Technology & the future of urban infrastructure

Leaders and citizens of the world talk about crumbling infrastructure and the need for improvements in many of our major cities. The future of urban infrastructure is a massive opportunity to transform cities into more functional and healthier living spaces. As nearly half of the world’s population now lives in cities, attention to urbanization is now more important than ever. Here are several ways in which emerging technologies help mold these cities of the future.

Sustainable Designs

Infrastructure wears out and “crumbles” because it can’t keep up with growth and changes in our society. The future of infrastructure suggests more sustainable systems that predict energy use, transportation flows, and even air quality. This future features green technologies like solar energy, hydro-electric power, water re-purification, and recycling systems.

Adaptable Infrastructure

In 2010, estimates declared that nearly 40% of the world’s population lives in coastal areas. This puts many people and infrastructure in harm’s way due to typhoons, hurricanes, and erosion. Infrastructure designed to anticipate both the possibility of short-term disasters and long-term global changes will protect cities from future flooding and devastation.

Multi-Layered Infrastructure

The ability to serve all of the needs of the people in the community is forward-thinking infrastructure design and something that Fujisawa SST has accomplished in a project on the outskirts of Tokyo in Japan. They based their design on three layers. The bottom layer is the infrastructure, which is the community’s energy and information systems. The middle layer is the smart living spaces, and the top “lifestyle layer” is for uses such as recreation, health, and transportation.

Multi-Functional Infrastructure

In the past, infrastructure had a singular purpose. Technology now allows it to serve many interests and become multi-functional. For example, Southern California is now converts wastewater into drinking water. Community gardens can provide food as well as purify the air in the city. Another example is the use of wetlands that created for hurricane mitigation for recreational facilities.

Smart Infrastructure

High-tech isn’t lacking in the infrastructure of the future. Imagine entirely inter-connected city power and infrastructure grids. For example, sensors embedded in bridges that warn of water leaks or a structural compromise. Alternatively, envision drones used for road design work and traffic management systems. To combat congestion and save fuel, the U.S. Department of Transportation is looking at V2V (Vehicle-to-Vehicle) capabilities as well as the data that can be accumulated from V2I (Vehicle-to-Infrastructure) sensors.

It has been predicted that by the year 2050, nearly 70 percent of the Earth’s population will live in urban centers. Our current cities are already suffering from a shortage of living space and overburdened infrastructure. Advances in technology are making it possible to transform urban areas into sustainable and more livable cities that will be able to support these communities of the future.