The Art of Landscape in Smart Cities

In the lexicon of planners and developers “Smart Parks” are usually reserved for new forms of industrial and business parks that provide high speed broadband to their end-users as the new form of utility. Of course many offer additional benefits to be part of this special tenant mix, from special LED lighting, guaranteed electric power, electric car charging posts, underground utilities, and gated security services. The physical environment might also include high-end data centers, incubators, accelerators and educational institutions in addition to the office environment that they normally offer. Some offer unique environmental applications such as green buildings, wind turbines, solar panels, vacuum-based waste disposal as well as collecting data via sensors to measure for system efficiencies, environmental readings and traffic flow. Some, such as the Eindhoven Tech Center in the Netherlands offer synergy centres where people gather in restaurants, gymnasiums, ad hoc meeting spaces and advanced digital libraries.

Smart Parks are usually unique commercial environments and their landscape and design elements are not typically extended into the normal fabric of the city and regional environments, but there is no reason why they couldn’t be strategically part of the planning of greenfield sites, the strategic replacement of public works in a brownfield area of a municipality, or the planning for the refurbishment of existing parks, street and open spaces throughout a community. Hong Kong’s Cyberport includes a complete and compact community ranging from housing, office spaces, commercial town center, hotels and educational and entertainment opportunities with smart park-like landscaping that the community benefits from. The $85 Billion, 2860 hectare new town called Springfield in Ipswich, Australia is much more than a smart park, featuring all the benefits of a smart park in the design of a new town and a new tourist destination with a swimming lagoon as a central landscaping feature for the community.


In redeveloping existing brownfield areas in cities, some simple ideas will begin to change the landscape from old and passive to new and brilliant. For instance, look at some of the changes in the landscape that have been happening in Europe with smart landscape in mind. In Barcelona, traffic lights, LED lighting, dynamic bus shelters and parking availability signs give the city a physical sense of its new brand as a smart city. In Eindhoven, artist Daan Roosegarde illuminates the van Gogh bike path for evening commuters traveling to Nuenen. In Rio, along the beachfront at Copacabana, public spaces have evolved in time for the massive global events including World Cup, Olympics and Formula One races. The newly landscaped spaces include misting cooling stations, modern toilets, exercise stations, coffee shops and restaurants as well as information posts and security provisions such as lifeguard stations and emergency contact support. These are tied directly to a 24 hour surveillance system that is manned by police, fire, health and parks supervisors at a major control room in central Rio. The life along Copacabana Beach is now extended into the late evening with more activity, safeguarded by eyes on the street, both in real life and virtual. But these changes in the landscape need not be limited to massive improvements that only larger urban areas are able to undertake. A simple act as making an underground pipe available as part of the redevelopment of any street or park improvements, allows for private sector involvement to participate in the eventual upgrade of the street or park as part of a smart landscape opportunity. This empty pipe could eventually lead to provisioning of fiber optics into the area without the need for digging up the street or park again. These could further lead to interesting applications in each community that meets a specific society’s needs in the urban landscape, such as safety applications; navigating movement systems; lighting; and entertainment and information via video.

Ultimately these streetscape and park improvements lead to three key things from a smart cities perspective, namely 1. to create highly efficient and productive spaces as well as to acquire as much data and related information for civic administrators, asset managers and planners to assist in maintenance budgets and future planning, design and implementation; 2. to create interesting spaces and routes that offer users a unique, safe and satisfying experience; and 3. to create memorable and uniquely differentiated spaces and experiences that will attract tourists, talent and investors to the community. These landscaped elements provide citizens and external investors alike with the confidence of stable and good governance as well as add to the powerful image of the community, adding to its brand and competitive advantage as a memorable community that people would want to live in and invest in and to which the talent and millennials today gravitate to.

Places like New York’s Central Park and Paris’ Avenue des Champs-Élysées are tourist magnates but small and mid-sized cities can also create memorable spaces. Dusseldorf’s waterfront, for instance, attempts to create effective landscaped spaces where layers of its waterfront heritage past are incorporated into its waters edge spaces. But in Dusseldorf the future is never far from these spaces, both in built form and landscape elements ranging from its waterfront tree planting scheme to its highly articulated walkways and fanciful architecture. In between is information on transit availability with GPS guided times of arrival; signage indicating parking availability in neighbouring structures and related public information. Oulu’s central core has video screens that help with information on events, tourist information and even internet services. Many parks and streets now boast free Wi-Fi from Boston to Taipei with their ubiquitous Wi-Fi mesh equipment on poles, on roofs and on sides of buildings adjacent to the parks and streets. With the increasing applications of the Internet of Things, there will be increasing evidence that these landscape elements will include technology, sensors, video on demand and many more aspects of the new landscape frontier. In Nice, the “Connected Boulevard” project utilizes smart poles, LED light standards, benches, garbage bins and many other landscape elements to connect sensors in order to extract data from the activities that take place in the boulevard. This includes traffic flow, parking, pedestrian and bicycle traffic as well as more passive activities in outdoor cafes and people relaxing on park benches. This data (Big Data) will be used to determine maintenance budgets but also for future planning of streets and boulevards in Nice.

Landscape Architects and Urban Designers will need to consider their design carefully so that they are pleasant, safe and allow for enjoyment of the space. Some spaces are highly active landscaped spaces where technology may have its place, but some spaces should allow for calm, opportunities for privacy and not become over bearing with technology nor become a place where data on you and your activities is collected against your will.

Note: This article first appeared in MyLiveableCity

Co-Founder/Chair ICF; ICF Canada, formerly CTT/ GTMA/CEDA/Board CUI, Urban Planner & Designer, Author & Speaker on Econ Devel/ Smart & Intelligent Cities
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