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Product, Service & Design Innovation
Climate-Smart Street Furniture, Infrastructure Helping Future-Fit Cities of Tomorrow

To usher cities towards a carbon-neutral future, local governments around the globe are hedging their bets on diesel and petrol vehicles bans. But eliminating fossil fueled mobility isn’t the only way to reduce emissions. Smart street furniture and innovative urban infrastructure are fast emerging as viable — and impactful — solutions to the CO2 problem.

Developed by Dresden-based Green City Solutions, the CityTree is a planter and bench hybrid that effectively acts as an air purifier, absorbing as much air pollution as 275 trees. The four-meter-high bench is equipped with a living wall comprised of 1,682 pots of moss that bind particulate matter — dust, pollen, soot and smoke — produce oxygen and even cool the air, combatting urban heat island effect.

The souped-up street furniture is also outfitted with Internet of Things (IoT) technology and solar panels that creates a self-sufficient and optimal environment for the cultivated moss. IoT allows the living wall to monitor its own performance and needs, while the solar panels power a built-in rainwater collection and irrigation system.

Meanwhile, a landscape architect in China is harnessing ancient irrigation techniques to make China’s cities more resilient to climate change. In lieu of traditional materials such as concrete and steel, the hallmark of the modern metropolis, Kongjian Yu’s so-called “sponge cities” utilize soft materials to capture water that can later be extracted and used to replenish aquifers or used for irrigation.

China accounts for roughly 20 percent of the global population, but the country only has access to about 8 percent of the world’s fresh water supply. According to Yu, this makes adaptive infrastructure imperative. And that means forgoing European urban design methods in favor of those that draw on ancient, local tradition. Yu’s firm Turenscape, which has already completed 600 sponge city projects, draws inspiration from peasant farming and irrigation techniques — which are suited to a monsoon climate — and adapts them to the urban environment.

Slowing down the process of drainage is an integral component of this. According to Yu, this can help reduce damage caused by flooding while simultaneously nurturing ecological systems. The sponge city concept also places considerable emphasis on adapting to drought conditions as well, encouraging design that promotes water recycling and minimal water usage.

“We don’t use concrete or hard engineering, we use terraces, learned from ancient peasantry wisdom. We irrigate. Then the city will be floodable and will survive during the flood. We can remove concrete and make a water protection system a living system,” Yu said at a conference during Melbourne Design Week.

What is most interesting about Yu’s approach is the emphasis on using local knowledge and tradition to enhance resiliency in the face of climate change. Such methods are increasingly being deployed to future-fit the built environment to enrich the recommendations of rating systems such as LEED, ensuring that cities and buildings are adequately equipped to deal with local challenges — something that is often overlooked by certification systems.


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