By Connie Allen
Smartphones, smart TVs, and smart watches have quickly been adopted into our everyday vocabulary, but how about smart cities? Most people assume the use of the term smart here is referring to intelligence and competence, but really it is originally an acronym of “Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology.” Smart technologies are all about their capability for connection and monitoring.
Smart cities are no exception, as by 2030 it is predicted that globally some 125 billion devices will be connected in our cities — monitoring everything from people and traffic movements, to human health, space and energy use, and air quality — all to better manage the efficiency of our urbanizing world. With some 68% of our global population forecast to live in cities by 2050, we have a unique opportunity to reinvent the way we live, to improve quality of life for citizens and the environment. Globally, massive projects are underway to both improve existing urban areas, as well as the creation of new exciting cities being built from scratch with smart technologies fully integrated into their planning. India alone has committed to an impressive 100 such new smart cities.
Some of it does all sound a bit 1984; the concerns over privacy are understandable when you hear about schemes such as social credit scores in China, where facial recognition devices catching a citizen performing negative behaviors (as petty as jaywalking) can effect the likelihood of receiving a loan and access to travel services. Or with new scandals every month on how our data is sold, as we are legitimately concerned over who is granted access to personal information, such as our health history. But you can also choose optimism, that the amazing brains dedicating their lives to better urban planning are coming from a place of good intention. Already many of these technologies are well integrated into our lives, such as live updates of trains and buses, advice on live traffic congestion, and information on parking availability. Big data and a well connected network of information can greatly improve the efficiency of how a city runs.
And what about planning cities better for people’s emotional and social health? Or cities with a healthier impact on the environment? These are all vital considerations for the cities of tomorrow. In this article, we at Films for the Earth present to you our top film recommendations on smart cities and urbanization, as often watching a documentary can have a much greater impact and lasting effect on us than another news article. Most of the docs are under an hour long and can be watched for free on our website, so please enjoy, share among your friends, and be inspired for our clean, green, efficient future! In addition to the films listed below, please check out our full index on this topic at on Films for the Earth.
Smart City Case Study: Singapore – Watch “Singapore: Biophilic City”
A great introduction to how the future of our cities could look, this documentary follows Professors and Masters students of Urban design for a week learning about different projects underway in Singapore, one of the worlds most biophilic cities. Greening of the city began over some 50 years ago now, under the concept of the former prime minister’s vision for a “Garden City.”
We speak with architects, landscape designers, CEOs and teachers, who all give their testimony for the improvements to quality of life that come from schemes such as roof top gardens, which provide comfortable public spaces, reduce heat, reduce CO2, and even can provide local food.
Singapore won the Smart City Expo World Congress Award last year, and is top of the list for money spent on smart city technologies in initiatives of public heath and safety, smart transport, efficient energy and infrastructure. In fact Singapore’s outstanding reputation for such efforts has it recognized as the worlds first “Smart Nation.”
Smart City Case Study: Better City Planning – Watch “The Human Scale” & “Gaming the Real World”
The Human Scale: Most cities as they stand today were built around industry, cars, and economy — not with sustainability in mind. Smart and green cities however are designed for life quality, low environmental impact, city ecology, and an efficient use of resources. Information and communication technologies can be used to improve traffic flow, water use, and energy supply. Further considerations include public access to green spaces, air quality, and sewage management.
“The Human Scale” is a great introduction to these concepts and the problems, solutions, and potential for urban development. This film centers on the visionary work of Jan Gehl, a Danish architect and city planner. His work has transformed hostile urban environments full of congestion and pollution into havens of pedestrian living for real human interactions over his impressive 40-year career. The film examines cities around the world, from the 30 million strong population of crowded Chongqing to Copenhagen with the worlds longest pedestrianized street, and asks how we can improve the life quality for citizens of large, congested, lonely, and fast-paced cities through better urban planning.
The film touches on an interesting aspect of city planning, that of retaining a countries unique architectural and social culture. A common criticism of smart cities is the fear that they are cold and lacking character — all complete replicas of each other. The film asks what happens to people personally and psychologically when narrow passes, traditional buildings, communal spaces are lost in the name of improved efficiency?
Film: Gaming the Real World: For a truly imaginative and innovative story – go watch “Gaming the Real World.” This beautiful and wacky film follows three gaming companies, “Minecraft,” “Cities: Skylines,” and “Block’hood” as they take on the challenge of real life urban planning! The film touches on the idea of democratization of city planning, as citizens voice their needs from their urban spaces, and discusses how cities can be better planned to cope with increased growth and energy demand.
Smart City Case Study: Better models of food provision – watch “The Rise of Vertical Farming”
The Rise of Vertical Farming: The most obvious and immediate question concerning life in cities would be of course how to provide food for its citizens. Increasingly, our methods for food production are also being forced to adapt and become more intelligent under the great demand. Shipping food thousands of kilometers around the world is ineffective, often socially and politically damaging to those further down the supply chain, and has a hugely negative environmental impact.
Many cities are experimenting with alternatives, to provide locally grown food for its citizens from within the city itself. “The Rise of Vertical Farming” is a great documentary on this concept of smart urban agriculture. These techniques make efficient use of small space by placing the field into a third dimension, and growth chambers can control the exact temperature, lighting, CO2, humidity, nutrients, and water supply to plants to allow for a vast away of products to be produced in any location. The doc follows various companies as they navigate the market on a variety of scales as they try and reinvent the model of food production to cities. The film also stands for a great example of activism through entrepreneurship, as many of the companies come from grass roots initiatives of local people wanting to take greater control over the source of their food.
Smart City Case Study: How to deal with the waste from our cities? – Watch “Racing to Zero”
Another great case study documentary, “Racing to Zero” follows the journey of San Francisco’s commitment to achieve zero-waste by 2020, with conversations with experts in composting and archaeology, government officials, and the very enthusiastic and proud citizens leading the country in already keeping 78% of their waste out of landfill.
The UN reports that we produce 2.12 million tons of waste a year; The current model of simply forgetting about our waste and sending to landfill is not sustainable – a complete rethink is inevitable in the cities of tomorrow concerning how we dispose of our waste. In fact, this positive film advocates a complete rethink of what “garbage” is; although waste may create garbage, garbage is in itself a resource full of potential.
Any city planning using smart technology needs to put waste management and public attitudes to reusing and recycling at its core, be that through improving efficiency of collection services, or creating easily available options for sorted recycling. These services are already being improved by smart technologies, with sensors in bins reporting when they are close to filling being used to better optimize collection times and routes already being used across the United States.
About Films for the Earth: We know the best films and documentaries about sustainability and environmental issues and how they can be used. We make this expertise available in an advisory capacity but also online, on the most comprehensive film and sustainability directory in the world. Additionally, in three countries we reach over 100,000 people a year with our international festival, school events and member network. At Films for Earth we aim to amaze, create awareness, and inspire action for a better world. Find us on Facebook and Instagram too.