Hope for retrofit cities: "Reprogramming" existing infrastructure

Wed, 2013-10-02 06:00 -- Jesse Berst

There's a widespread notion that existing cities are at a disadvantage. They will never be able to retrofit their aging infrastructure to be truly smart, goes the meme. It will be too expensive.

Here's an article that implies a different conclusion. Yes, greenfields projects can embed smartness in everything. But it pays to remember that they have to build everything from scratch. Whereas brownfields projects already have a lot of infrastructure in place. All that's needed is the imagination to reimagine and repurpose that infrastructure. The article cited below gives numerous examples. -- Jesse Berst

Peru's water billboardUrban design director Scott Burnham talks about city officials joining forces with engineers and corporate R&D teams to "reprogram" existing city infrastructures. He lists numerous examples in the article in Green Futures magazine.  Here are three:

  • Access to clean drinking water is a problem for villagers living on the outskirts of Lima, Peru.  Engineers at a local university took up the challenge, installing a humidity collector and water purifier atop a billboard. According to the article, it can produce 96 liters of clean drinking water daily. The water flows down a pipe to a tap at the base of the billboard.
  • Sunlight is limited for six months a year for the residents of Umea, a Swedish town. The lack of natural light can take a toll on residents' mental and physical health.  The local energy company saw an opportunity to provide an energy boost for the city's many bus riders. It replaced lights in 30 bus stops with UV light therapy tubes powered by solar energy.
  • Some 250 old-style payphone boxes in New York City have been repurposed as information point touchscreens in a partnership between the city, City 24/7 and Cisco, a Smart Cities Council Lead Partner. A passerby can tap the screen to find the nearest park or library; they can also be used as communications tools during emergencies.

Read the full article for even more examples.


Jesse Berst is the founding Chairman of the Smart Cities Council. Click to subscribe to SmartCitiesNow, the weekly newsletter highlighting smart city trends, technologies and techniques.