Sustainable Cities III

Smart Infrastructure

Cities need to make choices about infrastructure. How energy, transport, water, sewerage, waste will be handled. Cities are complex organisms, often with millions of people interacting with industrial processes and the complex, transportation and communications needs as well.


How to make the best of this type, densely settled region. How to get the most productivity and the highest quality of life, is a matter of choice. And cities that plan well, design infrastructure well, are able to maximize economic opportunities, improve quality of life, promote public health, and minimize the impact of the population on the natural environment. Including, a relatively low carbon economy. Some aspects of that core infrastructure include transportation. In densely settled areas, relying on the automobile is a recipe for massive congestion, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. And there are much better options of public transport and when properly designed, walking and, and bicycling for a large number of one’s needs in urban areas. Water management, a huge challenge. Water has to be provided safely. Sewerage has to be handled safely every day, day in and day out. And with rising populations, cities of course have to anticipate their growing water needs. This requires foresight, and I’ll explain how New York City has faced this challenge. Cities generate massive amounts of waste. Organic waste from food that is disposed of, sewerage industrial waste, packaging materials, newspaper and other paper to be recycled. And how those millions and millions of tons of waste handled each year are disposed of or recycled is a major factor in the city’s impact on the environment, and on its own quality of life and, and the, the greening of its own environment. How the building codes determine the kinds of buildings that are built, where they’re built, what their zoning is, is another aspect of the choices and I will give some indication about that as well. Well some cities had managed their transport well, and in other places it’s chaotic beyond imagining. Look at the commuters in Indonesia. Packed to a life-threatening extent. Compare that with one of the world’s most sparkling, efficient, dynamic metro systems in Seoul, South Korea, which is a huge system of hundreds of kilometers of line. Beijing and countless Chinese cities the large ones, have all been building metro systems in recent years as well. Serving them very well and wisely making the investments in mass public transportation, because the alternative for China will be, and is threatened to be, a massive explosion of automobile use with all of the ecological and economic ills that could attend to that. Bogota became famous as the exemplar of another kind of public transportation. That’s bus rapid transit. It followed another city, Curitiba, Brazil, which pioneered bus rapid transit in the 1970s. The idea was to encourage people to move away from automobiles to buses, by giving buses favorable conditions of access on dedicated lanes, very frequent service, and comfortable ways for people to get in and out of buses waiting in stations, and with stations located in convenient areas. Here you see, in Bogota, the famous red bus of their bus rapid transit system, entering one of the covered stations, a comfortable and safe area, for people to get on and off of the buses. And Bogota gets rave reviews from its own citizens and from around the world it gets people trying to learn the lessons of Bogota’s rapid transit system. And it therefore has won many, many, emulators around the world. Recently, cities have started to make a full arc to their earlier traditions. And that is also to make sure that there are safe, open areas for bicycling. Europe has taken the lead in this with the bus with the bicycle lanes in many of Europe’s wonderful cities. And with innovative ways now with smart cards of, and with the shared bicycles system such as this one in Paris that are leading to a renewal of what was once discarded in favor of the car. But because of congestion, because of the expenses of managing automobiles, because of the difficulties of parking, of traffic jams, because of individuals’ concerns with their own C O2 emissions and contributions to climate change. People and, I should add, with the people seeking a healthier way to get to work and to spend their days, there’s been a return to bike lanes and bicycle use. And I’m happy to say, in New York City this is also taking hold with great popularity. And it, it is an important step forward, not only for all of the ecological reasons, but for the public health reasons as well. Urbanites have come to understand in the last 20 years, the hard way. That if they take sedentarism to the extreme, they’re not out working the fields. They’re in office jobs in the service economy. The risks to their own health showing up in obesity, in heart disease, in other costs of sedentarism are very, very high. So people are eager to find ways to get back out onto the streets. Pedestrian areas in city centers encouraging people to walk. Often the streets are being closed to cars. The congestion has just gotten out of hand. Quality of life has diminished. And people by the thousands and by the millions added up over a year, are encouraged to get out and walk as they are in the Ramblas in the center of Barcelona. And this too is becoming a strategy of choice of urban zoning, especially for the core urban areas. And it is being supported, not only by access to pedestrian walkways, to bicycle lanes, to improved mass transit. But also through policies such as congestion taxation, in which people are charged a steep price for entering the center of cities in their automobiles, giving a strong economic push to get out of the car, leave the car behind. For moving between cities, there are also big choices. In the United States in the 1950s, a breakthrough was made to connect America’s cities by the interstate highway system. It had a very large economic impact, of course. It was an efficiency enhancer from the point of view of moving goods and moving people. It also facilitated the spread of suburbanization in the United States because highways linked suburbs with center cities. Having people move farther out from the densely populated center cities, and also, thereby contributing to America’s remarkably high ecological footprint. Its extraordinarily high level of CO2 emissions per capita. China, fortunately, has gone in a different direction rather than encouraging people to move between China’s cities. And China has the world’s largest network of large cities of more than a million people. It has built and continues to build tens of thousands of kilometers of fast rail to connect China’s cities. This electrified transport, if the electricity grid turns green very important step that China will need to take in future years, will enable a low emission transport system. And also one that will allow people to move very quickly with much less congestion, and with the much less investment in automobiles than was true in the United States. In the U.S., there are roughly 250 million personal vehicles for a 310 million population. Roughly five personal vehicles for every six people in, in the population. In China, the equivalent would be more than 1 billion cars. China currently has on the order of probably 120 million vehicles or so. The number’s rising now quite quickly. Because China’s become the world’s largest automobile market. But if China were to go all the way to the U.S. automobile density, not only would it become the world’s largest traffic jam, but China’s energy needs and its carbon emissions would be completely out of sight. So China needs to continue to take smart choices like an electrified, intercity fast rail system. Let me turn to another aspect of infrastructure, water supply. Every big city has to provision for drinking water for its population. As well as water for other uses for that part of urban agriculture, and for industrial uses of water. And how to do that effectively is a major challenge. In New York City, this has been addressed for more than a century by tapping into water reservoirs outside of the city, and carried to the city by huge pipes that bring water from two big watersheds. One you see on the map called the Catskills in the, in in hill and mountain area near the Hudson River. And another in what’s called the Croton watershed. Both of which are connected by huge, underground pipes to provision New York. The reason that this is quite interesting is that, about 15 years ago, New York faced the problem that the water coming from both of these areas was becoming more turbid more polluted, more containing chemical products and, and the outflow of industrial and farm activities in the areas nearby these two watersheds. And the proposal at the time was to build multi-billion dollar water treatment sites to keep New York City water safe, and that would be the intuitive step. The water’s getting dirtier, you have to treat the water and giant waste treatment sites for a city of eight million plus people seemed to be inevitable. But the city planners at the time, had a clever realization. And that is that it would be safer and smarter to encourage these out of state or, or out of city areas, I should say, near the watersheds, to engage in fewer activities that endangered the water supply. To keep the water clean and safe, so that these multi-billion dollar investments of water treatment would not have to be made. Of course, those areas had their own economic interests. And so New York City realized that it would have to provide a financial incentive.

1131To both the Catskills and the Croton watershed areas to desist from the kinds of farm activities, use of fertilizers, pesticides and so forth, that would endanger New York City’s drinking water. And sure enough the city arranged for a financial transfer to these outlying areas, to compensate for cutting back on some of the more dangerous processes. It’s a rather ingenious idea, not easily organized by a market, but by a political agreement that satisfied the interests of both the New York City residents who thereby avoided billions and billions of dollars of water treatment. And the residents of these outlying areas who did desist from certain profitable economic activities, but where their cities received compensating benefits. Now it’s still true 15 years later that there’s going to have to be a bit more waste and water treatment to keep the water standards at the high quality levels. But still this idea even taking into account the further needs for water treatment has made it possible for New York City to find a lower cost safer, and ultimately high quality way to preserve its water supply.

That’s very specific for New York. Every city, every major urban agglomeration has to solve a problem like this. I think that not only is New York’s solution a very interesting one. Because it’s a very unusual one and it had to be put together with a lot of creativity, insight and good political management. But it also highlights something that’s very important, in my view. And that is sustainable development is inherently an exercise in problem solving. Thinking out of the box, thinking out of the watershed, thinking out of the city, finding better ways to do things that can’t be found necessarily in the textbooks alone. It’s being creative, and creating new models. Yet another aspect of urban infrastructure, absolutely essential, and that is what to do with all of that waste. Some of it, paper and plastics, may be recyclable. Other parts of the waste, maybe some of the scrap metal, can also be reprocessed. A lot of the waste is organic waste. Food, into the garbage bags for example. Rotted food, or food that’s thrown out from the restaurants, and, and and homes. How to handle, all of this waste. Again, the usual way in the past was truly to regard it as waste and stick it some place, especially in landfills. And many large cities around the world built massive, massive human waste dumps that were fetid eye sores, nose sores. Actually carriers of pollution and sites of massive greenhouse gas emissions because these landfills admit methane among other gases and methane is one of the most potent of the greenhouse gases. Engineers came to understand much better that simply filling the land with this kind of waste was terribly unwise. Dangerous for the land, dangerous for the water supply, dangerous for the air around it, dangerous for the residents living nearby, dangerous for greenhouse gas emissions. And a huge waste, because a lot of what was going into the landfills could be inputs for recycling, for industrial processes, even for the generation of energy. So, in the last 20 years, cities have experimented with many different kinds of recycling programs and with various kinds of innovative waste to energy facilities. In Western Europe, Denmark among other places, has been a leader, also in waste energy, in using various kinds of waste gas for power generation. And not only for power but for this idea that the electricity goes out into the grid and the heat exhaust from combustion, rather than simply going into the atmosphere is itself collected. And in the case of Denmark pumped to urban settlement areas to heat water for homes as well as to heat the homes themselves during the winter time. In general we’re going to see a lot of smartening up of structures,  buildings, recycling, and of the power grid itself.

The concept that many cities around the world are now adopting, in a general term that will be gaining more and more specificity, and examples in the coming years, is an urban smart grid. That urban smart grid may mean a smart interconnection of mobility, of public transportation, individual electric vehicles, the power grid, the household electricity use, the interconnections with the waste processing of the cities through cogeneration or use of waste gas for electricity generation. One of the characteristics of the smart grid is the use of information technologies as a breakthrough in a way to be far more efficient, also in the energy use. Sensors, microsensors in housing, in appliances, in automobiles, will allow an interconnected power grid directly communicating with households and with businesses to economize on energy use. To send signals of when an extra power load is going to be needed. And to allow off-grid decentralized power sources to smartly connect with the grid. Whether it’s solar panels or other kinds of distributed power generation that right now stands alone. But it will be connected in a smart way through a metered system to an integrated smart grid for the city. Finally, let me mention, that as part of this smart infrastructure, is smarter and smarter building codes. Buildings can be built to be efficient. If they are properly engineered for proper insulation, proper location with regard to sunshine, with natural ventilation rather than rather than ventilation driven by heating and air conditioning. With recycling of water within the facilities themselves. Even with cogeneration facilities dedicated to a smart building like the Bank of America tower in my own city of New York.

A skyscraper that meets the ultimate platinum LEED standard which is the standard for evaluating the ecological impact of buildings. One of these smart things that this very smart Bank of America tower does, is that it has a cogeneration facility for its own power needs and using the heat from that for the hot water and for the ventilation in the building itself. All of this shows technological innovation at play. Information systems, smarter transport, smarter ways to recycle materials to close the loop, so that cities can achieve what is within their potential. Very high quality of life. An interconnected grid for transport, for power, for water, for sewerage. And in a way with a very low and falling ecological footprint.

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Pedro Pereira Leite (2015, 24 Abril). Sustainable Cities III. Global Heritages. Recuperado em 13 de Junho de 2024, de

Pedro Pereira Leite

Researcher and professor. He had his PhD. on museology in 2011, with the title “Muss-amb-ike Homeland: The commitment on musicological process”, that was published in 2011. In 2012 he finishes a Post-PhD Research on "Biographical Glances: The intersubjectivity poetry on museology, at Lusófona University (Lisbon). Presently he is working in his Post PhD. Research about: “Global Heritages" with the aims to build a network on local cognizance and memory manager has a tool to build the will of action in 3 different communities, linked by past communed heritages.” He works at CES. He participates on different Research network, presented papers in national and international conferences, and had published books on research subjects.

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