Portugal plans ‘smart’ eco-city

Paul Raven @ 12-10-2010

OK, so ‘smart’ is a persistently misused word in the modern context (my smartphone isn’t smart; damn thing can’t hold a decent conversation for more than a minute or two), but nonetheless: the northern end of Portugal will, if all goes to plan, play host to a designed and networked ecological city, wired to the gills with sensors and systems to control the consumption of energy and water. Unsurprisingly (and in keeping with the general trends in ecological product marketing) it has a stupid smug pun of a name:

Like other sustainable cities, PlanIT Valley will treat its own water and tap renewable energy. Buildings will also have plant-covered roofs, which will reduce local temperature through evapotranspiration, as well as absorbing rainwater and pollutants.

Yet that is where the similarities with other eco-cities end, according to its makers Living PlanIT based in Paredes. For a start, PlanIT Valley will be built closer to existing transport links than the likes of Masdar. More significantly, its “brain” will use data collected from a network of sensors akin to a nervous system to control the city’s power generation, water and waste treatment (see “Brains and nervous system”). It’s a kind of “urban metabolism”, says Steven Lewis, chief executive of Living PlanIT.

While this network of sensors sounds expensive, the cost of installing it will be offset by using more efficient building techniques.

Rather more utopian and blue-sky than the Cisco city-in-a-box, then, which – one presumes – focusses more closely on the infrastructural bang for the buck required in the rowing economies of Asia than on touchy-feely eco-gubbins; one suspects some sort of mid-point between the two might be an ideal worth aiming for.

While PlanIT Valley is obviously a well-meaning project, the designed city doesn’t have a wonderful history of successes, at least not here in the UK; anyone who has ever visited Milton Keynes will know what I’m trying to say here. As pointed out in the article above, it’s all very well to build a technological marvel of an urban space, but all bets are off until people move in and actually start building a community there… and as even the most casual student of utopias will be aware, it’s usually the people that cause the problems rather than the buildings that house them.

[ Why, yes, I am feeling rather pessimistic today – how did you guess? ]

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6 Responses to “Portugal plans ‘smart’ eco-city”

  1. Paulo says:

    Still a worthwhile endeavour don’t you think?
    Whilst I agree that of course it’s people not buildings that are the problem a lot of the technology and ideas in the article are sound and could have a real impact.
    I for one am extremely proud this is happening in the country I was born.

  2. Paul Raven says:

    Oh, certainly worthwhile, Paulo, and worth being proud of – I’m just a professional cynic. 🙂

  3. Babylon says:

    The US has a much better history with utopian cities than the UK as far as I can tell. They don’t end up perfect, by any means, but they also don’t tend to be hell. I think the important difference is that the successful ones in the US were planned by their inhabitants, not for their inhabitants.

  4. jon says:

    Is there a country on earth that hasn’t tried (or planned) to build a techno-topia yet? I think the general rule with these is: the more planning that goes into them, the less attractive the end result (the end result is usually one or two semi-occupied glass boxes in an empty field). Success would be greater if a country sectioned off an area of its territory, declared it exempt from most laws & regulations, and then stood back. A bit harder to sell to voters without a prospectus and pretty pictures, though.

  5. Steve Lewis says:

    Hi all,

    I think it is reasonable and quite frankly that people debate the merits and objectives of new places.

    The reality of our urbanizing world is that (i) we have more people living in urban environments that rural for the first time in human history and this trend is to not only continue but accelerate; and (ii) growth in human population demands we begin to get to grips with not only consequences (certainly more awareness today than in previous years) but more importantly to develop solutions that enable this shift while minimizing / reversing human impact on the environment that supports us.

    PlanIT Valley (at its core) is designed as a world center for development and implementation of technologies, business models and human development in collaboration with many of the worlds leading companies and institutions.

    Do we have all the answers – hell no! However, by gathering diverse interests, skills, opinions and creative / challenging thinking we hope to make a positive contribution to both the debate and over time deliver solutions that improve the quality of human life around the world.

    Time will only tell how successful we are in that endeavour, but to sit on the sidelines while the world struggles (as a whole) with such issues is avoiding an obligation that should and must be borne by us all.

    Mankind wastes so much energy on finding creative ways to maintain status quo – time that we shifted our collective intelligence and learnings to causes that improves life and security for all.

    Steve Lewis
    CEO
    Living PlanIT

  6. Lilla Vielman says:

    I think this idea is really great, but it sounds like somebody is trying to explain how the human body works.