Agritecture: Exploring The Smart City Revolution
Although we remain in the early stages, it is clear that a ‘Smart City’ revolution is sweeping the world. Technology driven solutions are being used to rethink and reshape the way that urban areas function. These solutions bring with them the promise of future cities that are more efficient with resources, more equitable for residents, and more resilient to climate events.
But like with any young revolution, there is still a lot to learn it terms of what works and what should be included. Urban agriculture, for example, despite its unique ability to ameliorate a multitude of issues plaguing urban areas, is often strangely left out of the Smart City discussion. So Agritecture sat down with Chelsea Collier, founder of Digi.City, to discuss the future of Smart Cities and how urban agriculture can be a part of the revolution.
In 2016, after a career pursuing varied interests, Chelsea found herself in a unique position upon receiving an Eisenhower Fellowship. She decided to use the fellowship as an opportunity to look deeper into Smart Cities, and research a life-long interest about how people are working together with new ideas to solve some of modern society’s greatest challenges. “Something that I find particularly cool about Smart Cities is that it’s a relatively level playing field,” said Chelsea. “It doesn’t matter how large a city is - at its heart, the Smart City revolution is about people and communities breaking down silos and collaborating.”
Since receiving the fellowship, Chelsea has been traveling all over the globe - including to China, Manchester, Barcelona, Singapore, as well as around the US - studying how different cities are advancing Smart City initiatives. She created Digi.City as a platform to showcase her findings, and continually updates it to share her recent experiences.
Through her travels, Chelsea has learned that it’s easy to slap technology onto a pole, or install a sensor on a street light (what she calls “city bling”). But these technologies alone don’t make a city “smart”. “The truly radical evolution is a combination of the four different levels of what makes the Smart City,” said Chelsea. This includes the device level, management level, network level, and what she views as most important: the infrastructure level, which includes the fiber networks and energy grids that enable connected technology.
To succeed at each of these four levels, it “takes a city that knows how to work together and set a long term vision,” according to Chelsea. Different public and private sector actors need to be able to work together over time, which for cities is often a very real challenge. The cities who are unable to form these partnerships, and instead simply "slap the ornaments on the Christmas tree,” are not doing the real work of transforming into a competitive Smart City.
Urban farming has grown rapidly over the past decade, and has the potential to impact cities in a number of positive ways, such as by providing green infrastructure, food security, and economic opportunity. It can also help correct the deep inefficiencies in our food systems, and provide cities with a measure of resilience to events that impact food prices and availability. But at the same time, urban agriculture is frequently left out of the Smart City conversation.