Hiatus: Comparisons of Smart Cities

Author’s Note: Between my trip to Vienna and my general school work, I’ve run a bit behind on writing blog posts, so for this month I’ll be putting up a few things I wrote for my Smart Cities class, taught by Professor Alenka Poplin (from my various Vienna posts).

As smart city programs become more and more common, it is becoming necessary to understand them and recognize their successes and, perhaps more importantly, their failures. Studying any individual city can give some information, but real understanding comes from comparing these projects to each other. However, comparisons of such complex entities are not easy, and a lot of work has gone into finding ways to compare cities to various ends.

There are any number of reasons to compare smart cities: choosing the best place to live or build a business, finding ideas for new programs (and steps not to take), marketing success and revealing opportunities for growth, or just as an opportunity to academically study how these cities perform. Different needs and biases have necessitated differing comparison methods and results, from simple if opaque rankings to complex categorical analysis to individualized qualitative descriptions. Comparisons also vary in their scope, from massive worldwide studies to granular examinations of small categories.

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Vienna Day 3: VR, Real Cities, Urban Innovation, and Architecture

With everyone in the group finally landed, we started the real program off with a busy Monday. After breakfast, we made our way to the Vienna University of Technology (TU Wien) to meet with Drs. Ioannis Giannopoulos, Gerhard Navratil, and Paolo Fogliaroni at the Spatial HCI (Human Computer Interaction) Lab, where their group studies how humans can interact with spatial data, from large-scale geoinformation to individual building models, using emerging technology. This means using Augmented and Virtual Reality to study how people interact with space, as well as exploring new techniques of data visualization and functional uses for this technology. Of course, we got to try out a few of their systems. Read more

Vienna Day 2: Schönbrunn

My group spent Sunday mainly wandering around Schönbrunn, the royal family’s summer residence and just one of the dozens of amazing public parks in the city. While beautiful, there’s only so much urban planning or smart city information to glean from a 300+ year old garden. I picked up a few things today though, notably the importance of art in public space. Almost every square in inch of Vienna has some sort of art, from sculptures in plazas to paintings above subway staircases (the subways also feature professional buskers, who audition for the right to play for an hour and a half at a time), and of course, architecture. One very interesting bit of art appeared in a display case attached to the already beautiful entrance to an underground parking garage, a regular site in the city. Many in my group find these to be extremely exciting, since they simultaneously protect historic buildings and landscapes while hiding cars and the ugly parking garages that come with them.

 

Henry Ford’s Muscle Shoals

Content Warning: Antisemitism

At the end of World War I, Henry Ford was one of the most famous and powerful men in America. Between his company’s explosive growth, his massive popularity in Michigan and beyond, and his close friendship with President Woodrow Wilson, Ford was on top of the world. At this point, as often happens with men of power, he took an interest in public issues.

At the same time, a massive construction project was grinding to a halt in the Tennessee River Valley. The Wilson Dam had started as a wartime necessity, but the fighting was over. The dam stood half-complete and the river unexploited.

Ford saw this as an opportunity to combine several of his ideals. Here he could push his pacifist tendencies, ideas for new urban design, opposition to the gold standard, and distaste for Wall Street (largely based on his offensive anti-Semitic views). All of these threads came to bear on the as-yet-nonexistent town of Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Read more

Teaching an Old City New Tricks in Vienna

Vienna, Austria stands apart from other cities I have written about in a number of ways:

  • It’s the first–although probably not the last–I’ve noted that existed well before being envisioned as a city of the future.
  • It’s one of the most successful cities in the world. It is widely recognized both for its exceptional quality of life and, more recently, as one of the most technologically advanced cities in the world.

However, such a community still faces problems. The Smart City Wien (literally, Smart City Vienna) initiative, created in 2011, lays out the issues of the modern city and Vienna’s commitment to solving them.

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Ebenezer Howard and Letchworth: The First Garden City

Ask anyone who’s studied urban planning to explain the field’s history and one of the first names you’ll hear will is Ebenezer Howard.

Howard was an English shorthand typist in the late 19thand early 20thcenturies. While working in Chicago, he saw the troubles of modern cities, such as rampant growth and housing shortages. He witnessed the struggle to resolve these issues in England after returning to London as a parliamentary reporter.

In his 1898 book, To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform (reprinted in 1902 as Garden Cities of To-morrow), Howard laid out his solution: the garden city. Just five years after the book’s release, the first of these communities was founded: Letchworth Garden City, in Hertfordshire County, north of London.

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Eco-city, Smart City, or Laboratory of Dubious Success: Masdar City, Abu Dhabi

Early rendering of Masdar City plans. Credit: Nrman Foster/Flickr

A 2010 brochure for Masdar City states, “One day, all cities will be built like this.” Unfortunately, this brochure doesn’t seem to be publicly available outside the Khalifa University Library, and apparently the slogan is disused. The sentiment is, however, is a constant in coverage of the Emirati eco-city, which broke ground in 2008 and is still partially under construction. Now generally described as either the first or the most sustainable city in the world, it was founded under the auspices of One Planet Living, an international framework for sustainable cities; and with backing from the World Wildlife Fund. Unfortunately, as it is now, Masdar City’s example may be a poor one to follow.

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