Sunday, May 17, 2015

Cities of the Future

Picture your dream home. Chances are you did not think much about cutting edge technology, but more about luscious green grass, backyard oasis, fresh clean air, soothing pool of water or watching the sunset in your rocking chair.

Scientific studies and crowdsourcing projects  showed that the amount of greenery is usually associated with beauty, quietness, or happiness, while broad streets, fortress-like buildings, and council houses are associated with ugly, noisy, and unhappy environments.

But, as most people now live in cities and urban dwellers are likely to reach 70% of the world population by 2050, will it be actually possible to build happy cities where we can relax and rejuvenate?

Perhaps we could start from a cleaner air by spraying water from sprinklers? According to Shaocai Yu, this is a technologically feasible and cost efficient option reducing the particle load in a very short time. And it is already utilized in  Lanzhou, the largest city of China's Gansu province. Two giant water cannons will squirt water 2,000 feet into the air and bring the pollutants down to earth. It won't stop pollution elsewhere, though, will need to be done daily, and in addition to other measures.

How to design a mentally rejuvenating city? Research shows, that even in a dense urban area at the bottom of a concrete canyon, we could feel a little better if there is more architectural variety. Yet, isn't it better if the city keeps in touch with nature?

25 Verde, a five-story apartment complex in Turin, Italy designed by Luciano Pia, features 150 potted trees that absorb almost 200,000 liters of carbon dioxide an hour, offering extra shade during the summer months. And every plant and tree offer the needed variety of color, foliage, and blooms!

Meanwhile the Netherlands is experimenting with floating houses. Singapore, too, is thinking about syncing design with the environment. And, if you have a million to spare, you can buy a house in Dubai with underwater views and outdoor climate-controlled streets.

Most of the world's population growth will happen in low and middle income cities with unhealthy housing. The challenge is in finding affordable ways to improve the aesthetics and health of neighborhoods. And it might be easier than you think!


Daniele Quercia, Neil Keith O'Hare, & Henriette Cramer (2014). Aesthetic capital: what makes London look beautiful, quiet, and happy? Proceedings of the 17th ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work & social computing, 945-955 DOI: 10.1145/2531602.2531613

Lindal, P., & Hartig, T. (2013). Architectural variation, building height, and the restorative quality of urban residential streetscapes Journal of Environmental Psychology, 33, 26-36 DOI: 10.1016/j.jenvp.2012.09.003

Shaocai Yu (2014). Water spray geoengineering to clean air pollution for mitigating haze in China’s cities Environmental Chemistry Letters : 10.1007/s10311-013-0444-0

Mitchell BW, & Waltman WD (2003). Reducing airborne pathogens and dust in commercial hatching cabinets with an electrostatic space charge system. Avian diseases, 47 (2), 247-53 PMID: 12887184

Kardan, O. et al. (2015) Neighborhood greenspace and health in a large urban center. Sci. Rep. 5, 11610; doi: 10.1038/srep11610. PMID: 26158911


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