By Robert Hickson 25/08/2017

There is a great deal of interest, and investment, in developing “smart” cities (and here, here, and here). That is, creating sensor networks to monitor human activities, traffic, waste, water, and environmental conditions to optimise city services and make cities more pleasant places to be in.

But there is more to (re)designing cities (and towns) than remaking them simply as computers or sensor networks.

As we have seen here recently, managing inundations can be a big problem, and may get worse if “extreme” weather events become more common. Putting in more, or bigger, pipes to handle storm water will be expensive, slow, and disruptive.

Berlin and other cities are taking an ecological track to make the urban environment better able to absorb and reuse what falls from the sky, and what’s in the air. They are making metropolitan areas more sponge-like.


Channelling some of that water to urban vertical farms (or even urban fish farms) could also be a productive use of what is currently a problem.

Other research is also quantifying the economic benefits of having more trees in cities.

Living, not just “smart”, cities are the future. It is not just about optimising information (and transport) flows. Future urban environments shouldn’t just be about ICT, but about ecology, architecture, and people too.


Update: The flooding in Houston tragically illustrates the importance of having sponge-like capacity in and round cities.

Update 2, 5 Nov: See/hear RNZ’s Insight programme on waterproofing NZ cities.


Featured image by Dmitri Popov on Unsplash