President of the board of APA Group
Technological progress is extremely fast, to the point where it’s hard to keep up. Every year new projects emerge, aimed to revolutionise our life and change the way we use urban space. And what about us? We seek through the Internet and the industry media in search of ideas that, as with the touch of a magic wand, will get rid of traffic jams, reduce smog, and facilitate urban transport. Unfortunately, we tend to forget that we did the exact same thing last year, and we focus on searching for new solutions instead of developing and implementing the current ones.
Why is that? Why are we so obsessed with reinventing the wheel? Why, even though we know perfectly well how a smart city should look like and function, we are yet to create one? We even have the necessary technology at our disposal!
The true barriers are the current legal regulations, economic costs, coordination of activities on a national scale, lack of time, and even ourselves; more specifically, our habits, fears, lack of consistency in activities, and insufficient knowledge. Instead of focusing on measures that would break through the boundaries and help us implement the new technology, we search for the ideal solutions – ones that would work here and now, ideally without our help.
The trends presented herein won’t change our reality if we won’t change our approach. As much as we believe in them, we do realise that without proper education, new mindset, and overall change of society’s attitude, the trends will remain nothing more than ideas. This is exactly the current state of a smart city.
1. Scooters and electric motor scooters.
Our cities are crowded and polluted. The solution to this may be electromobility. While there are still many limitations concerning electric cars – e.g. high purchase costs, lack of charging infrastructure – smaller electric vehicles, currently gaining popularity in American and European cities, may really catch on. More specifically, we’re talking about scooters and motor scooters rented on a minute-by-minute basis through an app. We got used to Uber and Lyft, now it’s time for Bird, Lime, and JedenŚlad. You don’t have to buy them, you don’t need to pay for their parking – you don’t even need a driving license to drive on! Those vehicles, based on share economy idea, are for now used mostly by couriers and food delivery services, but we may soon see more of them on our streets.
The only catch? Our society – are we ready to share property, use the vehicles as intended, and park them safely? Looking at reports from the West, where some scooters even ended up in the ocean, we’re not so sure about that. As a measure against such acts, China has introduced a point-based Social Trust System, rewarding law-abiding citizens and penalising the not-so-much ones. Sounds like a “Black Mirror” episode, doesn’t it? Do we really want to go there?
2. Smart multi-level car parks
The urban space has become filled with cars. They are everywhere, robbing pedestrians of their sidewalks and fighting for every last inch of parking space. It is estimated that in Katowice – one of the most traffic-jammed cities in Poland – there are more cars than inhabitants, and the number of parking spaces doesn’t really change. Should we build more, simultaneously giving up even more space in favour of the machines? This is a dead-end road.
Fortunately, there is another, more future-oriented solution, that becomes a standard in the West – smart multi-level car parks, that effectively cumulate large number of cars on a limited area.
Seems like a good idea, but how do we finance it? Who is going to pay for it? What if something goes wrong and my car stays trapped inside such parking lot? What if I won’t know how to use it? All of the above concerns are joined by complicated legal regulations, bureaucracy, reluctance towards change, and low parking fees. If you ever needed an answer to the question “why are there so few of these in Poland”, you have more than enough now.
For now, maybe it’s best to push this idea to the future, and just use another acre of a city park for our parking needs – after all, the name already fits…
3. ITS – Intelligent Transport Systems
Another solution that’s already available, implemented step by step every day. It will help us reduce the unnecessary car traffic and improve it in places where there’s just too much of it. Its aim is to “speed up” the city, clear traffic jams, and help the inhabitants find their way in the city. With the use of ITS, cities are able to improve safety and mobility, as well as reduce smog pollution – thus, we have both economic and environmental benefits.
What is the challenge, then? Merging the infrastructure in one coherent organism and standardisation of the necessary tools. The aim is for the end user to receive a useful information of make an easy payment with a few taps of their smartphone. It is then clear that it’s not a challenge that may be overcome by a single company implementing such systems in cities. What we need is action on a civic, regional, or even national scale.
4. Green roofs
Allotment gardens are passé – they are substituted by green roofs, balconies, herbaria, and vivaria. It is no coincidence that people want to decorate the concrete jungle of a city with natural elements. We as humans need nature to function properly; not to mention, they effectively lower the temperature during hot summer days, filter smog, and even reduce the radiation emitted by electronic devices. It is then justified that there are more and more greenhouses and beehives on our roofs – we want to be closer to the nature, even if we have no direct contact with it.
In the age of GMO food, pesticides, and growing environmental awareness, this is a trend that must and will get more and more popular. In order to let it blossom, all we need to do is to destroy our cultural boundaries and invite the nature to our cities.
5. Renewable energy sources
In order for the aforementioned trends to be implemented, and our economy to confidently step out of the era of smog and fossil fuels, we need to support and develop renewable energy sources. Nikola Tesla himself once said that the amount of energy supplied to the Earth is more than sufficient, and all we need to do is to use and transfer it properly. We as APA believe wholeheartedly in this statement, and we wish for this trend to get stronger with every passing year. We cannot become the “green island” in the economic sense if we forget about the environmental aspects of this notion.
Our aim is to integrate the existing technologies and eliminate all boundaries connected with generation of energy from the Sun – this will not only result in a healthier human race, but will also be a pure joy for us.