Ride-Sharing Services

ride-sharingRide-sharing services, like Uber, and taxi-hailing apps show us how increased connectivity shapes the behaviour of citizens. This has an impact on the mobility patterns of people, vibrancy of the city, on job opportunities, job efficiency and convenience. Two recent quotes on this matter:

“How Uber Is Changing Night Life in Los Angeles”, From the NY Times: 
…“It became very clear to me that I could use Uber and have the kind of life I wanted,” he said. “I feel like I found a way to take the best parts of my New York lifestyle, and incorporate them in L.A.”
Mr. O’Connell is part of a growing contingent of urbanites who have made Ubering (it’s as much a verb as “Googling”) an indispensable part of their day and especially their night life. Untethered from their vehicles, Angelenos are suddenly free to drink, party and walk places. Even as their business models are evolving, these ride-sharing services, which include Lyft, Sidecar and others, have upended the social habits of the area, and rallied its residents to be more peripatetic. A night out in Los Angeles used to involve negotiating parking, beating traffic and picking a designated driver. Excursions from one end to the other — say, from the oceanfront city of Santa Monica to the trendy Silver Lake neighborhood on the eastern side — had to be planned and timed with military precision, lest they spiral into a three-hour commute. More often than not, they were simply avoided.

“Before Uber was a thing, I would rarely go to Hollywood,” said Drew Heitzler, an artist who lives in Venice, a potentially treacherous drive away. “The prospect of going to Hollywood on a weekend night, if I was invited to a party or an art event, it just wouldn’t happen. I would just stay home.”
Now Mr. Heitzler, 42, uses the ride-sharing app at least weekly, gladly leaving his car behind when he socializes. “In Los Angeles, you have the ubiquitous D.U.I. checkpoints everywhere,” he said. “If you’re going to go to a party, you either don’t drink or you Uber there and Uber back, and problem solved.”….

‘Cab Fair’, From the Economist:
RU LI is typical of many Beijing taxi drivers these days—relaxed, smiling and, at rush hour on a Friday afternoon, politely declining to pick up passengers from the street. He is waiting by a mall in central Beijing for a customer he has connected with using Didi Dache, China’s leading taxi-hailing app. Across the street are two other taxis that have also arranged pick-ups using the same app.
Not long ago taking a taxi in Beijing was unpleasant for customer and driver alike. Passengers hunted desperately for cabs. Drivers, angry at working conditions and low fares, waved them away. The vague threat of a formal strike loomed and, before smartphones, might have happened.
Today the experience is transformed. Taxi-hailing apps have given drivers more control, as the apps match drivers with passengers, who can offer a tip as an incentive. The government stepped in, too: last year Beijing authorities raised the minimum fare by 30% to 13 yuan ($2.10), the first increase in a decade.

Like most drivers Mr Ru, who is 32, also uses the app Kuaidi Dache (which means “Quickly Hail a Taxi”), owned by Alibaba, an internet conglomerate. (Didi Dache, owned by Tencent, another conglomerate, means “Honk, Honk, Hail a Taxi”.) Owing to fierce competition, the rival apps offer subsidies to drivers as well as customers, who pay for the ride through their smartphones. The two apps each have more than 100m registered users and, at the end of March, claimed a combined 11m daily orders for taxis. Unlike apps in the West such as Uber, which use a network of drivers in competition with taxi firms, Chinese apps work in co-operation with them.
Thanks to the apps and to the rise in cab fares, Mr Ru says that, instead of 12-hour workdays and only a few days off each month, he now works ten hours a day, five days a week, for the same money—about 5,000 yuan ($800) a month…

Picture: Emily Berl for the New York Times
Sources: New York Times, the Economist

Smart Citizen

“What are the real levels of air pollution around your home or business? and what about noise pollution? and humidity? Now imagine that you could know them, share instantly and compare with other places in your city, in real time … How could this information help to improve our environment quality?” Smart Citizen wants to answer to these questions and many more, through the development of low-cost sensors. Smart Citizen claims that you can only build a real Smart City with Smart Citizens, and that’s true.
By connecting data, people and knowledge Smart Citizen creates a platform to generate participatory processes of people in cities. A fine grain network of sensors can monitor microclimatic behaviour in cities. This could create possibilities to measure the impact of interventions in the living environment.
Source: http://smartcitizen.me

Digital Matatus

“Digital Matatus shows how to leverage the ubiquitous nature of cellphone technology in developing countries to collect data for essental infrastructure, give it out freely and in the process spur innovation and improved services for citizens. Conceived out of collaboration between Kenyan and American universities and the technology sector in Nairobi, this project captured transit data for Nairobi, developed mobile routing applications and designed a new transit map for the city. The data, maps and apps are free and available to the public, transforming the way people navigate and think about their transportation system.”

Source: www.digitalmatatus.com

Shared Electric Car Network

Paris has been wired with a shared electric car network: Autolib’. Modelled after the successful Velib’ bike-sharing program Autolib’ has won over 70.000 clients since its launch in 2011. The program combines a sharing concept with an easy-to-use internet platform, an urban transit strategy and clean fuel technology. It fuses low tech and high tech, people and the city in one system. Although SmartCityStudio is very positive about the distribution and amount of stations implemented in the metropolitan area of Ile-de-France, this new urban ecology has not only been cheered. The criticasters somehow surprisingly come from the green party in Paris according to the Chicago Tribune:

“Conservatives intially attacked Autolib as a vanity project of the Socialists who control the Paris city hall, but have toned down their criticism as the scheme’s popularity has grown. …But Greens fear the 1,800-strong fleet may be drawing Parisians away from public transport rather than from their gas and diesel-powered cars…The Greens, who voted against Autolib while remaining part of Socialist Mayor Bertrand Delanoe’s majority, have asked for an audit on the scheme’s finances and its impact on traffic. “We remain very sceptical on Autolib,” said Denis Baupin, Green MP for Paris and transport councillor until last year.

As opposed to this criticism Autolib’s backers make some bold claims, according to the Chicago Tribune: “The project, they say, is breaking down social and physical barriers between the two million inhabitants of affluent central Paris and the other eight million who live in the “banlieues”, the often neglected high-rise suburbs outside the “peripherique” ring road. “There was a time when Parisians thought the banlieues were where they sent their rubbish and built council blocks or cemeteries,” Paris transport councillor Julien Bargeton said. “That relationship is changing, and Autolib shows that,” he told Reuters, estimating that about a third of all trips in the electric cars take place between Paris and its outskirts.”

Some information on the system itself. It is a public private partnership. The French Bollore Group invested in the fleet of Italian designed cars (Pininfarina) and spends 50 million euro’s annually to keep the fleet running. The City of Paris has invested 35 million in the charging points. As a customer you can choose between a yearly subscription (144 euro’s and 5 euro per half an hour), a monthly subscription (30 euro’s, 6 euro per half an hour), a weekly subscription (15 euro’s, 7 euro’s per half an hour) and a one day subscription (10 euro’s and 7 euro’s per half an hour). A total of 1750 cars has been registered in January 2013 and the Bollore Group’s goal is to deploy 3000 cars by 2013. By February 2013 the fleet had 65.000 subscribers and has driven a total cumulative of 15 million kilometer. There are over 650 charging stations in around 50 municipalities in the area of Ile-the-France with over 4000 charging points. The Bollore Company plans to expand the system on a short notice in Bordeaux and Lyon.

Sources: Wikipedia, Chicago Tribune, Paris, Autolib. Picture: Mairie de Paris

Creola Bright Future

Client: stichting Uitracel / district Saramacca, Surinam Year: 2013
 Public Space Strategy / Local Economic Dev. Strategy / Resource Mobilisation
Project: Creola Bright Future aims at the exploration of cultural value through the lens of public space in the former slave plantation of Creola, Surinam. Creola is a former slave plantation that has been erected in 1934 and thus exists 80 year in 2014. Inhabitants in the area and in the surroundings are descendants of the slaves of this plantation. The local community of Creola has a dual relation to the plantation having been unvoluntary offspring of this dark side of Surinam’s history. At the same time local inhabitants have developed local arts and crafts, regional architecture and agricultural production of indigenous food on the site of the former plantation. This all creates a accidental assemblage of historic landscape architectonic artefacts like sluices and waterways with hidden podisiri (acai berry’s) plantations , regional architecture and local crafts on the production of for example Korjalen, the typical Surinam boat type. Locals living in the area all have their own stories and knowledge on what has happened over history on the plantation.

This project will amplify local cultural values in the area and relate them to the experience of the area itself in order to rebuild a local identity for Creola. This together should provide a network of public spaces that offer opportunities for small entrepreneurial activities. The project develops an alternative public space strategy as opposed to the tabula rasa development that is common these days in the privatized society of Surinam. By exploring local stories and cultural production in the area CreolaBrightFuture rewrites the story of Creola people throught the experience of public space. Not as a historical analysis but as a basis for contemporary cultural production, education and small entrepreneurship.
Sources: SmartCityStudio Picture: Local Podisiri (acai berry’s) plantation hidden in the woods of Creola.

Smart Informal Territories lab

Client: City of São Paulo Year: 2009-2013
Project: Smart Informal Territories Lab Heliópolis (SITlab) works with the Prefeitura de Cidade de São Paulo, the local community and various ‘NGO’s’ on upgrading projects for the Favela Heliópolis where an estimated 190.000 people live without formally having an address. Inclusive planning instruments are essential for the upgrade of living standards and to solve underlying causes. The legalization of housing could help inhabitants to break out of a socio-economic spiral that is largely caused by having no legal address and by the extreme high costs of living in an ‘illegal city’. With SITlab Heliópolis the Universidade Presbiteriana MacKenzie São Paulo, Parsons the New School for Design and the Academy of Architecture in Amsterdam work on plans and co-creative planning tools for the Favela that could be applied in other similar conditions in Brazil.

Testing grounds

The city of Eindhoven introduces the concept of ‘testing grounds’ as a means to open the city to anyone who can add to the development of the city often recalled as ‘Brainport’. In a recent conversation the author of this BLOG had with the alderwoman, which resigned from office just days ago (troubled because of a financial debacle in the removal of a trailer park in the municipality), she explains how the reduction of public regulations is part of a larger concept in which the municipality reinvents spatial planning. The idea that not the municipality ‘makes’ the city, but its citizens, its entrepreneurs and its higher education requires an ‘open’ city that could facilitate initiatives and that leaves the leading role in the improvement of an area or neighbourhood to anyone who fits that role the best. The power of this radical, but also ‘fashionable’ concept lies in its uncompromising way that it now effects legal regulations and urban governance.
Eindhoven’s ‘Action Plan 2030 – New Space 2013 – Fundamental revision of local spatial guidelines Municipality Eindhoven’ concludes that too many local policies and guidelines on top of national and European legislation block initiatives from private parties, citizens and even of the municipality itself. This fundamental change in the municipality to facilitate rather than to control ‘blueprint planning’ has been advocated recently by more municipalities in the Netherlands, but Eindhoven realizes this change will not happen overnight. A change of culture requires a process of learning. Therefore the municipality defined ‘testing grounds’. In those testing grounds the municipality lets go some of its regulation and is able to learn from the effects. The testing grounds cover a range of urban areas in order to learn about the effects in different settings.

Picture: Piet Hein Eek Laboratory and Workshop. In a former industrial complex in Eindhoven the designer Piet Hein Eek created a mix of workshop, showroom, shop and restaurant. This space of 10.000 m2 gives a powerful ‘boost’ to the regeneration of ‘Strijp R’ and is one of the many initiatives that is not initiated nor controlled by governmental policy but adds to the cities ambition to become a ‘Design Capital’ in the world. Eindhoven also houses the famous ‘Design Academy’. Sources: interview with ‘Mary Fiers’ former alderwoman of the city of Eindhoven, ‘Plan van Aanpak nieuwe ruimte 2013, gemeente Eindhoven’.

Favela Showcase

According to Rioonwatch: “Non-governmental organizations in Rio’s favelas that work with art, culture, sport and civic engagement provide structures that allow young people to escape a career of crime and, by actively showing that drugs, violence and crime are far from dominant elements in favela culture, challenge dominant stereotypes in mainstream society. These are some of the findings of Underground Sociabilities, an inter-institutional research project from the London School of Economics with AfroReggae and CUFA. Sociability refers to the “play-form of social life and the joy and imagination that accompany the experience of the social.”

“The study examines favela life and focuses on how bottom-up NGOs can “rewrite favela environments and establish lines of communication and exchange between marginalised communities and mainstream society.”
“Led by London School of Economics social and cultural psychology professor Sandra Jovchelovitch, the ethnographic and multi-method study based on extensive fieldwork in Cantagalo (South Zone), City of God(West Zone), Madureira and Vigário Geral (North Zone), was conducted between October 2009 and April 2010. The research identifies various facets of favela life: life stories marked by hardship, suffering and hard work; the centrality of the drug trade; the police as the only face of the state; family as central yet unstable; the importance of religion & faith and conviviality & enjoyment; and the necessary role played by organizations that provide support structures and protect against marginalisation.”
“Strong social cohesion in favelas and the paradox that although residents live in fear of the drug gangs and police, they feel safer in their own communities than in the city and are reluctant to cross favela/asphalt borders are striking findings that point to the stigma and discrimination faced by favela residents. According to Underground Sociabilities, NGOs provide models of resistance, providing the possibility for self-development and pushing positive favela representations into the mainstream.”
“Both AfroReggae and CUFA promote social inclusion through a variety of cultural and social activities. They were founded in the 1990s at the height of violence in Rio’s favelas and work to provide opportunities, transform social realities through culture, mediate conflicts and communicate to wider society. Members include hip hop artists (CUFA was founded by MV Bill) and former drug gang members who frequently speak of their experiences and the route to positive self-fulfillment offered by the organizations and their activities.” Sources: Rioonwatch.org, Video: London School of Economics, Picture: Favela Santa Marta by Rogier van den Berg

Clean Energy Centre

“UN-Habitat launched the construction of a Multifunctional Clean Energy Centre at St. Christine Community School Centre in Kibera Kenya. This is a joint initiative funded by DANIDA and UN-Habitat. It is the first of a series of Multifunctional Clean Energy Centres that UN-Habitat plans to construct in other Sub-Saharan African cities.
The proposed 3-floor facility has been designed taking into account bio-climatic and energy efficiency considerations. It will constitute the following spaces:  toilets and bathrooms, a solar charging facility, computer room, a classroom as well as a community hall.  The project seeks to improve access to basic urban services to the community, offering a multi-purpose facility which combines improved sanitation (public toilets and bathrooms), clean cooking fuel and lighting. The toilets will be used by the school of about 415 pupils and the surrounding community.
This facility has been designed as an income generating tool for the school. The local community will be able to have access to the public toilets and bathrooms at a fee. The biogas produced will replace firewood and charcoal which the school currently buys at a high price. This will greatly reduce its expenditure associated with meal preparation. Some of the electricity generated by the solar photovoltaic panels will be used for lighting the building and also at the solar charging facility for recharging of solar lanterns and mobiles phones at an affordable fee.
The biogas generated in the digester, that forms part of the sanitation system, will be used at the school’s kitchen to prepare meals for the children. The liquid fertilizer, an end product of the biogas system, will be used at the school’s garden. A total of 150 solar lanterns, 50 of which have been donated by Philips East Africa, shall be rented out to the school’s parents and the surrounding community to ensure clean, bright and affordable lighting is accessible to replace kerosene lamps thereby enabling children to read at night. In addition, the facility will include a water tank where water will be stored for use at the school and some of it will be sold to the community at an affordable rate.”
Source: UN-Habitat, Picture: Above: Kibera

Community Mortgage

“In many poor and developing countries, land markets, prevailing policies, practices and institutions limit many of the working poor’s access to secure tenure and adequate land for housing. The Philippines is one such country, where patterns of urban growth and development make it difficult for the poor to remain in the cities where employment and other opportunities exist.”

“Through the Community Mortgage Program, the Government lends funds to informal settlers organized as a community association, making it possible for them to buy a piece of land that they can occupy permanently. The land can be on-site, presently occupied by the community, or an entirely new site to where the community intends to relocate. The CMP also offers loans for site improvement and house construction even if, in reality, the majority of CMP loans are issued for the acquisition of land. The CMP was designed to be a demand-driven approach; it is the community that needs assistance that decides to participate in the programme and initiates the process. In an on-site project, informal settlers can obtain ownership of the land they occupy by buying it through a community mortgage loan. One of the requirements is a subdivision plan, where the houses and plots are then re-aligned or re-blocked to conform to minimum subdivision standards. An off-site project, on the other hand, requires relocation to another area that the community chooses and purchases.”

“To be eligible for loans, informal settlers have to have a homeowners’ association (HOA) with at least nine households but no more than 200. After an association has complied with the minimum requirement and met certain criteria, the Social Housing Finance Corporation approves the mortgage and advances payment to the landowner. The group loan is payable monthly for up to 25 years at 6 per cent interest per annum. The land to be purchased serves as collateral for the loan. The HOA is considered to be the borrower.Throughout the process, it is responsible for preparing documentary requirements, negotiating with the landowner, collecting the monthly amortizations of itsmember-beneficiaries, and ensuring that their financial obligations to the lending institution are met. The HOA also enforces sanctions on community members, and oversees the re-blocking and enforcement of the subdivision plan.”

“The Philippines is the fourth most populous nation in East Asia. Growing at an average rate of 2 per cent annually, the population is currently 92 million, of which an estimated 63 per cent live in urban areas. Metro Manila, or the National Capital Region (NCR), is the largest urban centre in the Philippines. At present, its 16 cities and one urban municipality together had an estimated population of 12 million. If the current trend prevails, the Philippines is projected to be 70 per cent urban in less than a decade with an urban population of around 86 million. Unregulated urban growth and acute poverty have resulted in severe housing problems. Of the roughly 10 million Filipino families living in cities today, an estimated 3.1 million lack security of tenure with 2.7 informal settler households in Metro Manila alone according to data from the National Housing Authority in 2007.” Source: Innovative urban tenure in the Philippines, summary report, UN-Habitat / Global Land Tool Network. Picture: Christoph Mohr

Smart energy production

This movie on Smart energy production in the new town of Almere promotes the development of community driven energy production. It is part of a quintet of strategies for Smart City Almere which could turn Almere into an independent city with a vibrant urban economy. With this it will create conditions for 100.000 jobs to flourish. To do this the city adopts a new attitude towards planning and will liberate itself from a culture of control by creating conditions for others to do the job.

The movie on Smart energy production was part of ‘Almere’s Liberation’, one of the projects which was on show at the last Architecture Biënnale in Rotterdam. These ‘five liberations’ have been published on the internet today. The concepts and the movie are made by Zandbelt&vandenBerg, architecture and urban design and commissioned by the International Architecture Biënnale Rotterdam, Atelier Making Projects.

Have a look at http://www.youtube.com/user/smartcitystudio for the other Smart City strategies for Almere



This June the 10 million guests have already booked a room via Airbnb. Airbnb, which refers to Air-bread-and-breakfast is website which let you put your spare room or apartment for rent on the internet. It creates a community around these accomodations which often are way more exciting than an average hotel. Airbnb shows the demand for specific small scale accomodations in the city as opposed to the larger hotel chains and offers potential for anyone to start a ‘hotel at home’.