Among the challenges of designing smarter cities is how to integrate existing infrastructure and architecture into a new, more intelligent design. Each smart city initiative must be carefully customized to the specifics of the location, bearing in mind not just climate and sun exposure but also existing buildings and cultural practices. Even though this process can be time and labor intensive, it is almost always preferable to destroying historic cities in the name of progress.

Part of the allure of planned smart cities, such as the one in Songdo, South Korea, is that they aren’t burdened by history. Yet these top-down cities are rarely as attractive to real residents in real life as they are in computer simulations and promotional videos.

Occasionally, there are projects that offer a middle ground, when a location has proven appeal but the infrastructure isn’t worth preserving. This week, in addition to other smart city news, we’ll look at a project in Cyprus that aims to turn an abandoned seaside city into a model eco-town after 40 years of neglect. We’ll also tell you about Chinese Internet speeds, Mexican bike vests and smarter electricity networks.

— Emily Liedel

In Newcastle, England, a pilot project with Siemens has outfitted all of the city’s ambulances with displays that communicate with traffic signals and give each vehicle customized recommendations about how fast to drive, so that they can get to their destination as fast as possible. The program director estimates that it has led to a 10% reduction in travel time, Hamburger Handelsblatt reports (German). In the future, similar technology could be used to help mitigate traffic for all vehicles in the city.
“Cities should also learn from each other,” German smart cities researcher Joerg Firnkorn said in an interview with with (French). Toward that end, he recommends Citymart, a platform that allows cities to share best practices with one another.

A group of students in Mexico has developed Safe Ride, a smart vest for cyclists. The vest is outfitted with LED lights that are illuminated when the biker moves his or her arm to indicate a turn, as well as with regular lights for visibility, Dinero En Imagen reports (Spanish). There is also a sensor that can detect when the bike experiences a change in acceleration — in the case of an accident, for example — and notify through Twitter those who are hooked into the program .
The Cypriot city of Varosha was once the “pearl” of the island, with white sand and crystal clear water. But in 1974, when Cyprus was invaded by the Turkish army, Varosha was sealed to the world and its residents were evicted. After 40 years of neglect, the city is deteriorating. One former resident, though, wants to see it rebuilt as a model eco-city, i24 News reports (French). The idea is to create a smart city that takes advantage of the island’s natural resources and uses thoughtful design to avoid many of the mistakes in urban planning that were common in Cyprus.

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