International
Federation for
Housing and
Planning

The role of technology in urban development

The appropriate role of technology in urban development 
 

The appropriate role of technology is one of the IFHP’s three thematic tracks in 2016. Under the umbrella topic of Transitional living, this track of activities aims to facilitate a better understanding of the effects of the cumulative growth of contemporary urban technologies within the housing and planning sectors. 
 
The activities provide a platform for the sharing of perspectives and the generation of new knowledge, questioning the appropriate role of technological innovation within cities, their associated benefits and the many challenges that come with their implementation. 
 

On The Brink of a New Urban Era

Throughout history emerging technologies have driven major shifts in the way cities and their societies have been planned and function. In the 19th Century, driven by new industrial processes, western cities shifted from medieval city structures to the industrial city model. Across Europe, walls were torn down and informal settlements were cleared to make way for the new infrastructure of factories, railways for transport and housing for newly arriving workers. In the 20th century, the arrival of the automobile demanded large scale readjustments in urban design, systems and processes. This led to an era of central business districts, high rise towers blocks, sprawling suburbs and extensive ring roads and motorways; the basis for many of today’s urban challenges. Today, we find ourselves again on the brink of a new urban transition. This transition, driven by the escalating growth in ICT innovations has been encompassed in discourses and concepts such as the ‘Smart City’ and the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’. Such discourses promise progression through technology centered approaches to help fix many of urban society’s biggest challenges. As yet, the results of such an approach are widely disputed as to their effectiveness (see cases such as Masdar City and Songdo).  The question remains then, how will new technologies effect the majority of the world’s existing and future cities? In what form will such technologies effect the way we as a collective society perceive and use the city? And whom will benefit?
 

Smart Cities and the Fourth industrial Revolution
 

The concept of smart cities and the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ are the buzz words that have dominated urban thinking and discussion in recent years. Developments in artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, virtual reality, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing are promising a new era of contemporary urban development.  Behind this era is the rapid and expediential growth of I.T devices, present within everything, from complex global systems to individual pocket devices. It is argued that the onset of the fourth industrial revolution and the smart city; where connected devices will number into the trillions, will transform urban areas into continuous ‘living labs’, constantly receiving, analyzing and refining data to efficiently manage products and services. The opportunities are captivating as much as they are countless and the pace of technological innovation so tireless that governments, municipalities and private enterprise are already struggling to comprehend the extent of their digital urban futures. 
 

Our Digital Urban Future?
 

It is therefore worthwhile taking a moment to ponder this immediate urban transition, considering exactly what kinds of shifts cities are experiencing and how, unlike previous urban transitions, cities can collectively and individually ensure that the benefits are based upon and shared between the world’s majority of urban citizens.  A set of fundamental questions must therefore be asked: What is the appropriate role of technology in future urban development and whom is it aimed at? Who is leading the rush to the future and what are their motivations? How can we achieve a balance of technological innovation that does not compromise our universal values as humans? What are the implications for the housing and planning sectors as innovative (some say disruptive) technologies become increasingly prominent? 
 
These questions and more will be raised within the IFHP’s Appropriate Role of Technology activities.
 

Activities

 
Inspiring Future Urban Innovations Copenhagen
 
8th June 2016
 
In coordination with the Danish Design Center, Danish Design Council and the World Economic Forum the IFHP will facilitate a half day conference focusing on urban design innovation and the appropriate role of technology. The event will focus on gaining a deeper insight into the principles behind future urban innovation across 3 areas:
 
1. Smart Array: Intelligent Street Poles as a platform for urban sensing – New innovations in, for example, lighting technology gives cities the opportunity to turn infrastructure from a “dead asset”, which consumes energy and money, into a “live asset”, which produces secondary outputs and potential revenues. The digitisation of such infrastructure holds infinite possibilities to learn and progressively adapt urban environments. 

2. Co-Co-Co:Co generating, co heating, co cooling – New tri-generation and future quad-generation energy plants have the potential to lower costs and reduce carbon emissions, in turn creating new business for what we currently view as ‘waste’. Such innovative technologies simultaneously contribute to achieve global emissions targets whilst improving local and regional urban environmental conditions. Smart Array – Street Poles as a platform for urban sensing

3. Augmented Humans: The Next Generation of Mobility – The way we travel in cities affects every part of urban life, from environmental wellbeing and economic efficiency to health and happiness levels and liveability aspects. With advances in sensors, optics and embedded processors, a whole new breed of transportation solutions are emerging, with the potential to improve upon and revolutionise traditional mobility choices. These topics will be debated by an expert panel discussion before a workshop session.
Tree.0 Vester Volgade - Digital Interaction Pilot Project, Copenhagen
 


Throughout 2016

 
Led by the Alexandra Institute this project explores how data can become an interactive element within the streetscape of Vester Volgade. With the aim of informing the streets future design and occupation to become more vibrant and relevant to local citizens and tourists, this project will implement data collection installations in the form of digital trees. The trees will collect a range of data from the surrounding area including atmospheric readings from sensors. The data will be simultaneously communicated back to the citizens through light and sound features, allowing for interaction with and between the installations. The IFHP help facilitate a Lab at the end of phase 1 (the first test period of three months) to analyse the data gathered, combining local and international expertise to qualify and suggest improvements to be implemented in phase 2. The IFHP has the aim to understand how such technologies can be replicated in varying international context, questioning why and how such technological interventions are appropriate to citizens whilst also informing urban planning and design.
 
Smart to Future Cities & Urban IoT Forum, London
 
25th – 27th April 2016
 
The IFHP will form part of an expert panel, focusing on the question ‘Urban IoT: Does IoT create more fog than vision?’