Underground parks and floating cities: Bad ideas or brilliant?

Fri, 2015-08-14 06:00 -- Doug Peeples

In their early years, automobiles and airplanes were laughed at and criticized by many. Something about the very idea that a vehicle could travel faster than a horse – and why would you want to fly through the air anyway? Now both are part of everyday life. So in that spirit we took a look at some of today's innovative ideas that relate to cities. Read through the examples and decide for yourself: Are they crazy good or just plain crazy?

Underground parks?
The concept of an underground park may seem counter-intuitive, but parks and open spaces are a big part of the livability ideal smart cities strive for – in a limited amount space. A proposed park under New York City, the Lowline, is well underway, reports ListVerse. With financial support through crowdfunding, the park's creators are now working on the technical challenges of sending real sunlight into an old underground trolley terminal. A company specializing in "daylighting technology," UK and South Korea-based Sunportal, is working on the project – and it has a proven track record. The technology involves sunlight collectors, mirrors and light-focusing equipment to transmit sunlight underground. There are other companies working in similar technologies and whether the Lowline works out or not, you will likely be hearing more about "daylighting."

Unlikely places for airport runways
Tired of long drives or spendy cab fares to get to the airport? Then you might like this idea – if you don't mind suspended airport runways winding through your city. Alex Sutton, a graduate of London's Bartlett School of Architecture, proposed a system that integrates commercial aviation into the city environment, according to de zeen magazine. Sutton's proposal suggests Stockholm, Sweden as the site for a new district that would include an airport consisting of raised runways, small terminals, baggage systems, a Personal Rapid Transit system to eliminate the need for passengers to drive, and other features. While Sutton admits aviation technology hasn't advanced to accommodate his design, he sees what could eventually be tremendous advantages to integrating an airport into a city's environment.

"Lilypad" cities
Global warming and rising sea levels are a concern in low-lying areas likely to be under water in the future. One response, from architect Vincent Callebaut, is self-sufficient floating cities or Lilypads. According to a Mother Nature Network article, they are modeled after Victoria water lilies, would be able to support up to 50,000 people and would be made of polyester fibers and include mountains and other geographical features and powered by renewable energy. Aquaculture farms and hanging gardens would be below the water line. Several other versions of the concept are on the drawing board or in various stages of development.

Also worth a look…

  • The city of Rotterdam in the Netherlands is "seriously considering" technology that would convert plastic bottle refuse into highways, says Wired. Referred to as PlasticRoad, it remains very much a concept and a prototype hasn't been built yet with this specific technology. But there are some intriguing benefits. The waste material to build the roads is readily available. And while asphalt is cheap, easy to maintain and durable, it is a serious environmental bad guy because of the amount of carbon dioxide it emits.
  • The Defense Advanced Research Agency (DARPA) has been looking into using robots to serve as first responders in hazardous situations, according to a piece in Engadget. DARPA launched its Robotics Challenge, a competition featuring the best the robot-building community has to offer, following Japan's 2011 Fukushima nuclear catastrophe. But don't expect to see robots hopping out of fire trucks anytime soon. While many can do things humans can't, the early "advanced machines" are slow, prone to falling and unable to make quick decisions that would be required in emergency situations.

So what's your take? Bad ideas or brilliant? Use the Comment form below (member log-in required) to share your thoughts. Not a member? Join now for free.

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Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.

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