Cities for Tomorrow



Mar - Apr 2016

Cities for Tomorrow

On 21 January 2016, the final Arup forum of the Green Initiatives series, Building for Tomorrow, explored the forces hard at work shaping more positive visions for tomorrow. Titled “How do we turn cities of today into cities for tomorrow?”, it compared two complementary views—one from science and the other influenced by anthropology, to educate the audience on how one may begin to manage an entire planet’s worth of waste.

The first speaker Dr Ben Schwegler, the senior vice president and managing director of Disney Research China, and consulting professor at Stanford University, represented a design approach nurtured by science. Shanghai Disneyland is expected to open in June 2016, and it is no surprise that it has been designed to further push the envelope for sustainable building design. A biologist and engineer by trade, Dr Schwegler likened each Disneyland/World to its own little city; thus, many lessons in sustainability can be adapted from Disney to cities like Shanghai. From his engineering training, Dr Schwegler showed the audience how increases in energyefficiency can greatly decrease the rate of decarbonisation, effectively making the advances of renewable energy more impactful. The main goal of the Disney Research Fund is to maximise the amount of work that can be captured from primary fuels. Much work is lost from fuels in the enery generation and transportation process, escaping as waste heat. If one were to capture waste heat locally and employ it to treat grey water, for example, much more work would be captured and energy efficiency would increase. To show how relevant this idea is, Dr Schwegler explained the results of a Shanghai taxi study done by a Beijing researcher. Essentially, the length of time of taxi trips in Shanghai follows the power law distribution: there is a very high probability that the length of a trip will be short, a slightly lower probability that the trip will take longer, and a very low possibility that it will be a long trip. This means that humans create self-designated zones, approximately 10 square metres in size, delineated by how far they are willing to walk. If one is able to plan the collection of waste heat around these self-defined zones, and re-employ it as work to power each of these zones, energy efficiency would be vastly improved.

The second speaker Sooyoun Park, senior project designer at NBBJ Shanghai, LEED Green Associate, had a different, but certainly complementary, perspective on how to build the cities of tomorrow. Working from a more individualistic view of the field, she emphasised the concept of a shared economy. The main problem that future cities will grapple with is waste, and she proposed the mass sharing of everything, including cars, furniture, luxury clothing, furniture, and even workplaces and houses. She showed how sharing is already embedded into today’s societies, from learning how to share in preschool and carpooling, to current thriving startups such as WeWork (sharing workspaces for a monthly fee) and Lending Luxury (sharing luxury clothing for a much cheaper price). Park ended with a powerful example of modern technology providing brilliant ways to make sharing more natural in this high-paced urban society: Helsinki’s public transportation system is developing an app that will allow users to share various modes of public transportation and even notify public buses of personal destinations, ultimately making travel in the city cheaper, more efficient and Greener.

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