Smarter Cities

Smart Cities International: Berlin Brainbox, Digital Kiev, Smart Siberia

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Bogota's Transmilenio bus system
Bogota's Transmilenio bus system
Emily Liedel

While historically cities have tended to develop haphazardly, there is now a general consensus that a city benefits if it evolves according to a guiding vision. And the smarter the vision, the better the evolution. But we all know that beyond the intelligence, there are competing agendas: Like with any complex system, the rules and regulations for transportation, housing, businesses and everything else are shaped by the opinions and interests of the people making them.


This week, in addition to other smart city news, we will look at two perspectives on who does â€" and does not â€" typically benefit from the choices made by cities planners, with regards to class, gender and age. Along the way, we’ll also look at a new way to visualize cities’ futures and how some hope open data can help eventually eliminate corruption.


â€" Emily Liedel

​

VISUALIZING THE FUTURE

In Berlin, there is a new way to envision our future cities: the Brainbox. The Brainbox looks a bit like an art installation. It is about ten meters high, and the interior walls can be used as screens where videos or three-D models of the city are projected. In the center is a large table that doubles as a touchscreen and can be used to discuss city planning, Berliner Zeitung reports (German). But to its creator, the Brainbox is about much more than a new way for planners to visualize the city: He hopes the Brainbox will be permanently located somewhere where the public can access and interact with the models of the future â€" as well as use it audio/video capabilities for other purposes, like music and dance shows.

VERBATIM

“We are all ready to share our data. What's important is that citizens know when and to what ends the data is being used,” Arvind Satyam, an expert in business development and the Internet of Things at CISCO Systems, told Atelier.net (French). Satyam added that he thought people now believe that sharing their data has real benefits for themselves and society, particularly regarding traffic management.

SMART KIEV

The Ukrainian capital has major plans to transform into a smart city, though much is still on the drawing board as the conflict with neighboring Russia continues. But a first step has been taken, which has real political implications: Kiev is set to begin releasing its municipal budget electronically, in a format that is easy for citizens to access, Kiev Vlast reports (Russian). The mayor of Kiev says that this system is above all aimed at helping to eradicate corruption.

HOW URBAN PLANNING CAN HELP OR HARM THE POOR

Urban planning does not necessarily have a clear history of making life better for Africa’s poor. In fact, it is often just the opposite. For decades, urban planning models adapted from Europe were used as justification for evicting millions of residents in informal settlements, and were generally seen as a weapon for the rich to wield against the poor. But the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Nairobi hopes to change that, and to focus on using the tools of urban planning to improve the lot for the poorest inhabitants in the city, Africa Research Institute reports. Nairobi will soon be announcing its new master city plan â€" the first since 1973 â€" with a stated aim of treating the needs of the most destitute as a central concern, not a peripheral annoyance.

SPOTLIGHT BOGOTA

Bogota has been making news in terms of human-friendly development, becoming a leader not only in Latin America but in the world. The city recently transitioned its bus system to a smart, rapid-bus-transit system called the Transmilenio, and is planning construction on a metro system. Bogota has also 376 kilometers of bike routes and a network of streets that close to cars on Sundays.

SUBSTANDARD LANDFILLS

Experts say that there are more than 10,000 unregulated, illegal landfills in urban areas around China. The country faces apathy among local officials about waste-collection and a lack of political will to dedicate funds towards cleaning up landfills and ensuring well-regulated capacity to handle the trash volume, Caixin reports(Chinese). Too often in the illegal sites, heavy metals seep into the soil and groundwater, emit noxious fumes and are an explosion hazard. So far, Beijing is the only Chinese city to face the problem â€" and even the capital hasn’t cleared all illegal landfills, though it started to clear them in 2006, before the Olympics. Beijing also still doesn’t sent 100% of new trash to legal landfills, so new illegal ones are popping up even as the old ones are cleared or improved.

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Future

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.


But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

commons.wikimedia.org

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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