Steal these ideas: New ways to use old infrastructure

Mon, 2013-07-01 08:25 -- Jesse Berst

Many smart city observers believe older cities will be left behind. Green-field cities, like those being built from scratch in China, will have a much easier time, they say, since new cities don't have to retrofit legacy infrastructure.

In some cases, however, legacy infrastructure can be repurposed in a way that gives older cities advantages. Perhaps you've heard of ideas to use street lights to deliver citywide WiFi or phone booths to provide EV charging. Those and similar concepts are part of a new exhibition, as described below. Some of the exhibits are at the concept stage. Others have already been piloted. All of them deserve your study. -- Jesse Berst

This City Life highlights a new exhibit by the Boston Society of Architects titledReprogramming the City: Opportunities for Urban Infrastructure. It draws from cities around the world to showcase 40 examples of reusing and repurposing existing infrastructure in some fascinating new ways. Examples:

  • A telephone booth becomes an electric vehicle charging station
  • A parking meter prints out updates on infrastructure repairs
  • Bus station lights are replaced with light therapy bulbs during dark winter months
  • A kit temporarily transforms construction scaffolding into a mini-park (pictured below)

"The city holds a vast amount of untapped ability. The structures, surfaces, objects and systems that underpin its daily operations have the potential to do more, to Repurposing urban infrastructureperform an alternate function, or assume an entirely new role in the mechanism of the city," said show curator Scott Burnham. "Reprogramming The City is an overview of ways in which our urban infrastructure is being re-imagined, re-purposed and re-invented to expand functionality, and in turn expand the functionality of the city itself."

The exhibit runs through Sept. 29, 2013 at the Center for Architecture and Design in Boston, Massachusetts.


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