters delivering sugar cane to the Redpath Sugar Refinery at Queen’s Quay, Sidewalks Labs proposes extending the slip inland as far north as Parliament Street and widening it to serve as an enclosed, park-lined waterway for residents’ recreation.

This year’s Elevate Toronto once again served as a showpiece of Canadian talent and innovation. While not traditionally an innovative city, Toronto has plenty of it on the horizon. 
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a network operator at the Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network (ORION), a not-for-profit network service provider to the education and research sectors.

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