Putting people at the center of smart city planning

Two very different projects are taking place in two different corners of the world – both designed to help smarter city initiatives to support urban-level objectives such as mobility, wellbeing and economic growth.

‘Placelet’, a pilot project from a group of researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Labs, will put pedestrians at the very heart of urban design by tracking their movements through the cityscape, in the hope of designing cleaner, more efficient and practically designed city centers for the future.

Urban designers need to include the human experience in their plans, according to the MIT researchers.  Their goal is to find out how people interact with cars, buildings and space. The team, led by Elizabeth Christoforetti, an urban and architectural designer at MIT Media Lab, believes their research will create far more energy efficient public spaces and a better quality of life for its dwellers – and they are out to prove it in a downtown area of Boston.

Sensing the pedestrian experience

The ‘Placelet’ project has been given a $35,000 grant from the Knight Prototype Fund, which supports ideas that engage communities and foster arts. Christoforetti and her team are developing a network of sensors that will collect, analyze and visualize data from both pedestrians and vehicles.

The ‘sensory experience’ will also monitor noise level and air quality in the space and come up with an economic and social pattern that shape the particular urban block via interactive maps. It is hoped that this data will enable urban designers to better understand the problems they face in setting out on a new or re-designing a public space.

Smart city developments are a worldwide phenomenon. In India, technologists and government believe that the Kumbh Mela Hindu pilgrimage could trigger innovation when it comes to smart cities.

Kumbh Mela is the largest peaceful gathering in the world and this year takes place in Nashik – transforming an ancient city into a huge metropolis, from which MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and its associates believe we can learn much to incorporate into smart city life.

According to the Census of India, 2011, Nashik had a population of 1,486,973. This swelled to over 30 million in July.  When the festival culminates in September visitor numbers are expected to be well over 100 million. To cope with the enormous number of pilgrims flowing in through its gates, Nashik has to transform itself, increasing healthcare, transportation, sanitation, policing, communications, food and erecting temporary housing.

Rapid smart city development

MIT believes that Kumbh Mela will provide an opportunity to look at how technological solutions can help build smart cities in a short space of time. To look into this they have been holding ‘Kumhathons’ innovation camps,  as part of a 365 day project, attended by government, the corporates and the general public.

The first ‘Kumbhathon’ event was held in January 2014 in Nashik. With the help of MIT and tech partner students have already developed two apps, Epimetrics, designed to stop the spread of epidemics by digitizing doctors’ logs across Nashik and Meditracker, alerting medical personnel to any serious injuries in the city.

The events provide the team with a large group to study the stress of rapid urbanization and create disruptive solutions for smart cities.

Read more about smart cities in Real Times, find out how Orange Business is helping build smart cities in the Middle East and download our white paper on how smart city technology can serve the community.