Sensing Cities: A ‘SMART’ City of Sensors and Analytics
Posted on: June 28, 2019.

A city is an inhabited area greater in size, population, or importance than a town or village, in which a large number of people live fairly close together. A city usually has its own separate government and systems for essential utilities and transportation.

If history was to showcase how urbanism would be in the 21st century, then ‘Sensing Cities’ would be in the spotlight. It is a functional tie-up between urbanists—who plan, run, and manage cities—and technologists—who invent and innovate.

Before getting further into the subject, let us understand the example of SMARTStormwater Management And Road TunnelProject in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, an initiative of the “Klang River Basin Flood Mitigation Project”, to avoid destruction of life and property arising from annual flooding caused by the overflowing waters of the encroached Klang and Gombak rivers.

    Rapid population and economic growth in Kuala Lumpur, ever since the early 1980s, led to the urbanization of the city which eventually destabilized the Klang and Gombak rivers—which merge in the centre of the city—by reducing their width and thereby increasing their water level resulting in flash floods in the area, almost every year.

    The discharge volume of annual flooding—which was only about 148 cubic meters per second before 1985—increased by nearly 300% to 440 cubic meters per second since 1985, i.e. after the rapid spread of urbanization and consequent river encroachment. To divert the flood waters of the Klang and Gombak rivers and to prevent flooding in the centre of the city, the SMART was strategically built just before the point of confluence of the two rivers, to subvert the overflowing waters.

    During outbreak of floods, the tunnel is closed to traffic, and the stormwater is diverted into all levels of the tunnel, greatly reducing flooding in the city centre. Subsequently, the tunnel is drained, dried, cleaned of debris, and opened to the public, all within 48 hours of closing the tunnel, as per regulation. Consequently, cars can continue to use the motorway when the tunnel is open, while the stormwater is stored in underground holding ponds and storage reservoirs below the tunnel.

    The whole project provides storage for a volume of 3 million m3 of floodwater, sufficient to prevent most of the flooding of the city centre. Additionally, traffic congestion gets reduced on the Southern Gateway into the city.

Google’s “Sensing Cities” project, whose mini metropolis test site is situated in the disused eastern waterfront of urban Toronto, Canada, is designing a prototype ‘smart city’ wired together with sensors and analytics, ‘from the internet up’. The project objectives place focus on “creating healthier, safer, more convenient, and more fun lives” according to the project statement.

The plenty of sensors in the area will monitor traffic, noise, air quality, performance of the electric grid, and waste collection, to collect data. Waste for recycling will be separated with the help of sensors, and to dramatically reduce landfill waste, there will be anaerobic digestion for composting. “Grey Water” – from bathroom sinks, showers, baths and washing machines would also be recycled and reused, for which a pilot construction is being planned.

A characteristic Sensing City will have some radical designs including:

1) Self-driving Cars – neighbourhood transportation fleet controlled by an app.

2) The Loft – buildings reimagined to be strong structures of wood and not steel, yet flexible, with interiors that can be changed as needed, according to usage.

3) Weather Controlretractable plastic canopies to shelter people from rain, and heated pedestrian and bike paths that will melt snow, to encourage citizens to make the most use of outdoor space.

Use of eco-friendly building materials for construction will be at the top of the agenda. To avoid having a messy construction site, there will be plans to build sections of a smart city in a factory. Comprehensively, what will emerge is a green infrastructure, creating “whole neighbourhoods of lower-cost, quicker-to-build housing”, as per project objectives.

No well-planned city could have been designed from the top down i.e. top-to-bottom approach, a common mistake that previous cities have made. The only cities that would work are those that have evolved organically. Only a city created by everyone, has the capacity to provide something for everybody.

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