Less asphalt and more silicon, zero consumption of virgin soil, sensors for air quality even in taxis and private cars, homes where omnipresent but invisible technology gives us more time to enjoy life. For Carlo Ratti, engineer, architect and lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “To make the planet more sustainable, it is necessary to start from the cities”. There are many projects, each city can do it in its own way. Needs to.
1) What environmental impact can the "intelligent" application of new technologies have in conceiving cities?
Four numbers to define the importance of cities: 2-50-75-80. Globally, cities are only 2% of the planet's surface, but they host 50% of the population and are responsible for 75% of energy consumption and 80% of carbon dioxide emissions. This means that to make the planet more sustainable it is necessary to start from the cities.
2) How, for example?
There are many experiments around the world, at the Senseable City Laboratory of the Massachusetts institute of technology (MIT) in Boston we are carrying out some projects in this regard.
Trash Track it is a system that, through electronic labels, allows you to remotely follow the path of garbage samples. We have found that not all waste is directed to the most appropriate recycling plants and that some samples travel unnecessarily for miles and miles. The information collected on over 3000 objects ensures more correct disposal and helps spread awareness among citizens.
Another project is underway in Singapore, where we have a new headquarters. It is based on the collection of information in real time to be shared with citizens: the route to get home first, updated and neighborhood-friendly weather, how to find a taxi, energy consumption.
There is no single model, however. Copenhagen, for example, is developing interesting projects regarding sustainability, Singapore works a lot on mobility.
3) What characteristics for the houses of the future?
At first glance, the city of tomorrow it won't be much different than today. Like the Romans of 2000 years ago we need horizontal planes on which to move and windows that protect us from the elements. However, what will change the most tomorrow will be the way of experiencing space, thanks to new forms of information sharing.
For designers, new scenarios are opening up, in which architecture does not only deal with built "shells", but makes computer science and social sciences dialogue in the name of a paradox: an omnipresent but invisible technology, which exists precisely because we can forget about it and focus on the things that matter: a simpler life, a pleasant environment, and the ability to build a rich social fabric.
4) At the urban level, if a city could be studied at the table, what precautions and techniques? And how to intervene on already existing cities?
There is a great opportunity for existing cities, especially in Italy. Let's think for example of the historic centers that the whole world envies us, or of a city like Venice, which could never have adapted to the imperatives of the industry of the last century, while it can easily accommodate today's technologies: networks, sensors, street lamps, canopies, monitors, new energy distribution systems. These are interventions that bring together the physical world and the digital world, according to the idea ofubiquitous computing (or ubicomp) developed in the 1980s by American computer scientist Mark Weiser.
Modelsmart city it is a very important opportunity for our country. In a nation where the population does not grow and housing standards do not change (indeed, as a result of the crisis, the per capita surface area of housing could be reduced), it is no longer possible to think about expanding urban areas as in the last century: in addition to consuming unnecessarily virgin territory (greenfield, as they say in English) this inevitably translates into the emptying of the areas already built up, exposing them to the risk of degradation.
The challenge of the next few years will instead be to enhance the existing heritage, correcting the urban planning errors of the last century and using new technologies. An example is traffic: we already have cars that drive themselves or networks that allow us not to waste time and gasoline looking for a parking space. Many of the problems are solved by making better use of the infrastructures that already exist. With less asphalt and more silicon.
5) What are the main technologies to focus on in order to have cities with better quality of life and healthier environmental conditions?
In general, ICT technologies. In urbanized territories we are witnessing a new phenomenon: the bits of the network merge with the atoms of the material world. Cities, covered with sensors and electronic networks, are turning into computers in the open air. It can be said that the internet is invading physical space, a phenomenon that often goes by the name "smart city". This evolution has also affected other realities and today we are at the onset of a hybrid dimension, between the digital world and the material world, which is transforming our way of life.
Take, for example, Formula 1 races: twenty years ago, a good engine and a good driver were needed to win; today there is a need for a telemetry system, based on the collection of data by thousands of sensors placed on the machine and on their processing in real time. In a similar way, today's cities allow us to collect an unprecedented amount of information, which can then be transformed into responses by the inhabitants or the public administration.
6) Specifically, to reduce air pollution in cities, are there any special technologies or measures that can be applied in a relatively short time?
One of the projects we are working on is based precisely on the distribution of many air quality sensors in the city, which can also be mounted on taxis, private vehicles.
7) Senseable City Lab: what is it about? what are your goals and what are you working on?
It is a research group that deals with how new technologies are transforming the city. We are about forty people distributed between Boston and the new Singapore office. The architectural and urban projects, on the other hand, are carried out by the office Carlorattiassociati, which is based in Turin, Boston and London.
Interview byMarta Abbà