Advances in tech will lead the way in reinventing our cities to become more sustainable


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(7th Nov 2017) Thomas Ermacora discussing ‘the roadmap towards sustainable homes and communities’ at the Planet: tech forum at the 2017 Web Summit in Lisbon.

By Kirstie Wielandt

The city as we know it is undertaking a transformation said regeneration architect, impact entrepreneur and futures thinker Thomas Ermacora as he addressed the Planet: tech audience at the Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal. He highlighted several trends which could proactively speed up the transition to a lower carbon and more cohesive society.

Proximity to work is becoming less relevant

With the advent of remote working caused by advances in digital technology, and soon to include widespread use of VR and AR, it is not longer necessary for citizens to live near their place of work. Over the past decade, a rising number of young professionals, primarily but by no means exclusively from the United States and Europe, have leveraged the use of technology to work remotely and live a ‘digital nomad’ lifestyle. Add to this a forecast of employment trends by the World Economic Forum, calling flexible work ‘one of the biggest drivers of transformation’ in society, it is clear a change is underway which could prove positive for the planet it comes with carbon saving benefits.

Transport is completely changing

City transport infrastructure is likely to evolve in line with this; the concept of the ‘daily commute’ and ‘rush hour’ could, for example, disappear over time. Add to this the advance of ride-hailing practices and autonomous vehicles and we could see car ownership plunging, achieving drastic transport emission savings.

Energy storage is becoming decentralised

With the advent of improved energy storage in the context of home battery technologies like the Tesla Power Wall and advances in e-vehicle battery technology, citizens now have the ability to generate and use energy in a far more localised context, allowing for greater self-sufficiency. The future could see end-users playing an active role in decentralised ‘energy communities’ which enable them to gain economic benefits from producing and sharing energy with each other. This would also allow for greater adoption of clean energy resources such as solar and wind.

The internet of things has democratised housebuilding

With current democratised technology and less centralised and rigid planning, the time is ripe for us to reconsider the notion of ‘homes’ and ‘housing’, away from the red tape of planners and city bureaucrats. With the advent of The Internet of Things and concept products like the Wikihouse, citizens can now build new houses for in the region of £50K via digital fabrication, bypassing the conventional heavy red tape of top-down, bureaucratic planning legislation.

We’re seeing revolutionary new building technology

A related development is the advent of building materials which can extract carbon from the atmosphere and trap it in house building materials, effectively acting as ‘Co2 banks’. This innovative building model exploits bio-based materials such as timber, straw, and hemp, which act as ‘carbon sequestrators’, adding a sustainability element to an industry which has typically relied heavily on unsustainable materials like concrete.

These trends combined add up to a paradigm shift surrounding what our built communities will look and feel like in future. ‘Ultimately cities are only building stock for what people want’ says Ermacora, who is convinced we’re on the threshold of a unique opportunity to purposefully co-create cities with more affordable, safe and healthy homes, altogether better suited our evolving needs as a species.

Thomas Ermacora was speaking at the Planet: tech forum at the 2017 Web Summit in Lisbon.

Planet: tech @ the 2017 Web Summit provided a global meeting place for technology and the environment in which the world’s leading startups, business giants, innovators and influencers showcases solutions to our planet’s most pressing problems including climate change and pollution. Sessions examined the economic and social opportunities stemming from sustainability and green tech and set the agenda for future action.

Recoded City: Co-creating Urban Futures is a visionary book by Thomas Ermacora, which documents past and current experiences of participatory placemaking in order to demonstrate future possibilities and examines alternative, hybrid and complementary practices, which engage citizens in the co-creation of contexts they both live and can see a future in.

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