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Do You Know How Smart Our City Is Becoming?

Washington, D.C. is full of smart technologies, some of which you know about (apps such as Uber, Lyft, Google Maps, Bikeshare, etc.) and others you probably don’t. This past summer, I attended an event called Smart City Symposium- “Solutions for Business Growth and Economic Development” (include a small exhibition) in downtown D.C., hosted by the DC Chamber of Commerce and Verizon.

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https://twitter.com/vorangedc         @VOrangeDC

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https://twitter.com/dcchamber        @dcchamber

The Office of the Chief Technology Officer shared some of the technologies the city is already using. Further information on this can be found on their website.

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But “5G Technology” was the key word through the whole event. For people who don’t know about 5G, it is basically 4G with user data. For example, Google will detect the amount of traffic by counting how many people are using their map at a specific location, same as they are tracking the restaurant rush hour by counting how many people are searching for it online.

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Verizon is working to engage 5G technology in the D.C. area to make people’s lives more convenient. Here are some of the great products they demonstrated:

  1. Smart trash can

I was really impressed by this new trash can. They look like unimpressive boxes, but can fit four times more than a regular trash can. The smart part is that it can sense how full the trash bin is in real time and send a signal that it needs to be emptied, allowing garbage crews to come only as needed instead of on a set schedule, emptying bins that are not yet full. It can save time, resources, and energy emissions.

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2. Home clinic

Home clinics are long-distance personal doctors. A doctor can talk with patients over video chat and then send devices the patient can use to measure their own vitals, such as blood pressure or blood sugar. After they know the patient’s health information, they can provide suggestions and prescribe medication. This will save patients time and money by allowing them to skip a trip to the doctor’s office if they have only minor symptoms and don’t need to go to hospital. The same methods can be used for other doctors, such as psychologists.

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3. Agriculture drone

Agriculture uses more natural resources and has a greater carbon footprint than almost any other sector. Agricultural drones, however, will change the way crops are produced. Drones will gather information throughout the day on weather conditions like temperature, moisture, and wind. As more information is collected, the system will analyze the data and tell other devices how much water different crops need, if a certain action needs to be taken, and so on. This will significantly reduce resource waste and improve production.

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4. Smart car

This program is similar to Zipcar, but it’s currently only implemented on some university campuses. It works like Car2go, where the customer can use the app to track where there has an available car. However, Verizon is still testing this technology so I do not have too much information about it.

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From what I can see, 5G technology will save people time and help make life easier and more convenient. One of the downsides, however, is that I feel less secure because our personal information is publicized and stored on the internet. The internet will have information on where we are, what we are doing, and what we are talking about. I am excited about how the world is becoming more and more advanced, but I also want to be reassured that our information can be private. This is something people should keep in mind as these types of technologies become more prominent.

Mei Fang, is an urban planner with a strong passion in urban and landscape design, she also enjoy looking for the variety culture inside of the city.

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Local Elections and the Paris Climate Agreement

As an urban planner and environmental advocate, two items in the news today have really gotten my attention: the Paris Climate Agreement and local/state elections all across the country. In my mind, the two are deeply interwoven. But how do local elections affect an international movement?

In case you haven’t been following the news around the Paris Agreement, as of this afternoon (Tuesday November 7, 2017 at 12pm), Syria has announced it will sign the Paris Agreement, leaving the United States as the only country that has not yet agreed to sign on. In fact, the United States’ presentation at the United Nations Global Warming Conference in Bonn, Germany this week promotes coal, natural gas and nuclear energy as an answer to climate change.

I would be in even more despair than I already am if it wasn’t for the United States Climate Alliance, which is a bi-partisan coalition of states committed to the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement. The Climate Alliance is sending multiple governors to Bonn to reassure world leaders that, while the federal government is changing direction in its climate policy, multiple states are working to ensure the US meets the goals laid out in the Paris Agreement. This is meaningful because if enough states join, that will make a significant impact on emissions reductions. To put things into perspective, one of these states, California, has a GDP that ranks in the top 10 of all countries. That’s why it’s so important that these states are helping to lead the charge against climate change.

Which now brings me to local/state elections. Far too many Americans only vote in presidential elections, thinking that local government doesn’t matter as much. This couldn’t be more wrong. Change often starts at the local and state level. On a micro-level, the decisions your city council, mayor, state representatives, and other elected officials make affect your life on a daily basis. Urban planners often talk about the importance of creating sustainable cities through alternative transportation, energy efficiency, storm water management, and other infrastructure and policies. These planning decisions happen at the local and state level and improve the environment that you live in every day. On a more macro-level, however, successful innovative local policies can often become state policies, which may one day even become national policies. When elected officials see public support for policies in their home states, they are more likely to support them at a national level.

That’s why it’s important that cities and states are helping to reduce emissions, even when federal actions are not. Your councilmember can approve the addition of a bike lane to your street to help reduce traffic emissions. Your mayor can mandate that buildings are built to be more energy efficient. And your governor can just maybe work with the rest of the world to ensure that the United States meets the emission-reduction targets laid out in the Paris Agreement.

All of this is to say, if you haven’t voted in your local election yet, most polls close between 6pm and 9pm. Get out there.

*To find your local polling place and ballot information, visit www.vote.org/polling-place-locator/.

Image from Teamster.org of a horse and buggy and a motorized jitney bus

A Horse of a Different Character

A Horse of a Different Character

I’m a big fan of history. In planning we have to draw on our history as a nation and from human civilization to reflect on where we come from to know where we are going. Recently, I went to a symposium of sorts about autonomous vehicles and heard from experts about how soon these vehicles will hit our streets and the expected changes that will come with them, depending on the reception. In an ideal world, these vehicles are like carshares that can be collectively owned and shared between people, or a fleet owned by rideshare giants like Uber, Lyft, Via, etc. Think personal rapid transit that gives door-to-door service using roads.

One of the most interesting conversations at the meeting is how these vehicles and the idea of a shared fleet will impact current land and right of way uses. Being the fan of history that I am, I look back to think forward. The last big revolution of vehicular movement for individual transportation was probably the transition from horse to the car. Unfortunately, but also fortunately, (I was excited to roll up my sleeves and do some research/ glad that someone else was thinking about this too) for me someone had already looked into the relics from our horse-reliant past. This mental floss article explains each of these in detail, but essentially these urban relics are:

  • Stables
  • Carriage Houses
  • Horse walks (horse staircases)
  • Troughs
  • Fountains
  • Auction Houses
  • Horse blocks (to give us short people a much-needed boost)
  • Hitching posts and tethering rings
  • Horsecar tracks

Then there are the indirect impacts that are needed to feed the horses and deal with their waste like barns or grain silos to house their feed. As these are living creatures, waste collection and ways of dealing with manure and urine became important as well. Each animal produced 22 pounds of manure a day on average, I mean just imagine the… puns!! And the sanitary conditions, that’s important too! Y’all (I) thought snow is an issue when clearing streets, but imagine the equine alternative. I digress, but there were whole initiatives to deal with this including inviting farmers to come and collect the manure for free or would collect and sell the manure on their own. Then there are the jobs related to horse care like blacksmiths, stable people, veterinarians, trainers, carriage drivers, etc. The horse flu epidemic (the Great Epizootic) in the 1870’s left many horses dead in the streets. Cities didn’t have the capacity to deal with the carcasses so they were just left to rot. It sure puts those special parking arrangements into perspective, doesn’t it?

Modern Parallels

Many of these items have direct parallels in our modern world. Stables = our parking garages, Carriage Houses = car ports/ home garages, horse walks = car elevators, troughs and fountains= gas stations, auction houses are pretty much the same but require way more impervious surface. Horse blocks have been built into our current vehicles. Hitching posts and tethering rings= on-street parking. Horsecar tracks are actually quite useful nowadays as many cities are reviving streetcar systems and make an easier transition from current status to autonomous vehicles for transit.

The waste problem also has parallels. Instead of physical manure, the effects have been much less tangible over the past decades. Our environment has still suffered, but at a different cost to air quality and climate change versus piles of excrement. Jobs related to driving- especially specialized drivers with commercial driver’s licenses such as bus drivers and operators, freight truck drivers, streetcar operators (especially for heritage lines) and associated car care employment may soon have to adapt to the new trends or be retrained entirely. Dealing with abandoned cars in the streets is an issue that we’ve learned to deal with through towing companies, but what will happen when an AV vehicle fails and breaks down in the street? Tow trucks will likely still exist, but what will they look like as the vehicle designs change?

The Future is Now…

How I see it, our future can be predicted this way as well. Our concept for garages will need to change. There may not be a use for personal garages in the future, so we’ll likely absorb them as part of our living spaces. This is happening now. Watch HGTV for a hot second and there they are converting a garage to a ‘man-cave’ or a “she-cave”. Gas stations will die out for charging stations as we go electric, and they should adapt to become entertainment centers or community gathering spaces that do more than just gas up your vehicle. On-street parking can be traded for more green space or space allocated to alternative modes of transportation, or both (pervious bike lanes) to accomplish environmental goals. Our car stables (parking garages) will also need some rethinking and I have some ideas… which I’ll share in a future post, but it serves to be our biggest opportunity. The spaces are unfit for housing, but have other uses that they could easily transition to in order for cities to meet their goals and accommodate growth.

With the average age of a personal car hitting over 10 years old, it may be a while until we see a wholesale overhaul of our surface transportation system. The road ahead is not going to be easy, it will involve tradeoffs and lessons learned, but if we take a cue from the past, we can avoid and make up for some of the mistakes we made with the horseless carriage.

 

Christine E. Mayeur, AICP is an urban planner with a unique set of skills and hobbies, interested in all things creative and challenging. Christine uses her history of working with communities through grassroots organizations along with her planning skills to help plan transportation systems and environmental solutions that meet the needs of all users.





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