One of the most interesting and inspiring aspects of urban planning is the act of discovering innovative solutions that cities around the world are implementing to solve commonly held urban problems. The innovations might involve cutting-edge technology, or they might be a re-commitment to an age-old principle. Solutions might be driven by community volunteers, business entrepreneurs, mayors and even heads of State.
In advance of this year’s Financial Times and Citibank Ingenuity Awards, I had the opportunity to revisit some of the creative, exciting, and inspiring examples of recent innovation that could be replicated in cities around the world to provide a more sustainable, livable future for us all. I’d like to share some of them with you here. I encourage you to nominate projects you feel are deserving of recognition and support for the 2013 FT/Citi Ingenuity Awards (the deadline for 2013 nominations is April 30th).
Transportation Alternatives: People around the world have a shared understanding of the effects that conventional fossil-fueled vehicles are having on our environment and well-being. Providing effective alternatives, however, is a great challenge that is absolutely necessary in order to expect a shift in transportation habits. Here are a few projects that are tipping the scales towards sustainable, people-powered modes of transportation.
Towards Equal Infrastructure for Bikes: In April 2012, the first leg of a 26-route bicycle superhighway opened in Copenhagen, Denmark. Wanting to promote bicycling along these routes as a serious alternative to taking the train, bus or car, Copenhagen worked with 21 other municipalities to create "contiguous, standardized bike routes into the capital across distances of up to 14 miles." The bike highways are designed with clever features such as traffic lights that are timed to suit the travel patterns of cyclists during rush hour, garbage cans tilted at the right angle for bikers and solar-powered lights to enhance the cycling experience and reduce environmental impact. In response to the new infrastructure, innovative local initiatives such as a “bicycle school bus” for children commuting to class together have been developed.
Cardboard Bike for All: In Israel, Izar Gafni has produced the prototype for a bicycle whose frame and wheels are made entirely from cardboard and reused rubber. This bicycle is durable, lightweight, made from recycled materials, and importantly, is very inexpensive to produce. A bicycle that can be sold for $20 or less could go a long way towards equipping communities all over the world with the benefits of human-petaled transport. His next projects include a children's bike and wheelchair made from cardboard.
Using Technology for Management: City officials and residents need the ability to analyze data about their environment into actionable information--in real time. As Eduard Paes, Mayor of Rio de Janiero stated as one of his 4 commandments of cities, “A city of the future has to use technology to be present.” That’s why he created a command center for Rio that integrated the data and operations management of all major city functions into a single control room.
Culling the Data: In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg has created a small "geek squad" to find precious needles in the haystacks of big data at the new Office of Policy and Strategic Planning. By strategically analyzing data to answer a question such as "which restaurants are illegally dumping cooking oil into the City's sewers," members of the Office were able to achieve a 95% accuracy rate on a list of likely culprits. Used in this way, data can help cities be more efficient and effective.
The list of innovative and timely solutions to our city's challenges grows longer by the day. I'm grateful that awards programs such as the FT/Citi Ingenuity Awards give us an opportunity to think about all of the positive work being done around us, and urge us to keep sharing, thinking, working and implementing together.