>> Tomorrow's sustainable city.
An interactive tour of our urban future in the new smart electric drive.
Welcome to tomorrow’s sustainable city! Our big multimedia story demonstrates why this place is no longer science-fiction. It’s based on an interactive map featuring 19 ground-breaking urban projects and visions. Seven experts from Europe and the US share their insights on urban living in a string of films, among them futurologist Anthony Townsend, starchitect Stefano Boeri, and David Sim of Gehl architects.
The result is a vision of a city that might not be our home just yet, but would make a welcome place to live – dedicated to being environmentally friendly, efficient and intelligent. It’s championing sustainable use of resources, CO2-filtering architecture that emphasizes natural elements, novel ways of working and living, and local farming initiatives that rekindle a community spirit nowadays only found in tight-knit villages.
We would make our way through this city, governed by smart traffic systems, in an equally innovative car: the new fully electric smart electric drive (available as smart fortwo in December and, from early 2017, as smart fortwo cabrio and smart forfour).
smart electric drive
A foundation to build on
Early ideas on tomorrow’s sustainable city focused on evolving our urban ways of life through the use of innovative technologies. The term “smart city” was originally coined by the IT and tech industries. At the time, smart, i. e. intelligent, meant anything that could be calculated, networked, and controlled by computers: first individual systems, then structures, then the entire city.
The term’s meteoric rise reveals just how much we are fascinated by tomorrow’s city. Now, not only companies and tech firms, but also architects, city planners, and sociologists explore the underlying premise. “Smart city” has become the obligatory term for anyone willing to look beyond the obvious.
Our shared challenge: Cities are growing faster than the resources needed and consumed by us humans. According to UN projections, two thirds of humanity will be living in urban areas by 2050.
Without intelligent management, cities will be swallowed by their own growth: at some point, the available space and energy simply won’t be enough for everyone anymore. But what’s that elusive intelligence everyone seems to be chasing right now – and how can we develop it?
The first and overriding answer: It’s the technology. While modern technology won’t solve all of our problems, it creates the foundation for any subsequent solutions.
Intelligent grids and building concepts, for example, can transform homes into self-sustaining energy producers. Information and communications tech can help optimize efficient resource use or design a better and more transparent urban administration.
Intelligent systems supply data, connect and combine it, and thus create the essential basis for intelligent decisions. Futurologist Anthony Townsend from New York City agrees that in order to survive, cities will need to make clever use of the instruments of the digital revolution:
Cities can only be managed in a clever manner if all of their systems are fully networked. Yet this also comes with an inherent risk: who’s going to ensure that any data collected by the system isn’t misused by self-serving individuals? Technology can only give us the tools to build the cities of tomorrow – in the future, it will be all about who’s the one to wield these powerful tools.
Pop-up Sports Ground – design for urban recreational areas.
It’s a known fact that properties in the city don’t come cheap. All the reason to temporarily reuse the open space in the urban landscape. Following pop-up stores and pop-up cafés, a pop-up sports ground may soon be coming to your neighborhood. The make-shift system, consisting of a variety of container elements, can be easily set up at public squares or urban fallows and just as easily packed up again.
Munich-local Markus Weinig, the creative mind behind the project, sees sports as a positive force for urban change. But his system not only has positive effects on fitness, it also acts as a meeting point for communities.
Check out the concept here (German language only).
Urban solar fields – Masdar, UAE.
The new town of Masdar unites traditional oriental architecture with the newest sciences and technologies. The world’s largest sustainable eco-city is being erected where not much life could otherwise naturally exist: the desert of Abu Dhabi, just 30 kilometers outside of the emirate’s capital.
The city is aiming to reduce its emissions to zero. Both the energy and water supply is set to be solar-powered. Seawater will be desalinated using the same technology. Modern street architecture will allow for temperatures that are 10 degrees below the usual temperatures in Abu Dhabi.
The city’s streets will see autonomous electric driven cars but not only that: Masdar will open the first university in which an entire faculty will be dedicated to sustainability research. A photovoltaics research facility has already been opened in 2015.
Skyfarm – design for urban farming.
Earth’s population is expected to grow drastically. Until 2050, three billion additional people will inhabit the planet. In order to meet the demand for food, it would take agricultural land the size of Brazil. London-based architecture studio Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners came up with the Skyfarm concept.
This urban farm tower combines grain and produce cultivation with fish farming. Skyfarm brings valuable agricultural space to the city. Adding to the holistic appeal – and to encourage a more conscious approach to the fundamentals of life among citizens – the ground floor is scheduled to house a range of restaurants dishing up the fresh spoils of the up to 80-meter towers.
RSH+P architect Andrew Partridge sums up the value that Skyfarm brings to urban communities:
Fujisawa – sustainable model town, Japan.
50 kilometers west of Tokyo, in a residential area, city planners have realized a truly utopian microcosm that could serve as a blueprint for things to come: Thanks to an emphasis on renewables, the city of Fujisawa is nearly carbon-neutral in terms of energy, power, and mobility.
Smart household appliances, energy storage systems, and car sharing stations ensure that the city’s 3,000 residents lead very (energy-)efficient lifestyles. Specially designed seminars for the locals help convey the right “tools” and environmental background.
Cisco HQ – office building, Toronto, Canada.
At Cisco’s Toronto Innovation Centre, permanently assigned desks are a thing of the past. The moment you sit down at a workspace, your smartphone automatically transfers all your personal settings and preferences, including aspects like ideal desk height or illumination.
Meanwhile, meeting rooms are designed to replace personal meetings with video conferencing. And areas with ping-pong tables and games consoles add just the right lateral leeway to foster a flourishing team spirit.
“We have to realize the urgency to reduce CO2 where it’s being produced: in our cities.”
Buildings are the visible signs and symbols of a city’s status quo, making architects the protagonists who lend a face to our vision of tomorrow’s world. Now, creatives around the globe try their best to visualize their own, personal definition of urban beauty.
In their eyes, beauty goes hand in hand with usefulness. Think designs that bring nature back into the city, building materials that filter pollutants from the air, or solar roofs that generate their own energy.
Sustainable city planning is already being practiced around the world. In Abu Dhabi, the model city of Masdar is currently under construction – a concept designed to supply 50,000 residents with 100% renewable energy.
In Europe, too, people and cities are slowly adapting to novel concepts, especially where they are required to transform themselves more or less “on the go.” Among the pioneers of radical urban reinvention is architect Stefano Boeri who recently built two high-rises on the outskirts of Milan’s Old Town, buildings planted with 800 trees and 20,000 shrubs. His “Bosco Verticale” (vertical forest) is a gift for sore eyes and – even more so – Milan’s air quality:
Boeri is currently planning further afforested buildings in France, Switzerland, and Colombia. His next ambitious goal: an entire city featuring 800 vertical forest structures in China. A Paris architectural firm takes it even further: the vertical gardens grow on façades of houses that generate their own energy, even sharing the surplus with nearby streetlights. To date, these buildings only exist on the computer screen. The same goes for “Floating City”, a self-sufficient settlement off the coast.
Eckwerk – technology center and office building, envisioned for Berlin, Germany.
Eckwerk is a mix of productive technology center and inspiring habitat. The building complex is being planned as part of the Holzmarkt project at Berlin’s Spree river and will provide affordable work spaces for artists, craftsmen, and creatives – an entirely new neighborhood. Public space and paths criss-cross through the complex and underline the concept of openness and transparency.
At Eckwerk, sights are set on creating a fusion of urban life and nature. A 2,000 sqm roof-top area allows cultivating produce and fish while staircases, patios and interior spaces also feature planted green. In addition, intelligent heating management and optimized water and waste circulation are integrated into the building complex.
Natural building materials like wood, clay and hemp are preferred during the construction. Uta Mühleis, one of the five co-founders of Eckwerk, sums up the concept’s important aspects:
Bosco Verticale: apartment building, Milan, Italy.
Two high-rises by Italian architect Stefano Boeri are not just a vision, but living, breathing reality: Bordering Milan’s historic Old Town, Boeri has planted a duo of skyscrapers (87 and 119 meters high, respectively) with 20,000 shrubs and 800 trees.
The trees are easily reaching up to 9 meters. For his vision of vertical forest living across 9,000 sqm of terraces, Boeri deservedly received the International Highrise Award.
Positive Energy Towers – design for energy neutral high-rises.
Paris has promised to cut down greenhouse gas emissions by 75% by 2050. Inspired by this premise and promise, architectural practice Vincent Callebaut designed a range of futurist buildings that use photovoltaics and solar cells to heat water and generate electricity, even sharing some of the surplus power to illuminate nearby streetlights.
And since future cities also plan to give nature pride of place, Callebaut’s concept incorporates vertical gardens for oasis-like living, right in the heart of Paris.
moovel – the complete mobility app.
The app by moovel, Daimler’s own mobility brand, is the world’s first service that lets you book and pay for all modes of urban transport, from bus and train to taxi, rental bike, and carsharing. Part of the package: The handy one-stop shop for urban mobility always knows the best route to your destination.
At the time of writing, the app already covers 100% of transport options in Stuttgart and Hamburg, with further European cities to follow. We predict that in the city of the future, few trips involving public transport will be done without apps like moovel.
Bicycle haven – Copenhagen, Denmark.
Copenhagen aims to become a climate-neutral metropolis by 2025 – and local authorities are convinced that bicycles have a key part to play. Since 2006, the Danish capital has already invested €150 million in upgrading the city’s cycling infrastructure.
The result: An impressive 1,000 kilometers reserved solely for cyclists. So-called bike fast lanes are a generous three meters wide – and some even come with phased traffic lights for uninterrupted traffic flow.
Meanwhile, holding bars and foot rests along the way ensure that one of the main annoyances for bike lovers everywhere becomes a thing of the past – pushing the bike.
Garden Bridge – envisioned for London, England.
2018 will see the opening of an inner city structure designed to shape and change our view of London: During the planning stages, bridge engineers and landscape architects joined forces to design a fertile park and meadow landscape that seems to float right above the River Thames. Scattered across the bridge’s 365 meters, birch trees and alders vie for attention with violets and geraniums. So, anyone looking for a breath of fresh air (or a romantic spot) no longer needs to detour to Hyde Park. All it takes is a stroll across the bridge.
Central Park – Songdo, South Korea.
With a nod to its American counterpart in New York City, Songdo Central Park was created in 2009 on a 40-hectare space in Songdo.
The new town in South Korea has big plans in terms of sustainability.
With its system of cisterns, made from recycled composite material, the park collects rain water and redistributes it to water its plants.
A central feature of the park is a canal, offering boat shuttles to visitors. The canal is being fed with saltwater from the ocean, powered purely by tidal energy. This leads to massive water savings. The park adds to the human oriented focus of Songdo: Underground parking spots and 148 combined kilometers of bike paths, make discovering the city a joy. Next to the park, the Incheon Tri-Bowl, an event venue, displays its unique architectural lines.
Charging infrastructure for electric vehicles.
Suburban homeowners are at a clear advantage when it comes to e-mobility – they can simply charge their cars at home, in their own garages. Those based in city centers, where space is at a premium and little curbside parking is available, have access to fewer charging options. Although most metropolises have installed a network of quick-charging stations, these are still few and far between.
We predict that the city of the future will encourage establishment of a much denser network of charging spots, driven by the concerted efforts of politics, energy suppliers, car brands, and other investors.
A prediction backed by Nils Moe, Managing Director of US-based Urban Sustainability Directors Network. In our video, he explains further benefits to this approach.
Five Borough Farm – urban farming, New York City, USA.
Back in the mid-1990s, New York City already experienced the first tentative tendrils of what would later grow into a major global movement: urban gardening. Here, amateur gardeners would transform derelict areas into thriving plots filled with fruit and vegetables, harvested and processed by the gardeners themselves.
But another aspect is just as important: These city gardens not only help raise lettuce and tomatoes, but also entire communities, turning allotments into fertile ground for a more conscious approach to life.
“We need a more holistic understanding of mobility.”
Dissolving the boundaries
The development of traffic flows in metropolises is probably the most pressing proof of the urgent need for such innovative technologies. After a few days in São Paulo, New York City, or Beijing, it’s obvious that cities have reached their capacity limits.
Traffic jams and gridlock are no longer the exception, but the rule. In the past, however, innovation simply meant building ever-more streets.
According to David Sim, creative director at the office of Danish visionary Jan Gehl, only a broad spectrum of solutions can safeguard a sustainable (and drivable) future:
In our societies, individual road users and traffic systems still operate independently from each other. Drivers are drivers, pedestrians are pedestrians – almost as if they belong to different nations that require an entry visa to cross into the other realm respectively.
But as every situation may require a different mix of mobility options, restricting oneself to only one mode of transportation is not a modern approach. The key to the so-called intermodal connectivity is, once again, the smartphone. Apps like moovel connect timetables and payment systems and ensure that everyone has access to the best possible way to get around in any situation: on foot, by bike, or using cars parked at the roadside.
The result is a mobility mix tailored to our individual needs, available at the push of a button. Of course, the private car will continue to play a major role in urban traffic, having an advantage in terms of comfort and the joy of driving. Nonetheless, cars will increasingly be powered by electricity, allowing for a quiet and locally emission-free commute.
Elegant Embellishments – carbon-reducing façades, Berlin, Germany.
Berlin-based architectural office Elegant Embellishments has rediscovered a tried-and-tested technology: So-called biochar or bio-carbons can be used to bind plant-based CO2, turning it into handy (and sturdy) building blocks.
Daniel Schwaag and his team at Elegant Embellishments turn this matter into façade components that are as eco-friendly as they are aesthetically pleasing:
Mercedes-Benz Future Bus – autonomous public transportation.
With its Mercedes-Benz Future Bus, Daimler Buses redefines urban traffic and celebrates a world premiere: In the self-driving bus, the driver doesn’t hold the steering wheel. Instead, he overlooks the controls, while leaving the driving to an autonomous system, the so-called CityPilot.
A 20 kilometer test course has already been successfully completed in July 2016. The bus communicates with signal systems to accurately navigate bus stops and traffic lights – it also recognizes pedestrians crossing before it and can brake accordingly and safely.
Of course, the bus sticks to the speed limits. With the Mercedes-Benz Future Bus, traffic safety should tangibly increase.
Luchtsingel – crowdfunded bridge, Rotterdam, Netherlands.
The Dutch term Luchtsingel translates as “air channel.“ An apt name for the lofty, eponymous bridge that connects three neighborhoods with each other that had previously been separated by train tracks. The bridge, built entirely from wood, not only crosses streets and train tracks, but even traverses entire buildings.
Upping the project‘s innovation kudos, Luchtsingel is the product of a clever crowdfunding campaign, entirely financed by local citizens. For a mere €25, anyone could become a patron – and get immortalized on one of the bridge’s many wooden boards.
For more info, see the portrait on smart magazine.
The harbour turns blue – renaturation of the harbour basin, Copenhagen, Denmark.
Back in the 1990s, Copenhagen harbour was easily as polluted as other seaports around the world, the water brimming with effluents from local industry, shipping, and local traffic.
As part of the city’s sewage system modernization efforts, Copenhagen installed a range of large water filtration pools, while an early warning system notifies officials whenever bacterial contents threaten to reach critical levels.
Looking to take a quick dip in the harbour? Well, there’s an app for that! The easy-to-use interface keeps residents up-to-date on the harbour’s current water quality.
Floating City – vision of a swimming metropolis.
When habitable land becomes a scarce commodity – why not move settlements to the sea? American organization Seasteading Institute is a proponent of this concept. Founded in 2009, the collective is working on its vision of a city entirely floating in the ocean, held up by modular platforms with a space of around 2,500 sqm.
The first city of this kind could become reality by 2020. 20% of its surface is reserved for parks and gardens.
If you want to get your hands on an apartment at sea, you should hurry: A first survey showed that more than 1,000 people were interested in living in this floating city.
“My vision of a future city is a place where it’s really great to be a human being.”
The human scale
An obvious conclusion: The city of the future is a place navigated and regulated by means of technology. For David Sim, however, it is crucial to not get controlled by these means. The benchmark should be to create a world in which it is great to be human.
At the end of our tour of tomorrow’s sustainable city, we realize something. Not only do the ideas for the future metropolis already exist – in many places, they are already an everyday reality. So, what we need right now, most of all, is people willing to take ownership of these ideas, concepts, and products to make the city of the future a living, breathing reality. And these people already have a name: smart citizens.