urban heat

Monitoring urban heat islands

More than 60 million people in the US are under an excessive heat warning or heat advisory, and meteorologists say hot temperatures are likely to persist across large sections of the country for the entire Summer. Heat waves are also enveloping Europe - a clear effect of climate change and global warming.

Cities are generally warmer than rural areas, and it is increasingly important for local administrations to map the hottest neighborhoods, monitor key indicators of heat-related health risks, take action and protect vulnerable citizens and communities. However, many cities lack weather station networks that can monitor heat islands comprehensively, so they look for alternative solutions to reliably collect and correlate data about atmospheric and surface urban heat.

Several systems have been used over time for this purpose, including satellite tracking. In the 1990’s, LANDSAT TM satellite data and GIS software were used to map micro urban heat islands in Dallas, Texas, suggesting heat exposure to be significantly higher in low-income, densely populated neighborhoods. More recent research projects had similar findings: the poorest areas tend to be significantly hotter than the richest in 76% of urban US counties.

An alternative monitoring and data collection system was piloted in France by a team of researchers from the University of Toulouse. Supervised by meteorology researcher Eva Marques, their approach leverages temperature sensors in connected cars to map urban heat.

After a first experiment in the city of Toulouse, the team created temperature maps in several western European cities using a database comprising millions of car sensor measurements that manufacturers had collected for insurance purposes from 2016 to 2018. The researchers found they could reliably estimate temperature variations for spaces as small as 200 by 200 meters with fine-grained data collected at 10-second intervals. Their method proved to be effective in assessing urban heat at street level – and highly beneficial even in small cities that lack weather station networks, but nonetheless need to have reliable heat monitoring.

Crowdsourcing data is a new hope to produce and share maps with these municipalities in the years to come,” said Marques. The challenge is ensuring data consistency and quality while scaling-up pilot projects. A robust architecture for data management and analysis is also crucial, and some cities are now planning to integrate urban heat islands monitoring in new or existing smart IoT infrastructures.


interoperability

Interoperability, standards do matter

Smart Cities hold a big promise, that’s of using technology to improve quality of life, mitigate climate change effects, increase public safety, and create inclusive communities. Running this technology requires a robust network infrastructure – and the more interconnected and integrated this network is, the more it will be able to generate valuable data and feed wise decision-making and, ultimately, the smarter, more sustainable and resilient the city will be.

Sounds like a logical and simple way to go, but most City manager know the implementation may have some pitfalls. Vendor-locked, proprietary technologies are a common obstacle to the progress of smart projects, since they prevent the network to integrate a number of different devices and applications, scale up and add new functionality, exchange and share data.

How to sort this out? The watchword is interoperability.

Open standards and protocols are paramount for a city to build a forward-looking infrastructure and a mesh network to host multiple applications and grow them over time. It’s also a smart way to save money (city projects using proprietary technology cost 30 per cent more than those using open technology), reduce complexity, and avoid duplicated implementation and maintenance costs. Don’t forget that proprietary solutions typically mean impossible or expensive integration with other systems, so they also involve a higher risk of obsolescence and poor return-on-investment.

At Paradox Engineering, we are outspoken endorsers of interoperability and open standards. Our technologies support 6LoWPAN (login or register to read our paper ‘Creating truly open cities’), we are active members of the uCIFI Alliance, and we have two certified TALQ-compliant products, specifically PE Smart CMS and PE Smart Gateway.

The TALQ Consortium was founded in 2012 to define a standard protocol for outdoor lighting. Now celebrating the 10th anniversary, it has evolved as a reference framework for achieving compatibility between smart city applications. The 2.4.0 version of the Smart City Protocol was published earlier this year, and the number of certifications continue to climb.

This is good news for Smart Cities and all the ecosystem: let’s work together to create open, interoperable solutions and turn technology into an opportunity for sustainable, inclusive urban growth.


climate neutral

100 European cities invest to be climate neutral by 2030

Good news from Europe. The EU Commission has just announced that 100 cities will join a program to cut emissions and become climate neutral by 2030. The selected cities are from all 27 member states and represent about 12% of European population.

The ‘Cities Mission’ is one of the five Horizon Europe research and innovation programs for the years 2021-2027. The participating cities include Marseille in France, Dortmund in Germany, Zaragoza in Spain, Parma in Italy, Lahti in Finland, Thessaloniki in Greece, Košice in Slovakia, and many more.

They will receive a total of EUR 360 million of Horizon Europe funding to support clean mobility, energy efficiency and green urban planning, with specific investment plans about energy, buildings, waste management, and urban transportation systems.

The green transition is making its way all over Europe right now, but there’s always a need for trailblazers, who set themselves even higher goals,” said Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, while announcing the 100 selected cities.

Cities will be asked to develop ‘Climate City Contracts’ to detail their plans for climate neutrality and how they will make an impact by leveraging smart technologies or improving existing services and systems. These contracts will act as highly visible commitments, and cities will be required to engage citizens, research institutes, and private companies to share know-how and potentially spur further investments.

Cities are at the forefront in addressing the climate crisis, and this program may accelerate the energy transition and the changes Europe needs to reach climate neutrality.


congestion charges reduce car use

Congestion charges reduce car use

After London’s congestion charges, the City of Oxford is now asking non-electric vehicles to pay 10 pounds to access its historic medieval center. The decision is part of a pilot program to create a zero-emission zone and make the city cleaner, healthier and less congested.

Unsurprisingly, the charge is facing some resistance. The restricted area currently covers several of the city’s main shopping streets and some Oxford University colleges, but the plan is to expand it to around 2 miles across to almost all the city center, thus impacting workers commuting in from surrounding districts and potentially reshaping the economics of the whole city.e

Oxford is being watched as a test case for the applicability of congestion charges beyond major urban centers. But are these measures really helpful in reducing car use, mitigating traffic, and improving sustainability and air quality?

A new study carried out at the Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies in Sweden and published in Case Studies on Transport Policy, examined about 800 peer-reviewed reports and real experiences in Europe, and ranked congestion charges as the most effective way to reduce car use in cities.

According to the research, the introduction of congestion charges reduced car traffic by up to 33%, while other measures proved to be less impactful. For instance, limited traffic zones cut the transit of non-resident vehicles by 20% during the restricted hours; offering discounted or free public transport passes to workers and students made car commuters drop by up to 37%.

Parking-related measures were also scrutinized. Making parking more difficult by removing parking spaces and replacing them with walkable lanes and bike tracks was found to reduce car usage by up to 19% (that was the best result achieved in Oslo, Norway). Workplace parking charges – with workers asked to pay when parking outside their offices – led to a 20-25% reduction in employee car commutes and the corresponding shift towards public transport.

The smarter management of parking facilities may not directly contribute to getting cars out of cities, but it is undoubtedly effective in improving urban mobility and mitigating traffic. Independent studies proved that about 30% of overall road congestion is due to parking search: Smart Parking solutions allow Cities to improve drivers experience by reducing idle itineraries looking for a free spot, and related fuel consumption, air pollution, time waste and stress.

 

Want to learn more about our Smart Parking solution? Watch our video and contact our experts!


local energy communities

Local energy communities for a net zero society

In 2010-2019 average annual global greenhouse gas emissions were at their highest levels in human history, but the rate of growth has slowed. “We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make now can secure a liveable future”, said climate scientists signing latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

The scenario is gloomy, but there is increasing evidence of climate action. Cities and local governments are working hard to reduce emissions by decreasing energy consumption (think of Smart Lighting and the efforts to create compact, walkable cities), implementing low-carbon mobility systems, and enhancing reforestation. With the right policies, infrastructure, and technology in place, experts estimate lifestyles and people behaviors can be changed to achieve a 40-70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 – and these lifestyle changes will have a positive impact on health and wellbeing too.

A vital role in this energy transition may be played by local energy communities, groups of neighbor users who cooperate to satisfy their energy needs through local production sources.

Good news come from the US, where the transition to clean energy is generating environmental benefits and even good-paying jobs. In 2019, renewable energy investments reached 55 billion USD and clean energy jobs paid 25% more than the national median wage.

The U.S. Department of Energy has recently presented the first 22 local energy communities to receive targeted technical assistance and access federal government programs, including those included in the $1.3 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, to plan and invest in smart buildings, clean energy production, resilient microgrids and energy storage, carbon capture and storage systems. The selected communities include Bakersfield (California), Columbia (South Carolina), Hennepin County (Minnesota), Jackson County (Illinois), New Orleans (Louisiana), Pittsburgh - Hill District (Pennsylvania), and Questa (New Mexico) among the others.

What about Europe? According to the EU’s 2021 State of the Energy Union report, about 2 million people are participating to more than 7,700 local energy communities and contributing up to 7% of nationally installed renewable capacities. However, the context in which local energy communities operate seems to be rather complicated.

According to a recently published report by the EU-funded eNeuron project, the lack of a comprehensive regulation in the energy sector is affecting local energy communities and delaying the EU’s progress in achieving its 2050 targets.

Uncertainty about regulatory provisions is a significant barrier for investors willing to develop infrastructure assets. The landscape is further complicated by the variety of technological solutions available on both consumer and energy community level. The report considers for instance heat storage, mentioning that over 50% of the energy consumed in the EU is used for generating heat. This should be a focus application, but its current adoption is fragmented and highly ineffective.

Local energy communities have a very important role to play in the energy transition, but there is still a long way to walk before the advent of a net zero society.


IoT skills

The gap in IoT skills hinders Smart Cities

Cities acknowledge the beneficial impact of smart investments to raise productivity, create jobs, improve safety, enable sustainable growth, and make public services more efficient and accessible.

This consolidated awareness will drive technology spending on smart projects in the near future: considering 2018 as baseline, budgets worldwide are forecasted to more than double by 2023 and increase from US$81 billion to US$189.5 billion.

If public investments in advanced technologies and the infrastructure underpinning them is growing, what is preventing cities from starting or accelerating their smart journeys? Shrinking financial resources and the difficult search for additional funding are usually reported by local authorities, together with regulatory hurdles that slow down large-scale projects.

Siloed, piecemeal governance is also an issue. But even when local authorities have enough resources and a far-sighted governance, the development of smart services may experience troubles: inadequate IoT skills and technology expertise stand out as one of the most relevant barriers to the development of effective solutions.

Cities and utilities are increasingly asking for help to successfully manage their IoT projects, from the design to roll-out, up to operation and maintenance management. Expert partners and professional support services are fundamental to design and engineer smart applications, assess the necessary network infrastructure and connectivity layout, configure, and set up all solution components. Once the solution is up and running, equally important skills are needed to achieve the best possible performance from installed networks and devices, smoothly manage troubleshooting and address possible hiccups.

 

Explore how a gap in IoT skills is hindering smart projects: download our report and discover what can be done to overcome this obstacle.


interoperability smart lighting

Smart Lighting: cities should tender for interoperability

Public lighting management changed a lot since the introduction of smart IoT technologies. Remote monitoring and control are now possible, with immediate benefits in terms of power and energy bill saving, GHG emission reduction, improved maintenance and quality of service.

But how can we ensure connected streetlights benefit the city, its people and the common good? LUCI Association picked on the question in a recent paper, discussing key elements of the technical and operational framework of Smart Lighting, and the social and societal side.

Interoperability stands out as a focus topic. Cities are increasingly worried about vendor lock-in, as proprietary technologies and single-application networks suffer impossible or expensive integration with other systems, run a higher risk of obsolescence and ultimately provide a poor return-on-investment.

As LUCI Association’s paper clearly explains, the concept of interoperability in Smart Lighting comes into play in three levels. The network level is about the carrier of the communication among connected devices; the software level is about the shared language these devices need to interact. The hardware level relates to the physical devices to be interfaced, considering for instance LED luminaires, smart controllers, and environmental sensors.

As a technology provider who has always been agnostic to the application, at Paradox Engineering we focus on the development of smart IoT networks supporting a number of field devices and third-party systems, independently of the make. In a word, we head for interoperability.

Our technologies are standard-based and feature open data models: 6LoWPAN, TALQ, uCIFI Alliance, but also DALI, Nema, Zhaga are some of the industry standards you will hear the most from us.

Interoperability grants cities the flexibility to address the most pressing challenges and strategically plan for future, innovative applications. Less costs today, and no barriers when it comes to adding new devices and applications over time.

Are you ready to tender for interoperability? Contact our experts for a non-binding consultancy about smart interoperable networks for Open Cities!


road safety

Road safety in cities: smart technologies help

2020 was the deadliest year in the US for traffic crashes in over a decade, with a 7% increase in fatalities over the previous year. The unfortunate trend continued in 2021, with about 20 thousand victims in the first half of the year.

Last week, the US Department of Transportation announced a new comprehensive National Roadway Safety Strategy, a roadmap for addressing what has become a true national crisis. Adopting a “Safe System Approach”, the strategy acknowledges human mistakes in crashes, but urges the design of redundant systems and the implementation of smart technologies to make roads safer for everyone.

Generally speaking, there is a pressing need for new systems to prevent traffic accidents. Vehicles are increasingly equipped with sensors, advanced driver-assistance systems, and automatic emergency braking that improve navigation and safety. Infrastructure is also becoming more intelligent to enable traffic monitoring and control, thus contributing to accident prevention and quicker intervention when needed.

But cities are highly complex system, and there are many and competing demands placed on their transport systems. There is no single silver bullet measure, and the mix of interventions that works in one city may not be enough in another community.

According to the International Transport Forum – coordinating the ‘Safer City Streets’ initiative at the OECD since 2016 –, smart technology plays an increasingly important role in road safety and feed both accurate monitoring (think of video surveillance at critical junctions or along busy itineraries) and data-driven decisions related to traffic engineering and speed management.

The timing and configuration of traffic lights are also very important. A simple but effective example is the optimization of pedestrian intervals: real-life experiments proved that indicating “walk” to pedestrians several seconds before turning traffic gets a green light improves pedestrian safety a lot, making them more visible and decreasing the risk of being hit by a car.

Vehicles are becoming increasingly connected by devices that interact with each other and the road infrastructure. Data flows resulting from Vehicle to Everything (V2X) technologies and their interaction with the so called Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems can feed emergency braking warning, distance sensing, improper-driving detection, collision-avoidance systems, weather-related skid warnings, and optimized intersection management.

But road safety is not only about private motor vehicles and pedestrians. As micro mobility and cycle riding are on the up, cities are increasingly looking at road safety from a wider perspective. Space is being reallocated, effective parking management and curb management are needed to ensure a safe access to different urban transportation systems. Smart technologies are definitely part of the improvements being made to road infrastructure.


cascading risks

A resilient infrastructure to tackle cascading risks

The eruption of the undersea volcano in Tonga last January is an illustrative case of how cascading risks work. A disruptive event triggers another, then another, in an incremental chain that exacerbates multiple vulnerabilities becoming critical in a certain environment.

The Covid-19 pandemic made clear that crisis don’t come alone. While cities were fighting the health emergency, many of them were impacted by climate extremes – floods, droughts, cyclones – that made the existing issues of aging and inadequate urban infrastructures come to the surface and jeopardized the effort towards the economic and social recovery.

Cascading risks have become more visible in recent years, as cities can barely recover from an extreme weather event or a natural disaster, before being struck with a follow-on cybercrime attack, civil unrest, or other social disruptions.

As disruption has now become the ‘new normal’, city managers need to endorse resilience as the overarching approach to tackle cascading risks from climate change, urbanization, and digitalization.

But resilience is not something that can be achieved overnight, said Elaine Tan, Deputy Director at the Center for Livable Cities in Singapore, during a recent online event by the Resilient Cities Network and The World Bank Group.

It is paramount to reshape urban models, design and implement resilient infrastructures, leveraging smart technologies to improve the efficiency and quality of key public services (think of power and water supplies, mobility systems, law enforcement, just to mention a few) while making them resilient and accessible even in crisis times. Cascading risks will be less frightening if the city relies on a smart urban infrastructure to monitor and control critical services.

“The ‘hardware’ infrastructure resilience has got to do a lot with the community resilience, the ‘software’ side of things”, added Elaine Tan. And that’s absolutely true: there can’t be a smart resilient city without smart resilient citizens.

In this uncertain time, it is especially important for local governments to engage people, creating trust and open lines of communication and collaboration. Only cohesive communities can respond to multiple, ongoing cascading risks and thrive even in the face of adversity.


transportation equity

Inclusive cities pursue transportation equity

In the global-local effort to shape sustainable, resilient, and inclusive cities, mobility systems are at stake. There is an urgent call for transportation equity, that means designing and delivering transport systems that are safe, accessible, reliable, and affordable for all, including the mobility-underprivileged communities.

Mobility is a critical success factor for socio-economic growth, but it is still far from being equitable in many places, points out a recent white paper by the World Economic Forum, BCG and the University of St Gallen.

The report analyzes three archetypical cities and their transportation ecosystems: the car-centric Chicago in the USA, the compact middleweight Berlin in Germany, and the high-density megacity Beijing in China. Researchers warn that the pure increase of mobility infrastructure does not always improve social inclusion, as in all investigated cities the best results came when considering both transportation supply and demand.

Accurate data collection is pivotal to better understand rider demand and the specific mobility challenges affecting minorities, disabled and economically disadvantaged people. Data-driven decisions allowed cities to pilot some simple but highly effective mobility initiatives.

In Chicago, adding first- and last-mile shuttles to and from local public transit stations increased the number of jobs accessible to underserved communities by up to 90%. A scaled-up metro pass reservation system in Beijing allows people to pre-book their slot on a train and bypass queues at the station to enter the train directly, resulting in commuting times to be decreased by 29%. In Berlin, a differentiated service level on public transit, like business-class carriages on trains, increased the share of public transit trips by 11% while at the same time generating 28% higher revenue for the operator.

Looking at the 15-minute city planning concept, cities strive to reduce traffic and make life easier for drivers (including parking search), at the same time they try to strengthen public transportation systems.

But the report also suggests that transportation equity eschews the cars/public transport binary perspective. Truly inclusive cities should consider innovative, multimodal transportation solutions, where scooters, bikes, and electric vehicles play a role and contribute to safe, accessible, reliable, and affordable mobility systems for all.