Category Archives: Future Cities

Is this the Future of House Building?

By 2050 we will need many new homes. That’s because there are a lot of people on the planet and most of them live in pretty poor accommodation. To add to the problem the lowest lying coastal areas, which include some cities, may be starting to feel under threat from rising sea levels by 2050. People will want to move to new homes on nearby land that is slightly above the projected sea level.

The good news is that it really isn’t that hard to accommodate people. Their requirements are a substantial space that is at reasonable temperature, protected from wildlife, strong enough to resist storms, and with an outside view.  Do that sustainably and the job is done.

20150129 Building coloured

The picture shows a future house building site. The houses have features of a 2015 passive house (passivhaus in German). They are very well insulated with thick walls. They have heat exchangers so that warm air leaving the house heats cold air coming in. They use the ground deep beneath as a reservoir of heat in winter and cool in summer.

The walls and roof are mostly fresh air, trapped in numerous small spaces by fibrous materials and plastic foams. The fibres come from wood, the foams from fossil fuels that can no longer be burned. Robust wooden facings provide attractiveness and durability. Most of the house is made of wood.

Wood is a way of storing carbon.  If we need to preserve wood what better way to do that than in the form of homes, since people tend to treasure homes above anything else. The potential isn’t huge, but it is a useful contribution. The world probably needs around a billion new homes by the end of the century. If each contained 20 Tonnes of wood and materials derived from wood, we would store 10 Gigatonnes of carbon (wood is 50% carbon). That is equivalent to extracting 37 Gigatonnes of Carbon dioxide – around our current emissions in one year.

The builders in the foreground are putting in the underground heat stores, and the heat exchangers for ground source heat pumps. All of that work is best done before the house is built, at the same time as the drains, pipes, and foundations. Their digger is fuelled by methanol from the deserts. The extra cost of fossil free methanol is a small percentage of the overall building cost.

In the background a new house is being built. Once the foundations are in the process is relatively rapid, with sections being built off site and craned into place – a process made possible by the use of wooden construction. These new homes are relatively large, reflecting the fact that many people will be wealthy. Most people will live in cities, but even there high rise apartments should be spacious by 2015 standards. All houses, whatever their type, will tend to use wooden construction where possible.

 

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Can Derby be sustainable by 2030?

This post addresses a important question – how can we make our cities sustainable? It is a really tough question for most cities, because the private car is central to life and each car uses large amounts of energy.

The subject is Derby in the UK, my home city. It shows how technology could allow the city to become sustainable and provide dramatic lifestyle improvements.P102079320141218 Derby Traffic Street correctedThe picture on the left is Derby in 2014. The sketch on the right is the same junction in 2030. What is the difference?

The photo shows the extent to which private cars are dominating the city. The road junction is wide and hard to cross. The pavements are noisy. The area beyond is a car park. This street is actually called Traffic Street.

In the sketch on the right, transport energy use is well under 25% of the 2014 picture. The vehicles are mainly electric buses, each replacing many cars. The smaller vehicles are mainly driverless electric taxis, most of which are also carrying more than one person. Whenever a person needs transport they tell their smart phone. A central computer then offers options for the journey, sharing transport wherever possible to cut costs and energy use.

Shared transport is the key to energy reduction. A car with 4 people uses little more energy than a car with one person, so that energy use per person is cut dramatically. Buses enable even greater savings.

In 2030 the private car has become a luxury item rather than an essential part of life. All journeys can be made using buses and taxis. Some transport is still manned, but driverless technology offers significant cost reductions and is often preferred. Technology is used to ensure that shared transport offers personal security.

The number of people travelling is greater than in 2014, but there are fewer vehicles and the roads have been shrunk. There is now space for cafes and cycle-ways. Parks have been introduced to replace hard surfaces and make drainage more sustainable.  The car park has been replaced by shops, offices and homes. The vehicles are travelling at a lower speed, quietly and without fumes. Journey times are faster because there is no congestion. The vehicles are communicating and adjusting their speeds to reduce the need to stop and wait at junctions.The city has been reclaimed for its people, and is far more prosperous. Traffic Street has become People Street.

The sketch below shows an old district, full of terraced housing. Some of the streets have been given glass roofs to allow easy walking, cycling and shopping. This is possible because there are no fumes with electric buses and cars. Water is collected from these roofs and used for watering the city parks

20141218 Derby Street corrected

The roof also reduces the heating requirement in the shops and nearby homes. The row of cars are driverless taxis, sitting on induction loops and recharging between trips. They can be called from any mobile phone. Few people own a private car because the narrow streets have no personal parking spaces so recharging is inconvenient. The driverless taxis simply go to the nearest charging area as required.

In summary, Derby is sustainable because it has reduced its energy requirements to be within the capacity of sustainable energy sources.

I have entered this post in the Masdar 2015 Engage blogging contest. That is one reason why it looks at 2030 rather than 2050 as usual. 2030 also makes sense because rapid reductions in carbon emissions are required to avert dangerous climate change.

 

Is this the future of Football?

Even more than other Sketchfifty entries, this definitely isn’t a prediction. However it would be rather entertaining if Burnley did make it in the big league…

Ronaldo breaks away
Ronaldo breaks away

The huge crowd in Burnley is silent because the home team are losing to their rivals, the top Brazilian side Flamengo. Despite their silence, however, the noise in the stadium is deafening. The cheers and chants of the Flamengo fans in bars and halls in Rio is being transmitted to the North of England, increasing the annoyance of the Burnley fans. Burnley are the only English club in the World Club League, they have a track record of success and the crowd expect to see victories.

The old town of Burnley lies close to the centre of the capital of Northern England, the huge new linear city of Hapton. This city has grown in the northern hills because of climate projections. Despite the fact that carbon emissions have now stopped, the world continues to warm slowly, storms get a little more fierce each year, and the sea level slowly creeps higher. The land around here rarely floods and the valleys provide protection from storms. The weather, once considered rather cold and wet, is projected to remain relatively benign until the climate settles down, sometime after 2300. This area has therefore become one of the most desirable in Europe.

Hapton is home to many wealthy people from across the globe. These include the nations of the Sahara, now enjoying considerable wealth from the solar farms that cover large areas of their country. They have come here because the Sahara, never a great place to live, is expected to become quite intolerable within the next fifty years.

One of the newcomers, a billionaire from Chad, is now the owner of Burnley Football Club and pours wealth into it.

The World Club League has become possible because of advances in communications. It is now possible to experience a big match remotely. Cameras provide a multitude of views of each goal. The performance of each player can be monitored. The noise of distant fans can be fed into live games.

The crowd here still contains a few long term Burnley fans. One of those, old Bill H, has been coming here for longer than anyone can remember. He can still get around on the excellent public transport system in Hapton. He watches with relief as Ronaldo, the fourth player of that name to be voted the best in the world, streaks free of the Flamengo defence and slots the ball home. A draw isn’t ideal, but Burnley could still secure the title in their next league game.

Can Driverless Cars cut journey times?

A Self Driving City Car
A Self Driving City Car

My last post looked at how driverless cars will benefit the disabled. This post looks their wider benefits.

Driverless cars will be ideally suited to small cities and towns. They will permit a fast low energy transport system without the heavy investment required to build a  subway, a tram system, or new roads.

Most cars will be owned by the local community and will be picked up from parking areas when needed. Electronic personal assistants will show users where the nearest available car is parked. The battery powered cars will be recharged when they are parked via inductive loops in the road. There will be no need for wires to be connected. If a car does not have adequate charge for the requested journey the user will be directed to another. The frequent charging points will mean that a large battery is not required, reducing weight and the resources involved in battery manufacture.

The cars will be activated by voice, keypad, or card. Electronic personal assistants will also be able to direct the cars. Customers will be automatically charged for each journey.

Privately owned cars will also have a self-drive capability by 2050, which will be used when they are in towns.

The cars will travel relatively slowly in town, but nevertheless journey times will be shorter than existing cars because they will talk to a central computer and, for example, select their route and schedule their arrival at junctions so that they do not need to stop. A further speed benefit is that there will be no need to waste time seeking a parking spot.

Once they are underway they will be able to group together to form trains, so that they take less road space in towns and have lower wind resistance, just like road racing cycles. They will be able to do this because they will communicate, telling each other of hazards ahead. Each car will be continually monitored and will be taken out of service at the first warning of any fault.

Accidents will be rare. The sensors on these cars will never tire or be distracted. They will detect cyclists and pedestrians and take action to avoid them if required. The cars will always drive at a safe speed. They will talk to each other to avoid misunderstandings.

Cars will be lightweight with no need for seat belts, airbags, or crumple zones because accidents will be so rare. Engines will be relatively small because the cars rarely need to accelerate and because the lightweight cars will not need much power to climb hills. There will be no need for a steering wheel, dashboard, windscreen wipers and mirrors.

Inside the car arrangements will vary depending on design. I think it would be good if the seats face each other, as shown. Each seat could then be folded up allowing the car to transport wheelchair users, baby buggies, or large items. Parents will be better able to supervise their children if they sit facing them.

Parking in town centres will be much easier because each car will be shorter, and because cars will not be left parked while their owners work or shop. They will be taken by another user, or driven empty out of the town centre to wait and recharge elsewhere.

If new road space is required it can be found by making lanes narrower because these cars will drive very accurately. If necessary additional small flyovers or tunnels could be built  for these cars only. Using these techniques it will be possible to provide faster journey times while increasing the volume of people carried.

The system will permit a higher standard of life for the blind, for people with other disabilities, for the elderly, for those who cannot afford a car, and for those too young to be able to drive. It will also eliminate noise and pollution from town centres, producing health benefits.

They will use less energy than existing cars because they will be lighter, will need to accelerate far less frequently, and will use electrical power rather than a fossil fuelled engine.

Much larger energy savings will come indirectly. Far fewer cars will be needed, cutting down resources used for their manufacture. The system will link well with trains, making public transport much more convenient and increasing its use.

Why can’t this be done now? The basic self driving technology is under development by Google and others.  Advanced batteries already exist that could give these cars an adequate range for use in cities. The ULTRA system, in service in the UK, shows some of these attributes though it operates on a dedicated track.

There are some serious barriers to overcome before the widespread use depicted here is possible. For example cars that lack accident defences cannot easily be used alongside cars or lorries that are under conventional human control. Initial application may need to be in already pedestrianized areas, in dedicated lanes on existing roads, or on new flyovers. Alternatively these vehicles could retain some accident defences initially. Wider use may need to wait until self-driving capability is commonplace, perhaps around 2030.

Insurance is also a key issue – deciding who is at fault if there is an accident. This question is being discussed in the USA at present. Ultimately however these cars should be easier to insure than a human driver because accidents will be rarer.

 

 

 

 

 

Can Driverless Cars help people with disabilities?

How driverless cars can bring a fairer society
How driverless cars can bring a fairer society

Bill is 98. Lots of people are as old as that old in 2050. He is independent, but walks slowly and his eyesight isn’t great. He lives in a city, as most people do in 2050. He fancies a coffee and sets off. When he gets to the nearest road he simply steps off the pavement.

A camera has been set up near his home to watch for this type of incident, which is common because there are many old people and children in the area. It broadcasts a warning. Two cars are approaching, under automatic control. They hear the warning, and slow down slightly so that Bill can get across in front of them.

The first car contains four people who are heading out for a game of wheelchair tennis. The second contains a blind person and her child. She simply got into the car and told it where she wanted to go.

In 2050 the old, the disabled and those unable to drive will have much more satisfying lives. The driverless car will allow them to live normally, no longer imprisoned in their homes or dependent on others to take them where they want to go.

Why can’t this be done now? Well, of course this technology is being developed by Google and others. It is important to allow development to proceed rapidly because these cars will bring a wide range of benefits.

Will Future Cities be Linear (Issue 2)

Some time ago I produced some pictures of a linear city. It looked rather like a huge greenhouse and attracted some criticism. These pictures show a modified city with separate buildings, town centres and rather more variety. I hope they are self-explanatory.

Just like the earlier version this city copies Manhattan. It is only 2 miles wide but it is as long as required.

The aim is to house millions of people but ensure that none are more than a mile from open countryside. Public transport is provided in the form of trams and trains. Cycleways are built into the city from the outset. Housing density is high so that distances are short. Energy consumption on travel and home heating will be less than 20% of current UK average levels. At that level renewable energy could meet the need, making the city effectively zero carbon.

The Central Street
The Central Street

 

City Plan
City Plan
City Plan showing Tram stops and local towns
City Plan showing Tram stops and local towns
How roads would be organised
How roads would be organised

 

 

The Edge of the City
The Edge of the City
The Centre of a Local Town
The Centre of a Local Town

Will Future Cities be Linear?

What do you think of these sketches of a future city? I think it could cut energy use, save lots of countryside and offer a great lifestyle.

The linear city from the air
The linear city from the air
City central street showing transport and deliveries
City central street showing transport and deliveries

Every home is close to the countryside. There are restaurants galore. Millions of job opportunities within 30 minutes commuting time. A wide range of sports can be played or watched. There are plays, concerts and cinemas. There is a choice of schools, universities, hospitals, museums, art galleries all within easy reach.

The disabled, the old, children and cyclists can travel safely. Trains are used for travel along the city, moving walkways aid walking across the city. All services, and all deliveries are electrically powered and underground.

A roof and triple glazed walls protect the whole city and keep it at the right temperature. It is easier to control the temperature of the whole city than many individual homes because the external surface is very much smaller. There is no fuel poverty because homes do not need to be individually heated. There is no sweltering heat either if the city is built in the tropics.

The city could be built up to 20 storeys high and perhaps 2 kilometres (1 and a quarter miles) wide. At that scale it could provide homes for millions of people. It would have added attraction if an existing, fast growing city was at one end of the line.

The linear city offers a new alternative. A life that combines a place in the country with the buzz of a major city. A place where a family could be brought up. There is no need for a car, except perhaps for occasional trips at weekends when one can be hired.

The city duplicates the dynamism of similar linear cities like Manhattan or Hong Kong, and by keeping things compact it leaves the environment available for all to enjoy.

Best of all, energy use on cars and heating/cooling will be a fraction of their current level. Follow this link. The red column on the left estimates individual energy use in the UK. Other developed countries will be similar. You can see that cars and heating/cooling represent a good chunk of the way we currently use energy. The linear city could be a big part of a sustainable future, especially with a couple of billion more people to house on the planet by 2050.

I hope the pictures tell the story. I really struggled with some of these, and nearly gave in and used Powerpoint. Sketching is more fun, and I’ve put in for a course starting in January!

The roof controls the city temperature
The roof controls the city temperature
Why linear cities beat urban sprawl
Why linear cities beat urban sprawl

Why can’t this be done now? It can, and to an extent it is. There is however a big leap from a suburban world to living in close company in a city. People still aspire to leave the cities for the suburbs. The city presented here may not seem attractive until the fuel price rises  to the point where individual homes and cars become unaffordable.

I’ll probably enter this concept into a competition in early 2014 to see if it gains any support there. But I’m not hopeful, I think that its time has not yet come.

What do you think? Would you live here? Let me know your views by clicking on the poll or posting comments.

I’ve done a page with a little more information on linear cities in the ‘Background and Assumptions’ section.