Photo caption: MIT Professor, Carlo Ratti in conversation with Alison van Diggelen at the Future Cities Conference, Jesus College, Cambridge on July 18, 2017.
On Monday, I joined the BBC’s Roger Hearing and Delhi journalist Madhavan Narayanan to discuss future cities and the role of technology in making them more efficient and sustainable. Listen to the podcast at the BBC’s Business Matters (Future Cities segment starts at 26:34)
Or listen to the audio clip below:
Here’s a transcript of our conversation (edited for length and clarity):
BBC Host, Roger Hearing: Alison, you’ve been having an interesting time recently. You’ve been looking at the concept of Future Cities, in fact you’ve been over in Europe I believe? Give me a picture of what you’ve been doing and what you’ve been hearing.
Alison van Diggelen: I was back at Cambridge University, in England last week, exploring the role of technology in shaping our future cities. The Cambridge Future Cities Conference assembled experts from academia, policy making and business to explore the challenges and opportunities facing cities. I interviewed Professor Carlo Ratti. He’s Director of the “Senseable City” Lab at MIT. “Senseable” as in sensors. He and his team are adding sensors to everything from trash to taxis to discover patterns, inefficiencies and opportunities to reinvent future cities, and make them greener and more sustainable. His team collaborated with Uber to test the feasibility of car-sharing and the Uberpool in New York. They found that in theory, everyone could travel on demand with just one-fifth (20%) of the number of cars in use today. He calls it the future mobility web.
Prof. Carlo Ratti: If you think about the future you can imagine something that we started calling a mobility web. A mobility web means the potential to know in real-time all the potential for transportation in the city both for people and parcels. Think about what happens today, you need to open one app, then another app…Imagine if all of them were combined… Then you can do something similar to what you do today with Kayak or Expedia, you can scan all your options – it’s like a mobile web that can radically change the way we look at mobility both for people and for goods.
Roger Hearing: Madhavan, you’re in Delhi. Can you imagine that kind of thing working in a city like Delhi? Would you be able to take transport to the point where you could be aware where every car or bus or lorry is at any given moment?
Madhavan Narayanan: Let me take a cynical view of what these guys at Stanford etc. do…I call them the Marie Antoinettes of our time. “Let them have high tech” is the new “let them eat cake.” Tech innovations have to be much more culturally sensitive and pragmatic for things to come on fast. People are not trying to reduce the carbon footprint here…people are trying to save money. High techies need to hire more sociologists and anthropologists and instead of talking to each other in an echo chamber of technologists. It will catch on in a zig-zag way…We do not need California idealism, we need Asian pragmatism.
Roger Hearing: Do you take that point on board Alison?
Alison van Diggelen: Absolutely. One of the refrains people heard at the conference was: let’s get out of our silos here: use this multi-disciplinary approach. We need collaboration, we need to think about different cultures and communities. In America 42 hours a year are lost due to traffic congestion(per commuter) and I imagine it’s even worse in Delhi. There’s a huge holy grail shining out there…we can drive towards that; there are huge gains to be made. The technology is there, we just need to implement it.
Roger Hearing: California has adopted new things very easily and quickly. Is it a place where people are already beginning to put in place the things you were talking about in Cambridge?
Alison van Diggelen: Yes, it’s definitely being experimented with. There is a project with driverless cars coming to the city of San Jose. They’re talking with ten different driverless car companies. These demo projects, these pilot projects are really important to understand how future cities can be more efficient and more sustainable.
Roger Hearing: At the back of everyones’ minds, when they think about integrated public transportsystems, future cities, smart cities is:What happens if someone hacks in? At this event, you did tackle the issue of security?
Alison van Diggelen: We did indeed. The answer is layers of security. The technologists need to outsmart these hackers who have nefarious aims. I spoke to Professor Ratti about this and he framed the importance of security in memorable and stark terms…
Prof. Carlo Ratti: With some of these technologies we can really have cities that are more sustainable, they’re more sociable as well, but we need to look at at least two issues – one is the possibility of hacking. We all know what happens if a virus crashes our computer, but usually nobody dies. But what if that was a driverless car? So how to make sure our cities cannot be crashed? The other is what happens to the data that is generated by the Internet of Things. We’re making a digital copy of our physical space, our physical cities – then it’s very important who has access to the data, what for, and that’s one of the big conversations of our time.
Continue listening to hear our discussion:
What is Mark Kleinman at the Greater London Authority (GLA) doing to accelerate the adoption of technology in London?
Why does Madhavan Narayanan think we need a SWOT approach to privacy and security in future cities?
Find out more about Future Cities
The Future Cities Conference in Cambridge assembled some of the brightest minds in urbanism and land economy today. Find out more about their research and projects here:
Anticipation is building that El Nino will bring much needed relief to drought stricken California this winter. But will it end the drought? And how will it impact the Golden State’s impressive drive to conserve water?
In my recent report for the BBC’s Business Matters, I explored the, um, creative ways in which the water conservation message is being spread and how things might change when the deluge arrives.
However you can reach out to consumers in their language, that’s how you do it, so if sex is the way to reach the end user and it achieves a good societal goal, I have no problem, because this is a crisis. Gary Kremen, Chairman Santa Clara Valley Water District
The report aired on the BBC World Service last Thursday (Listen from 16:45 in the podcast). Here’s the original report and a transcript of the program, edited for length and clarity.
Fergus Nicoll: The last month has seen some pretty freaky extremes of weather across the U.S. We reported on the drought in California and the flooding in South Carolina…bursting dams that have been caused by torrential rain in different parts of the state. Well maybe California can expect more of the South Carolina treatment?
I’m going to bring in Alison van Diggelen of Fresh Dialogues for more on this. Set the scene for us…it seems, partially at least, down to El Nino?
Alison van Diggelen: Absolutely. The experts have called it a “Godzilla” El Nino. An enormous one is building in the Pacific right now and experts are predicting record breaking rainfall this winter. As most people probably know, we’re in our fourth year of drought (in California) and things are getting pretty desperate. But people have been pretty good about water conservation…so I wanted to explore how authorities are getting this water conservation message out and how things might change, once the rain does start falling.
I interviewed Elizabeth Dougherty. She’s the founder of Wholly H20, a nonprofit in Oakland that wants to make water conservation, as she calls it, “hip and sexy.” She says it’s not a supply issue but has to do with our relationship with water.
Here’s the piece:
Ambi: Sound of bucket being put in shower, tap turning on…water running, shower hitting tub
Dougherty: I keep a bucket in the shower…you can use that water to flush the toilet, water your outside plants, give water to your animals….
“Extreme water saver” Dr. Elizabeth Dougherty says her phone has been ringing off the hook with people looking for rainwater harvesting and graywater systems for their homes. Her California non-profit “Wholly H20” aims to make water conservation “hip and sexy.” Dougherty, an anthropologist, wants us to explore our relationship with water.
Ambi: Sound of running water in sink…
Dougherty: The water crisis in California, the world, is not a crisis of supply; it’s a crisis of connection. We are so disconnected from water, we don’t even know where our water comes from, how much we use every day.
And this crisis has produced fertile ground for water and landscape consultants. Water maybe scarce in CA, but it’s boom time for water related “green jobs.”
Dougherty argues that it’s normal to ask: where does my food come from? The energy for my home? So why not ask: where does your water come from? What’s “on tap” in your home?
Dougherty: We want the hipsters in Downtown Oakland to be thinking water conservation: Wow, hey….so where do you get your water?
This Fall, Wholly H2O is partnering with Burning Man artists on community interactive water features; and is launching a series of crowd-funded video shorts to get the message out via social media. Dougherty has Hollywood connections and hopes to get “green” celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow to take part. Is California’s Governor on her list?
Dougherty: (CA Gov) Jerry Brown skips a shower for the day. I’m thrilled, I’m glad. Would I hold him out as one of my hip and sexy people? No I wouldn’t. I’d like to see Batman…how about Michael Keaton? Let’s see you bucket your heat-up water from your shower and dump it in your garden!
Dougherty’s mission to make water conservation hip and sexy has been adopted by the San Francisco Public Utility Commission. Here’s one of their video ads:
SFPUC Video: (Sultry baritone like Barry White, sound of tap running) Conservation can feel, ohhhh, so right. Turn off the faucet while soaking those…oh so dirty…hands. Get some efficient fixtures for your kitchen and bathrooms…screw them on…yeah! Beat the drought. Hetch Hetchy water is too good to waste.
This summer, the commission spent $300,000 on billboard ads with provocative demands like “Go full frontal, upgrade your washer!” and “Nozzle your hose, limit outdoor watering.”
Love them or hate them, the water conservation message is sinking in. In July, Californians reduced their water consumption by over 30% (compared to 2013 levels) in response to a state mandated reduction of 25%. But with dramatic El Nino conditions building in the Pacific and predictions of an unprecedented deluge of rain hitting drought-starved California this winter, will the “save water” mantra evaporate as the first raindrops fall?
Kremen: Water districts are conservative. We have to assume it’s not going to happen. We have a comprehensive education enforcement campaign to make sure one raindrop doesn’t cure the drought. The good news is people in Santa Clara Valley are pretty educated, they can hold two thoughts at the same time: we’re in a drought, you have to conserve, and you have to prepare for flash floods.
What does he think of SF’s sexy water conservation efforts?
Kremen: However you can reach out to consumers in their language, that’s how you do it, so if sex is the way to reach the end user and it achieves a good societal goal, I have no problem, because this is a crisis.
Kremen: What climate change could mean to us is more volatility: more floods, more droughts.
I ask Wholly Water’s Dougherty what one thing we all can do to end the water crisis. Her answer is surprising. She’s not pushing low-flow toilets, rain barrels or graywater systems…instead she says:
Dougherty: Go and sit next to a river and not talk, but simply watch the river for half an hour.
For Dougherty, the anthropologist, it’s all about strengthening our connection with water and thinking of that river every time you turn on the tap.
Ambi: sound of tap going on, water hitting sink.
Fergus Nicoll: Very nice piece, Alison. Thank you.
It’s going to be a bit of a culture shock if California goes from drought to heavy rain?
Alison van Diggelen: Yes, it’s going to be a major shocker, but as Gary Kremen from the Water District says, they can’t rely on the El Nino conditions coming. It’s been predicted before and it didn’t materialize, so we may get floods but they’ve got to store that water and make sure that it’s available for future years.
Fergus Nicoll: All options still to be considered. Great to have you with us.
140 New Montgomery is a landmark 1920’s Art Deco building in San Francisco and just became the HQ of Yelp. Last week, I took a closer look at its recent renovation with interior design expert Sara Andersen of Perkins+Will. We explored the 15th floor of the building, the home of Software AG’s San Francisco team, and she explained why wellness is a key part of green building design’s future. Would you believe, the building even features a “bike spa”? More on that later.
“Architecture interiors have a big impact on our environment and we need to do it responsibly,” says the green-enthusiast Sara Andersen, who points to the Living Future Institute and its performance-based Living Building Challenge as her inspiration.
Here are some key design features of 140 New Montgomery:
1. The building is certified LEED Gold by the US Green Building Council and features operable windows, efficient energy and water systems.
2. The structure has a narrow floor plate, so you’re never more than 25 feet from an operable window. Each of its 26 floors has its own air handling equipment and natural ventilation reduces the need for high-energy heating and cooling systems.
3. The large windows allow maximum use of natural light and all lights have daylight sensors, so they only go on when required.
4. The building’s efficient water system includes low-flow plumbing fixtures and use of recycled (grey) water for toilets.
5. Carpets are made from recycled fishing nets created by sustainable carpet designer Interface. Check out this video for the inspiring story of a triple win: for the environment, the community and the bottom line.
6. The building has a “bike spa” in the basement, featuring a deluxe locker room and shower suite (complete with “140 New Montgomery” branded shampoos) and the snazziest space to tune up your bike for the commute home: the re-purposed historic wood-paneled executive board room, reclaimed from the original building.
7. Most doors from the original building were also reclaimed and reused.
“It’s about wellness,” says Sara Andersen. “When you have healthier happier employees, there’s less sick days, there’s more collaboration and that leads right to the bottom line.” She says that AG Software finds that the new space helps promote recruitment and retention of its tech staff. Despite its “work from home” policy option, more staff are choosing to come into the office, increasing collaboration and (presumably) creativity.
Andersen is currently working on the interior design of a 250,000 office tower in San Francisco that features a central atrium, bridges and an inviting open stair to encourage movement, interaction and collaboration between employees.
“It’s about getting people to move…when you get up you change your posture, your circulation gets going, your brain is fresher,” she says. “They wanted to encourage the cross pollination among their groups. It’s being embraced globally.”
Her team at Perkins+Will is also collaborating on active design guidelines with the City of New York.
Intrigued? Find out more about 140 Montgomery and its former role as HQ for Pacific Bell
“CFOs of major corporations are saying, ‘before it was random acts of greenness,'” says Williams. “Now I can start to measure our environmental impact.”
As he explains it, a global standard of measuring and quantifying a building’s impact can provide owners, renters, architects, and builders with valuable information with which to make key decisions about buying, renting, land use, building materials, energy systems etc.
Climate Earth’s White Paper “Valuing Natural Capital” states: “The objective of this project is to develop an estimate of the environmental costs of the greenhouse gas emissions, induced land use changes, and water consumption. For land use change and water consumption, environmental costs are dependent on where the activity takes place, and we developed local cost estimates to account for those differences. Greenhouse gas emissions are a global pollutant, and the costs are roughly indifferent to where the emissions take place, and so a single global number is sufficient to account for those costs.” The paper concluded that the Stern Review’s figure of $110/metric ton of carbon and carbon equivalent is appropriate.
“NCA takes some of those numeric evaluations – kilograms of CO2, liters of water, hectares of land – and puts them into economic evaluations that large corporations and nimble companies can look at, ” explains Williams. “These are not just environmental metrics, these are just financial metrics.”
He predicts that by the end of 2014, there will be recognized standards in Natural Capital Accounting for construction, apparel and other retail products.
Find out more about the Future of Natural Capital Accounting from the World Forum on NCA which takes place in Edinburgh, Scotland this November.
During our interview, Williams also explains the concept of making buildings “Future Ready” i.e. flexible enough to add solar, and other energy-making, energy-saving components after the building is completed.
“Future ready is a positive approach, it’s not about adding more, it’s not about ultimate flexibility,” says Williams. “It’s about providing the right amount of infrastructure to afford flexibility.”
This is part of a series on the Future of Green Building, sponsored by Webcor Builders. For more in the series, check out these videos and stories
Read more about Green Building stories featuring Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon and Apple and by checking the Green Building tab above or clicking here
A complex system that brings in 74,000 gallons of water per hour from San Francisco Bay to heat and cool the building via miles of floor-embedded pipes;
A rain-water catchment used for flushing toilets.
Rumsey may be an enthusiastic advocate for green building, but what gets him most excited is the idea that the San Francisco Exploratorium will inspire kids to think net-zero is the way of the future.
“They’re going to say, ‘Wow, that’s one of the things we can do to solve this whole big climate change problem,” says Rumsey. “We can design and build buildings that make their own energy and don’t create a carbon problem.’ As kids grow up and become leaders in society, they’ll be the ones saying, ‘we should just do that zero energy thing. I saw it when I was a kid…it was no big deal.'”
Despite much talk about the state of the art green building features, Rumsey says, “There’s nothing cutting edge about the building…we’ve taken things that are ‘off the shelf’ and applied them in creative and innovative ways. We call it ‘state of the shelf’.”
Did you know that buildings account for almost 40 percent of total energy use in the U.S.; almost 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions; and 12 percent of total water consumption? The climate friendly solution is “green building.”
But what does green building mean? And what is the future of green building? Phil Williams, VP of Webcor Builders sat down with Fresh Dialogues to answer these questions and explain how the venture capital and building sectors work together to deliver innovative green building products – like smart glass – that reduce energy consumption and environmental impact.
Here are some highlights of our conversation (edited for clarity and length):
What is green building?
“The term actually started here in San Francisco in the mid-1990s, and starts with a certification of a building under the LEED standard (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), developed by the US Green Building Council. We try to reduce the energy, the water, be responsible in the use of materials and create healthy interior environments.” Phil Williams
Why build green?
“There’s a high probability of climate change due to man’s impact; it’s seen as good business, it’s my energy bill today in terms of what is my overall cost of doing business.” Phil Williams
What should we expect from green building in the future?
It’s like a box of Cheerios…you’ve got some healthy products, you’ve got some less healthy products, some with sugar, some with fat. The consumer can now make a choice. When we didn’t know, the consumers were blind to the health or the energy consumption of a building. The marketplace will determine what happens, but now the information will be available.” Phil Williams
How do new green building products get in the supply chain?
“We work closely with several venture capital firms that are specifically focused in the built environment, and we have a strong engineering background…We can be part of that next breed of product…we have that advantageous viewpoint that we can lend to our clients and we can help those new innovative firms get a foothold in a very competitive industry. Any insight that we can provide benefits everyone.” Phil Williams
Webcor is sponsoring a four part interview series all about Green Building. Check back soon for more details.
Meantime, you can check out other green building interviews and stories by clicking here or on the Green Building Tab above.