air pollution

Air pollution: you can’t manage what you don’t measure

Air pollution is a major threat. According to the World Health Organization, it affects 99% of the world’s population and represents one of the three main causes of premature morbidity, resulting in nearly 7 million deaths globally in 2022.

Soot (fine particulate matter air pollution, PM 2.5) is among the most hazardous pollutants and many countries around the world have specific regulations in place. In Europe, the Zero Pollution Action Plan set the ambitious goal of having an environment free of harmful pollution by 2050 and cutting the annual limit value for PM 2.5 by more than half by 2030.

The United States has made major progress in reducing air pollution thanks to the Clean Air Act, but about 20.9 million people still live in areas exceeding current legal limits. A few weeks ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed to strengthen the annual soot standard from a level of 12 micrograms to 9-10 micrograms per cubic meter, reflecting the latest scientific evidence to better protect public health.

However, the environmental organization NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) found that 118 US counties out of the 190 with average soot levels within current legal limits completely lack soot monitoring systems. “This area is home to more than 8 million people. This lack of local data collection reduces the accuracy of federal air quality forecasting […] and deprives people of crucial information they can use to better understand local air quality and protect their health”, writes the NRDC.

Can you manage air pollution if you don’t measure it? The answer is obviously no.

Governments and cities need real-time, localized, and accurate data about air quality – but also about temperature, urban heat, humidity, noise, and more – to watch changing environmental conditions and their impact on people’s health, while ensuring compliance with sustainability targets and regulations. Being environmental sensors a mature technology, nowadays they can turn from simple monitoring tools into the enablers of decision-making processes for healthier, safer, and more liveable cities.

 

Eager to learn how air quality and environmental sensors can contribute to citizen-centric, safe, and climate resilient urban communities? Watch our webinar – available on demand, free registration required – to have insights from Jaromir Beranek (City of Prague), Guillermo del Campo (CEDINT-UPM, University of Madrid), and Julia Arneri Borghese (Paradox Engineering).

Any question? Don’t hesitate to contact us!


zero waste cities

How to improve garbage collection in zero waste cities

The effort to reduce waste and increase recycling dates back to the late 1990s, when keywords such as ‘circular economy’ were yet to come. As climate change mitigation became a priority for national and local governments, the early 2000s saw a growing hype towards ‘zero waste’, an idea that the Zero Waste International Alliance officially defined as “the conservation of all resources (…) without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health”.

The ambitious goal was picked up by cities in the 2010s, given the improvement of solid waste management and recycling was acknowledged as one of the most effective ways to cut carbon footprint at local level. Policies and actual measures to achieve the zero-waste target (in most cases, it is set as a 90% diversion rate or higher) vary a lot, with many communities pausing or hindering their efforts during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In Europe, Barcelona has recently committed to becoming a zero waste city by increasing separate waste collection rate to 67% by 2027 (the European average is about 48%) and reducing garbage generation per capita to 427 kg per year by 2027. The German Munich is walking a similar path, with local waste management company AWM acting to cut waste from households per capita to 310 kg per year by 2035 and reduce municipal garbage in landfills and waste incineration to a feasible minimum.

In the US, even cities with a stagnant recycling performance such as Chicago are hurrying up. Organics recycling was the initial focus of educational events and programs (composting systems were offered to community gardens to give residents an option for dropping off food scraps and use finished compost), but the city is also rethinking collection services to make them more efficient and effective.

Solid urban collection is indeed a pain point for many cities, which struggle to assess the best possible frequency and routes to ensure an adequate quality of service (bins to be emptied when and where needed) with cost and operational efficiency.

Here is where Smart Waste solutions can help. IoT-based technologies allow trash bins to be remotely connected and monitored, with data showing the fill level and the date and time of the latest collection, and generating alerts in case of fire, vandalism, or unauthorised bin movements.

By analysing bin-generated data, and correlating it through an intelligent routing software, waste operators can predict when containers will need emptying and dispatch trucks when really needed, or when the city prefers. This improves the quality of collection, generates efficiency and savings, and adds relevant benefits in terms of health, safety, and liveability – even in cities heading towards zero waste.

 

Want to learn more about PE Smart Urban Network and how we help cities and utilities enhance solid waste management? Contact our Smart Waste experts!


Smart buildings are pivotal for carbon neutral cities

Smart buildings for carbon neutral cities

Residents in New York City, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Boston and St. Louis should better pay attention to local regulations limiting large buildings’ greenhouse gas emissions and energy usage. As reported by Smart Cities Dive, these five cities will soon start to fine building owners who fail to comply with newly enacted or updated rules.

In New York, fines will start in 2024 for commercial buildings larger than 25,000 gross square feet exceeding the GHG emission limits set by the Climate Mobilization Act. San Francisco unveiled the goal of zero GHG emissions from large buildings by 2035, while specific emission and energy consumption standards will apply in Washington D.C. for privately owned buildings larger than 50,000 square feet starting 2026.

The decarbonization of buildings is a multifaceted challenge and, despite the urgent call for climate action in cities, it seems like the gap between building performance and the decarbonization targets is widening. According to the latest report by the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction, in 2021 operational energy demand for heating, cooling, lighting and equipment in buildings increased by around 4% from 2020 and 3% from 2019.

The building sector is seeking sustainable innovation. The use of alternative materials is increasingly explored, together with the integration of energy generation systems and CO2 capture and storage technologies. Today, a growing number of large buildings features IoT-enabled Building Management Systems (BMS) to monitor and control key equipment for lighting, heating, cooling, and video surveillance, as well as occupancy levels and operational effectiveness.

Tenants, building owners, and management operators can benefit from connected sensors, algorithms, and advanced analytics to live and work in a safer and more efficient environment. Lights are automatically switched off or dimmed if nobody is around, heating and cooling are adjusted to minimize power consumption without compromising individual comfort. These Smart Buildings technologies are successful in minimizing the environmental impact and the consumption of natural resources such as energy and water.

Energy-efficient buildings also generate cost saving opportunities and are even more inclusive. Think of automated door opening, voice control devices, and fall detection systems, providing easier accessibility for disabled people.

Smart buildings are pivotal for carbon neutral cities, said the UN Environment Programme during recent COP27 Climate Summit. Let’s not forget the building sector accounts for over 34% of overall energy demand and around 37% of energy and process-related CO2 emissions.


parking hubs

Multiservice parking hubs

Let’s put aside the idea of parking facilities as locations to merely leave your car while working in the office or going shopping. As urban mobility habits change, parking operators are turning existing and new facilities into multipurpose parking hubs, where drivers can take advantage of a variety of services.

The trend is now emerging in the US, Japan, and South-East Asia, starting from large car parks close to city centers, airports, railway stations, and office buildings. Car maintenance services can frequently be found: you park your car and have it recharged or refueled, washed, or serviced by an expert mechanic, an autobody repairman, or a tire specialist.

You can find micromobility options such as bikes and scooters to cover your last mile. But new parking hubs also offer delivery services to get your shopping directly into your car boot, take-away restaurants to grab your food, and small stores for essential goods.

Parking hubs will be less about car parking and more about user experience, say industry analysts. Drivers will appreciate the possibility to save time and access useful services, at the same time parking operators will increase average occupancy and open new revenue streams.

Vehicle detection technologies are pivotal to monitor and control parking hubs. Parking sensors are the simplest, cost-effective and reliable way to detect if a space is occupied by a vehicle, and parking data feed mobile apps, variable message panels and traffic guidance systems to provide real-time availability information, advanced booking and payment for parking and the other services.

As parking hubs tend to grow vertically rather than horizontally, their robotization may be close by. We may soon have fully automated facilities, with scan technologies and mobile platforms: the driver leaves the car at the entrance gate, and it is moved to the most convenient space according to the planned duration of the stop. Pilot projects demonstrated this multiplies by four the number of parked vehicles and significantly reduces bumps and vandalism.


climate adaptation

World Cities Day 2022: climate adaption for a global sustainable future

The upcoming COP27 climate summit, starting November 6th in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, does not welcome good news. Scientific evidence shows that the planet’s warming is accelerating and 2022 will rank among the 10 warmest years on record. Although countries are bending the curve of global greenhouse gas emissions downward, their efforts remain insufficient, and the world is on track for around 2.5 degrees Celsius of warming by the end of the century, well above the recommended threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

COP27 is expected to discuss and find solutions in five key action areas specifically nature, food, water, industry decarbonization, and climate adaptation. Let’s focus on the last one, climate adaptation.

About 3.3 billion people live in highly fragile climate contexts, and the most vulnerable communities – who are least responsible for climate change – are directly and massively impacted. At COP27, climate adaptation will be at the center of talks, calling for cities to play a big, decisive role.

Act Local to Go Global” is indeed the theme of World Cities Day 2022, celebrating today (October 31st) and recognizing the critical role of urban areas in achieving a global sustainable future. "We have only about 87 months, 380 weeks or 2600 days left to implement the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. The best way to do so is by ensuring our cities and communities are sustainable. Time to act is now,” said Maimunah Mohd Sharif, UN Under Secretary General and Executive Director of UN-Habitat.

“Across a range of critical goals from poverty and hunger to gender equality and education we are not seeing progress, but backsliding. The consequences are dramatic: escalating climate chaos, growing poverty, rising inequalities, and more. We must change course and we can. This year’s theme of World Cities Day highlights how: ‘Act Local to Go Global.’ The goals are global in scope, but implementation is local. And that means implementation happens largely in cities”, echoed UN Secretary General, António Guterres.

How can cities locally act for climate adaptation? The Global Commission on Adaptation suggest the implementation of early warning systems, climate-resilient infrastructure, and nature-based solutions, leveraging smart technologies to strengthen efforts and maximize results. The same Commission estimated that a global investment of $1.8 trillion globally in climate adaptation measures could generate $7.1 trillion in total net benefits by 2030.

 

Looking for innovative solutions to turn your city in a sustainable, climate-resilient community? PE Smart Urban Network can contribute to saving up to 80% power and related GHG emissions in streetlighting, improve parking management and solid waste collection, integrate sensors for effective environmental monitoring, disaster prevention and emergency support. Join us at Smart City Expo World Congress (Barcelona, 15-17 November 2022) to learn more and enjoy live demonstrations!


New 'decide and provide' model for urban planning

Time to ‘decide and provide’

Can you imagine what your city will look like in ten, thirty, or fifty years? How will the community evolve, and which services will be mostly asked? No need to gaze into the crystal ball. This kind of questions are normally directed to city planners, who rely on different data sources and their expertise to develop land use plans and programs, accommodate population growth, and advise how to shape public services for better urban living.

‘Predict and provide’ is one of the conventional models for city planning. Basically, if you want to foretell the impact of a certain action, investigate what happened in the past under similar circumstances, and decide accordingly. The approach is specifically used in transport planning, where past traffic trends are leveraged to determine the future need for mobility infrastructures.

But transport planners are precisely the ones who highlighted the limit of this model: if your decisions are based on past behaviors, you are maintaining the status quo, thus perpetuating the historical dependence on cars that has been affecting cities for years.

New mobility habits are emerging after Covid-19, with people looking for more walkable communities and decentralised cities. The 15-minute city planning concept is taking off, together with a renewed idea of proximity. Should urban planners change their game?

In the UK, the Oxfordshire County Council is piloting a new approach, called ‘decide and provide’. The idea behind it is to define your preferred vision and then provide the means to work towards that, of course with some flexibility to accommodate the uncertainty of the future.

Oxfordshire aims at creating a net zero transport system by 2040. A few weeks ago, the council’s cabinet approved new requirements for transport planning that will discourage unnecessary private vehicle use and make walking, cycling, public and shared transport the first choice for people living and working in the area.

The ‘decide and provide’ approach will be acted when, for instance, planners acknowledge a certain scheme will lead to an increase in private cars. As this scenario should not be favored, they will be forced to find alternative solutions for quality, sustainable and active travel arrangements. In the medium-long run, the model should help the county council focus investments on inclusive, integrated, and sustainable transport networks.

Data are – and will continue to be – the necessary foundation for evidence-based decisions, but nowadays city planning should be driven by a far-sighted vision to act for the good of people and communities, improving wellbeing and setting the scene for future growth and development.


cities in the metaverse

Cities in the metaverse

You may think it is just the latest marketing hype or technology buzzword, but the metaverse is getting increasing attention by city leaders who are eager to know how their communities may take advantage of it.

The metaverse – as the next evolution of the internet integrating physical and digital experiences – is set to potentially improve city services and urban life, if deployed well.

In South Korea, Seoul announced its ambitions back in November 2021 and planned huge investments about it. The local government has recently released the beta version of “Metaverse Seoul and aims to have a full environment for all public services by 2026. The first official release is scheduled for the end of this year, as soon as feedback collection and bug fixing steps are completed.

Other projects are on their way. In China, Shanghai aims to cultivate a USD 52 billion metaverse industry by 2025, while Guangzhou is establishing a metaverse industry zone and launching specific measures and funding options to boost local human capital, R&D, and technology developments. In the UAE, Dubai is implementing a “Metaverse Strategy” to become one of the world’s top 10 metaverse economies. Key pillars are augmented and virtual reality, as well as digital twins to provide a virtual representation of places, objects, and systems.

The National League of Cities urged municipal governments in US to learn more about the metaverse and what enables it. Technologies like blockchain and the Internet of Things are foundational and many cities around the world are already leveraging them to better manage public services and improve livability.

Immersive applications include the hosting of cultural and sports events, virtual city halls to allow residents have lifelike interactions with city officials and departments, virtual commercial districts, and more.

These use cases may be just the beginning of a broader trend. By 2026, 25% of people will spend at least one hour a day in the metaverse for work, shopping, education, social, or entertainment, says Gartner. Around 30 per cent of the world’s organizations will have metaverse products and services, feeding an economy that Citi estimates around UDS 13 trillion.


green roofs in London

Smart buildings and green roofs

There are about 45 million smart buildings globally, but they will reach 115 million by 2026, says Juniper Research. This growth of over 150% reflects increasing demand for energy efficiency, as energy costs spike and calls for sustainability get stronger.

Smart buildings – specifically buildings that use smart technologies to monitor and control key equipment for lighting, heating, cooling, video surveillance, etc. – are designed to create a safer and more comfortable environment for occupants, while minimizing the environmental impact and the consumption of natural resources such as energy and water.

Non-residential smart buildings are projected to account for 90% of smart buildings’ global spend in 2026. According to analysts, this is due to the inferior complexity and the larger economies of scale in managing government or commercial premises. Smart technologies are increasingly implemented in schools and universities, hospitals and care houses, airports and shopping malls.

In the US, the Biden-Harris Administration has just announced the new Climate Smart Buildings Initiative, which will leverage public-private partnerships to modernize federal facilities through energy savings performance contracts and achieve up to 2.8 million metric tons of GHG reductions annually by 2030. The overall investments are also expected to support nearly 80,000 jobs.

In addition to the installation of smart sensors and related intelligent management platforms for energy efficiency purposes, smart buildings can contribute to the mitigation of urban heat islands. We know that temperatures tend to be higher in cities than in surrounding areas due to the heat absorption and retention of materials like asphalt and concrete. The replacement of tar and other dark-colored materials used in roofing for several decades is nowadays recommended, but “green roofs” filled with plants and greenery are becoming popular to fight the extreme city heat.

Architectural formats are popping out in many cities around the world – see for instance the Vertical Forest by Stefano Boeri in Milan, Italy, or the about 700 green roofs mapped in London, UK.

But not all green roofs are equally effective: their success in reducing temperatures depends on the diversity of the plants used, location and other factors. Climate scientists from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies monitored and compared different green roof sites in Chicago, US, and found that sites with larger, intensive green roofs accompanied by diverse plant species have greater cooling benefits than the extensive, monoculture ones.

Nevertheless, as global heating and urban heat islands intensify, green roofs will become all the more important, and turning existing buildings into smart buildings will also be greatly beneficial for carbon neutral and climate resilient cities.


super-ageing society calls for smart technologies

The super-ageing society calls for smart technology options

Japan is aging fast. In a country that is home to a record 80,000 centenarians, about 29% of the population is 65 or older, and by 2036 elderly people will represent a third of the population. The super-ageing society is not a Japan-only issue, of course.

Trends in Europe are not too far behind Japan. In the UK, there are now more people aged 65 and over in England and Wales than children aged under 15. Senior people have surged by 20% over the past decade. In the US, about 10,000 people daily turn 65 and the percentage of people over the age of 85 is predicted to double to 14 million by 2040, in part because Americans are living longer. In 2050, 84 million elderly people will live in America.

Who Will Care for America’s Elderly?”, titles Politico.com. Though question, particularly when the labor shortage gripping US workforce across industries is felt most acutely in healthcare: 400,000 nursing home and assisted living staff quit their jobs since January 2020 due to pandemic exhaustion, low salaries and limited career opportunities.

The debate around AgeTech – technology designed to meet the needs of older adults and those who care for them – turns up and intersects the growing focus on P4 medicine, now P5, as a predictive, personalized, preventive, participatory and precision discipline. This patient-centered care approach leverages latest digital and sensor-based technologies, artificial intelligence and robotics to support diagnosis, treatment and assistance.

Bed sensor systems are increasingly used in hospitals, clinics, nursing, and care houses: they do not replace nursing staff but can ease the burden on personnel and make some routine tasks quicker and simpler, with benefits for patients too. By integrating high-precision sensors to measure some vital parameters and referential body weight, these solutions contribute to the effective monitoring of patients' conditions, save some workload of the nursing staff and spare the recipients' inconvenience.

IoT-based platforms for remote, non-invasive patient monitoring may also be used for seniors and patients who are assisted at home. They may benefit from continued and reliable medical care without leaving their homes and enjoying some independence.

AgeTech and smart technologies are not the silver bullet for the super-ageing society, but they can make longevity somewhat more comfortable and support medical care when needed.


Trust, city of Boston pilot project

Transparency in Smart Cities to regain trust

The city of Barcelona in Spain is testing drones to improve the management of its beaches and estimate their capacity in real time. Don’t worry – as the bid for the drones clearly states – the image processing system anonymizes those caught in the picture, thereby rights and freedoms of individuals are fully safeguarded.

Privacy and data protection are more and more important for people. Surveillance technologies, as well as any other digital urban system, are increasingly subject to public scrutiny as citizens want to know who and what is being monitored, which data are being collected, how they are treated, which levels of security are provided.

Public trust is crucial for the success of any smart technology project related to public assets, infrastructures, and spaces. That’s why many cities are engaging their communities in the early design stages, well before technology is procured and installed. The more information is proactively disclosed about project goals, systems to be implemented, and data to be collected, the easier it should be to build consensus and public acceptance.

Of course, the road may not go all downhill – but at least the city should not experience what happened in San Diego, US, where in 2019 citizens learnt that the city had quietly installed surveillance cameras on 3,000 smart streetlights three years earlier. Cameras were immediately switched off, but the vocal controversy about tech governance and privacy protection has not ended yet.

A simple way to be transparent is making technology somehow visible. Sounds a little counterintuitive, but it proved to be effective. The city of Boston piloted DTPR, an open-source communication standard for digital technologies in shared spaces, and placed recognizable icons where connected sensors were active, encouraging citizens to learn more about them by scanning a QR code. The initiative was highly appreciated as part of Boston’s efforts to ensure data collection in the public realm inspires resident trust, engagement, and satisfaction.

But reassuring people about privacy and data management is not enough to gain trust. Let’s consider an additional element, that is effectiveness. Citizens and stakeholders want to know if targets are reached, which results are achieved, how smart technologies contributed to a safer, more sustainable, and livable community. The accurate measurement of key metrics is therefore pivotal: without proper reporting, cities will have trouble in managing and maintaining trust in digital technologies over time.

 

Image credit: City of Boston, DTPR signage at Tremont and Boylston streets