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Open House: Smarter cities, smarter thinking

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This year’s conference centred on the cohesive development of our cities

Delegates from BDP, Hawkins Brown, Nicholas Hare Architects, Pick Everard and Foster + Partners were among those present at the second day of the Open House Worldwide Conference 2012 hosted by CBRE in London.

Founder Victoria Thornton noted that international members of the growing Open House family, including New York and Tel-Aviv were also present, for a day focused on how we create ‘smart cities’ that blend technology with design innovation while addressing pressing social agendas.

Founder Victoria Thornton said Philadelphia hopes to join the 22-strong Open House family

Founder Victoria Thornton said Philadelphia hopes to join the 22-strong Open House family

It was apt that the day’s proceedings started with Rashik Parmar, President of IBM Academy of Technology, because the term ‘smart cities’ has emerged from the world of IT.

He focused on the importance of people within cities and suggested that using analytic technology can support the sustainability agenda, as demonstrated by the IBM example of Rio de Janero’s intelligent Operations Centre, where traffic accident delays are reduced from one hour to ten minutes.

IBM's Operations Centre in Rio keeps the city moving. Credit: C40 cities

IBM’s Operations Centre in Rio keeps the city moving. Credit: C40 cities

From her work within Arup’s Smart Cities, Lean Doody described cities as ‘engines of innovation’ that allow people to interact in an efficient manner. San Francisco was highlighted as one of many key cities where technological innovations are creating smart places to live and work. The city has reduced carbon emissions and congestion through the introduction of a parking app. Sensors fitted into every parking space within the city allow residents to monitor available spaces, reducing block-circling car emissions and also generating traffic data that can inform future development.

San Francisco's parking utility 'SFPark'

San Francisco’s online parking utility and app - ‘SFPark’

Space Syntax’s Tim Stonor presented his thoughts on the importance of space in his presentation ‘Human City’. He noted that the key failure many historical masterplans is that they are rarely realised in their entirety. Careful incremental development, however, provides the opportunity to learn and improve upon past failings and could be the path to smarter progress.

Space Syntax's work on spatial accessibility in Tokyo

Space Syntax’s work on spatial accessibility in Tokyo

The current compartmentalisation of our cities can cause a discontinuous flow that exaggerates the need for fossil fuels, by the increased consumption of stop-start traffic. Ensuring good connectivity in road and transport networks is of paramount importance to social, economic, cultural and intellectual transaction, which are the main purposes of the city and should influence its design.

Shifting his focus to the world’s informal urban population - which is set to triple by 2050 - Stonor said it is vital to mitigate the current trend of informal settlements being ‘locally connected and globally disconnected’ and create diverse cities that work better for their inhabitants.

Edward Glaeser's 'Triumph of the City' echoes many of Tim Stonor's points

Edward Glaeser’s Triumph of the City elaborates many of Tim Stonor’s points

He encouraged speculation about how we might design for challenges which we don’t yet know of; those which the planet has never faced before. He predicted that cities will be vital to answering these challenges, and must be seamlessly designed to provide and enhance serendipitous interaction between people.

Arup director Malcolm Smith used case studies such as the localised heat networks of London Thames Gateway to emphasise that we must be inherently smart and design integrated and measurable places that people can afford to be in and, importantly, want to stay in.

The London Thames Gateway network Vision Map shows the proposed heat network along with other existing and planned networks

The London Thames Gateway network Vision Map shows the proposed heat network along with other existing and planned networks

Overall it was inspiring to hear a range of speakers from diverse backgrounds come together in a conference that looked beyond architecture’s immediate sphere of influence. In order to tackle the future pressures of climate change, environmental disaster, terrorism, and population growth, we need to work towards smarter, cohesive redevelopment of our cities.

The city is a site for economic and social transaction

The city is a site for economic and social transaction

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