Developing a Vision for the Cities of Tomorrow

By Matt Ellis

City-of-Tomorrow_courtesy_fraunhoferde.174173236_stdNear the end of his life, Walt Disney created what he thought would be the city of the future. The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow—better known today as EPCOT—was originally described by Disney this way, “EPCOT will take its cue from the new ideas and new technologies that are emerging from the forefront of American industry. It will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed. It will always be showcasing and testing and demonstrating new materials and new systems.”

Disney’s vision never fully came to reality; EPCOT is a popular tourist attraction but it has not altered the way cities are developed. Nor did the vision of the 1960s futuristic TV show The Jetsons. Yet, today, in light of advancing theories about climate change and carbon emissions, there is continued interest in the way cities could change in order to be more sustainable and healthier for their inhabitants.

The topic was addressed in April at the World Federation of Building Service Contractors (WFBSC) World Congress 2014, which AffinEco Managing Partners Michael Diamond and Paul Senecal attended, along with several members of the AffinEco senior management team.

“It was interesting to hear these forward-thinkers talk about the possibilities for the future. Using robotics and advanced wireless and GPS technology will impact how we run our business in the years ahead,” said Diamond.

One of the objectives of the WFBSC is to increase the knowledge and improve the professional competence of its members by offering global educational forums. At the WFBSC World Congress 2014 in New York City, the conversation centered on how innovations in technology—including robotics and wireless connectivity—will impact the building services industry.

Most experts in the field agree the cities of tomorrow have to adopt a holistic model of sustainable urban development with careful consideration of how power, water and waste are handled. For companies that provide building and maintenance services, this means a greater utilization of technology to not only operate and maintain equipment; but also record and analyze data to ensure peak efficiency.

AffinEco is already using GPS to determine the most efficient way to move vehicles around the company’s footprint. And, as robotic technology improves, the company will have greater flexibility to allocate resources. Improved labor and energy efficiencies will improve the sustainability of buildings and, Diamond says, the cities of tomorrow.

In 2013, the Fraunhofer Society, a German research institution, brought leaders from science, business and local communities together to launch a joint initiative aimed at exploring the scientific possibilities for a city of the future, with a focus on carbon neutrality. At the time, Georg Schütte, the State Secretary of Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), noted how this kind of research is crucial for determining how cities are to be developed in future.

“In just a few years’ time, two thirds of the world’s population will be living in cities,” said Schütte. “The BMBF intends to establish the necessary scientific basis for keeping cities livable now and in future. In doing this, we have to consider not only the issues of conserving resources and saving energy, but also the effects of climate change.”

The Fraunhofer Society produced a video illustrating its vision for the city of tomorrow, which was shared with the WFBSC World Congress. (Click here to watch the video.)

BMBF has since launched a competition to designate the most energy-efficient cities in Germany, based on solutions that combine a visionary approach to services and climate protection.

Similar efforts are underway in Europe. The European Commission’s 2011 report, Cities of Tomorrow: Challenges, Visions, Ways Forward, identified urban centers as the focal point for “places of connectivity, creativity and innovation” and proposed that “cities offer a huge potential for energy savings and a move towards a carbon-neutral economy.”

Here in the United States, many cities are already adopting initiatives which tie in with the European research efforts. San Diego, for example, is preparing for future drought conditions by constructing the largest desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere, which will create 50 million gallons of freshwater a day from ocean water. New York City is utilizing wireless cameras to collect data on traffic patterns with the hope of ending traffic jams and reducing carbon tailpipe emissions.

Making the cities of today—and of tomorrow—livable and sustainable is one of the great challenges of our time. “Cities are the testing grounds for living and working together,” says Germany Secretary of Transport, Building and Urban Development Rainer Bomba, who notes the business, scientific and political sectors are jointly responsible for developing the cities of tomorrow.

And, as they do their part, service professionals must ensure best practices are followed. AffinEco recognizes its responsibility and is working closely with its clients to determine how carbon footprints can be reduced.

“Protecting the planet is becoming the overriding issue of the day,” says Diamond. “We take our part seriously and are committed to implementing the concepts we learn at events like the World Congress. We want the cities of tomorrow to be places in which all of us can enjoy happy and healthy lives.”

(image courtesy of  fraunhofer.de)