Growing A Greener City [Future of Cities]

PSFK Labs looks at designs for urban environments that promote natural landscapes and the sustainable use of resources.

As our cities expand to accommodate a great influx of residents, it will be increasingly important to ensure that our urban landscapes don’t come to resemble endless shades of gray. The need for sustainable green spaces will be a huge and important challenge in the coming decades beyond simply providing natural places for people to socialize and relax, but also ensuring cleaner air, better use of resources and new systems for raising food. In our Future Of Cities report, PSFK Labs investigated the key trends and pressing issues that will play a role in shaping the evolution of urban environments over the next decade.

A major theme identified in the report is Green Scaping, which looks at designs for urban environments that promote natural landscapes and the sustainable use of resources. This theme consists of four key trends: Clean Air Everywhere, Recycled Resource Systems, Micro Parks and Compact Farming.

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The Clean Air Everywhere trend described in the Future Of Cities report highlights how a combination of advanced materials and living walls are being incorporated into buildings and other structures to help remove harmful pollutants from the air. In addition to the health and environmental benefits, these material choices can contribute to the overall aesthetics of their surroundings, creating safer and more enjoyable places for people to work and live. For example, A 59-foot mural located in Bologna, Italy was painted using photocatalytic paint, which is capable of converting nitrogen monoxide (smog) into clean air. Created by Italian artist Andreco, the five-story piece of public art called Philosophical Tree, demonstrates how artwork can increase quality of life by contributing to the environment and improving urban space.

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A major trend within the Green Scaping theme in the report is Recycled Resource Systems: Engineers and architects are rethinking the current design of architectural and environmental infrastructure, in favor of regenerative systems that are capable of harnessing wasted energy and resources and redistributing them where needed. Whether converting the kinetic energy from foot traffic into electricity or recycling grey water for other residential uses, these closed-loop designs help deliver greater efficiencies that lower resource consumption and cut back on costs. For example, Global Foundation Services, the cloud services division of the computing brand Microsoft has backed the research and development of a zero carbon data center that captures sewage treatment by-products to power cloud services without drawing from the grid. Adjacent to the Dry Creek Water Reclamation Facility in Cheyenne, Wyoming, the data center pipes in biogas from the sewage plant to power a generator which, in turn, powers data center activities.

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The trend Micro Parks uncovers efforts to inject more greenery into the urban environment, where artists and planners are getting more creative with how they use available space, transforming underutilized aspects of the landscape into small parks and gardens. These reclaimed places not only make the surroundings feel more vibrant through the use of natural greenery, but also help people redefine public space within cities, creating more opportunities for people to gather and congregate. For example, Urban Air is a project created by Los Angeles-based artist Stephen Glassman that aims to turn existing billboards into urban gardens filled with bamboo. The suspended gardens will feature Wi-Fi-enabled sensors, transforming them into global nodes capable of monitoring the climate.

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The final trend in the Green Scaping theme found in the Future Of Cities report is Compact Farming. In an effort to bring city centers closer to their food sources, developers and architects are experimenting with various methods for constructing farms and gardens that maximize yield within a limited amount of space. Whether incorporating their designs into existing structures or reducing physical footprints by building vertically, these compact solutions are making urban agriculture a viable economic model. For example, developed by Japan’s Daiwa House Industry, Agri-Cube is a self- contained vegetable growing system that integrates farming activities into urban areas. Suitable for congested street spaces which may not receive ample year round sunlight, Agri-Cube grows leafy greens and shallow-rooted root vegetables, like turnips and radishes, with adjustable fluorescent lighting.

In our Future Of Cities report, PSFK Labs examines the innovations and driving forces that will shape the urban environments of the future. To purchase the full report featuring fives themes, 28 trends and multiple examples of change, please visit the publishing page.

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