Carlo Ratti enters Australian Smart Cities debate

Thinking Cities
By Thinking Cities June 6, 2016 15:06

Carlo Ratti enters Australian Smart Cities debate

The federal government has launched its Smart Cities Plan and Carlo Ratti, the founding partner of Carlo Ratti Associati studio in Italy and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor, thinks the government is on the right track. Just don’t call them smart cities.

“I don’t like the term,” he told The Australian during his recent visit down under. “That puts too much emphasis on smart technology, rather than the human side of the applications. I prefer the term sensible cities; cities that are able to sense.”

For Professor Ratti, sensible cities are more about the people in the city than technology’s impact on their quality of life. He points to a recent paper by MIT’s Smart Mobility team, which found the mobility demand of a city like Singapore — which could potentially host the world’s first publicly accessible fleet of self-driving cars — could be met with 30 per cent of its existing vehicles. He thinks there’s similar potential in Australia.

“This is something that can happen quite rapidly, it’s about retro-fitting a city,” Professor Ratti says. “Cars are used just 5 per cent of the time, and they sit unused somewhere for 95 per cent of the time. If you can change those numbers just a little bit you can have a huge economic impact.”

Professor Ratti said the internet has had a profound impact on society, and one that’s starting to be realised in our physical spaces as well as online. “The ultimate goal should be our quality of life,” he says. “If you take that as the starting point everything else should follow. And I don’t think the government has a big role to play here, you want to promote citizens themselves to become actors in this space.”

According to Professor Ratti, government should be less about making bold divisive plays and more about supporting academic research and promoting applications in fields that might be less appealing to venture capital such as municipal waste or water services.

Taking a philosophical view, Professor Ratti, who holds several patents and has co-authored more than 250 publications, refers to the Xerox PARC computer scientist Mark Weiser, and his idea of “calm” technology.

Ubiquitous computing, the third wave in computing, is just now beginning, Mr Weiser wrote. “First were mainframes, each shared by lots of people. Now we are in the personal computing era, person and machine staring uneasily at each other across the desktop. Next comes ubiquitous computing, or the age of calm technology, when technology recedes into the background of our lives.”

Professor Ratti said new businesses like Airbnb, which has effectively built the largest hotel chain in the world with little overheads or costs, have taken a much more sustainable model than building thousands of hotels from scratch, and it’s that sustainability that will define the way technology impacts our lives in the future.

“Most of these new things will be about sustainability and sociability,” he says.

Thinking Cities
By Thinking Cities June 6, 2016 15:06