Redefining public urban spaces: the next frontier for the smart cities ecosystem

Oyster Bay, New York - 15 Nov 2018

While a lot of the debate around smart cities has been centered on how to digitize infrastructure through a range of connectivity and IoT technologies, little attention has been given to the urgent issue of redefining public space itself to cope with new tech-driven paradigms like the sharing economy, automation, and more generally the new smart urban economy.

“Parking is one of the most obvious examples of how smart mobility technology, driverless car sharing in particular, will transform how the public space is organized,” says Dominique Bonte, Vice President End Markets at ABI Research, a market-foresight advisory firm providing strategic guidance on the most compelling transformative technologies. ABI Research estimates around 50% percent of parking real estate will have been repurposed by 2040, the equivalent of more than 20,000 square km of surface land.

Closely linked to parking is the urgent issue of curbside management organizing pick-up/drop-off facilities for ridesharing, stowing space for dockless shared 2-wheel vehicles like bikes and scooters, and locations for mobile vending machines and autonomous retail units. More generally, streets and roads need to be redesigned in a way to prioritize and maximize non-motorized mobility, electric transit, and urban living. Similarly, distributed renewable energy generation facilities will be intertwined with and/or embedded in roads, sidewalks, homes, and buildings, defining the very concept of an electric, carbon neutral or negative city.

Technology suppliers are starting to design concepts and develop solutions for smart spaces including smart, connected, and dynamic streets (Ford, Alphabet Sidewalks), smart LED crossings (Umbrellium), and embedded renewable solar and kinetic energy harvesting (Colas, Siemens, Pavegen).

At the same time, as input for redesigning urban spaces, cities start gathering data on geographical and temporal demand-supply patterns. The SharedStreets partnership, launched by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), the Open Transport Partnership, Ford, Uber, and Lyft, is aimed at developing data sharing standards and tools for real-time curb demand and availability, vehicle driving speeds and curbside pick-up/drop-off counts data sharing. Waze’s Connected Citizens Program (CCP) is another example of a data sharing initiative between tech suppliers and governments, centered on traffic and road condition information and used for designing new mobility plans for entire city centers.

For the longer term, holistic visions of urban concepts are being explored, ranging from vertical gardens and green cities to the use of modular, reusable, and recyclable components for buildings and other urban structures, city-in-the-city designs, resilient structures, hyperloops and personal airborne mobility, as well as the Uber-Urbanization of linking sprawling urban centers via megastructures like ultra-long bridges and tunnels into megapolis areas with the size of entire countries such as the Delta Pearl River Megacity.

These findings are from ABI Research’s Smart Urban Spaces report. This report is part of the company’s Smart Cities & Smart Spaces research service, which includes research, data, and Executive Foresights.

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