A number of tech giants are now planning to build their own private cities. As these futuristic, digitally-equipped towns will showcase many innovations, the projects may well help to get Smart Cities up and running faster.
Whether we are talking about Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who recently announced plans to build a digital city in Arizona called Belmont, or Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google parent Alphabet, who recently unveiled the Sidewalk Toronto project, Web bosses seem to have been struck by a sudden passion for town planning.
Behind these projects, which are still very much in their infancy, there is however much at stake. The Smart City represents a huge future market which will soon gather pace all over the planet. Building their own cities, and injecting substantial funds, enables the major Internet players to experiment in real conditions, designing, testing, labelling and demonstrating to the wide world innovative technologies with the potential to help run the planet's megacities in the near future. However, it must be said that they are jumping on the bandwagon rather than leading the line, since a number of high-tech model cities constructed with private-sector money already exist in Asia and the American continent. So will all these projects really foster the speedy emergence of Smart Cities? From a purely technological point of view, this would appear a safe bet.
A full-on Smart City?
In South Korea, not far from Seoul, the futuristic city of Songdo has been built – at a cost of $35 billion – entirely with private funds. Covering 610 hectares and stuffed full of new fully-digitalized apartment buildings, Songdo boasts cutting-edge digital technology and an impressive set of environmentally-friendly systems. This fully operational Smart City, with 120,000 residents, is several steps ahead of its rivals. The local authority has implemented digital technology-based initiatives designed to optimise the way the city works and streamline the daily lives of its inhabitants. For example, auto traffic is managed using a state-of- the-art system. Every car licence plate is scanned as soon as it leaves its parking spot, and the data is then sent to a management platform that calculates the number of drivers on the road, or about to move out on to the road, in order to optimise traffic flows in real time. In the same vein, some 500 cameras are in place, backed up by an arsenal of sensors installed on street furniture, for the purpose of sending data on the number of buses in service and their precise location to the management platform.
The results are commensurate with the resources that have been deployed. There are no more traffic jams. Public transport is never late and always safe. Police can access the data gathered by the sensors and cameras so as to get to an incident as soon as it occurs. Songdo also stands out from its rivals when it comes to environmental responsibility: 99%of the city's parking is underground, and household waste is taken directly from homes and piped through to the recycling plant. The rainwater collection and filtration system is located beneath the golf course and all the buildings have solar panels. In addition, the city authority keeps a close eye on the energy consumption of each building with a view to limiting expenditure and pollution and redistributing any surplus.
In fact, Songdo can claim to top the list of Smart Cities, having amply demonstrated its ability to provide a connected response to urban problems. Nevertheless, the way it operates still raises some questions. As a privately-owned city in the hands of a consortium of investors, it fails to implement such democratic principles as data transparency and to foster civic dialogue. However, while some observers might be worried about the central surveillance aspects of Sondo's organisation, the town is exemplary from a technological point of view and its model may soon be exported throughout Asia. But it does highlight one rather disappointing aspect: it seems easier to build a Smart City from scratch than transform an existing town.
Building everything from the ground up
In the south of Florida, former American football player-turned multi-millionaire Syd Kitson is bringing to life Babcock Ranch, a futuristic fully-connected and entirely 'green' town. The electricity grid is 100% solar-powered, fed by a plant located on the edge of town, and the streets are lined throughout with photovoltaic panels, each feeding one house. As the owner of this miniature Smart City covering 370 square kilometres, Syd Kitson has decided to implement a number of measures designed to boost the environmental aspects of the venture. Petrol-driven cars are not allowed inside Babcock Ranch, electric vehicles are tolerated but quotas are imposed.
The idea is not only to avoid carbon dioxide emissions but also to keep the number of vehicles stable. The circular economy takes priority: fruit and vegetables are grown in nearby fields and orchards and are sold in local shops and used in the town's restaurants. If the whole approach feels rather authoritarian this is no doubt because Kitson is actually the sole owner of his town. But the results are undisputable: there is no pollution. By designing and building Babcock Ranch from A to Z and implementing strict rules of operation, Kitson has achieved much better than average outcomes and demonstrated that this method works.
In the same vein, but on a very different scale, Bill Gates' real estate investment group Belmont Partners is preparing to start building Belmont, a city that will have technology embedded in its DNA. Belmont Partners has just acquired a vast area of land in Arizona, around a hundred kilometres from Phoenix. Covering an area as large as Paris, the new town is intended to be a real laboratory for Smart City experimentation, testing out the latest technologies for self-driving cars and implementing a range of innovations involving incorporating green spaces into the cityscape, using renewable sources of energy for power and drawing on local food supply chains.
Bill Gates also intends to draw up a digitally innovative and environmentally-friendly roadmap for tomorrow's smart cities. And he reckons that it is easier to test and integrate the technologies which will be used in Smart Cities by building a new town rather than transforming an existing one. Existing cities usually have a long architectural legacy to cope with. In theory a blank canvas is easier to work with.
Google is dancing to the same tune. Sidewalk Labs, Alphabet's Smart City subsidiary, has announced a ground-breaking partnership with the city of Toronto to build a mini smart city focusing entirely on digital technologies. With this venture Google is clearly demonstrating its objectives in the smart city sphere. The Internet giant is planning to set up its own testing centre to hone technologies that work well in practice and can be marketed.
Clearly a Smart City is not the exclusive province of governmental authorities. If it is to work properly, the private sector will have to come in and supply the necessary technologies. Public-private collaboration therefore seems essential and the Internet giants have clearly grasped this fact. Making Smart Cities the norm for urban development in the 21st century will be a huge challenge.
Let us hope that such cities, constructed from scratch and based on digital innovation, will in turn foster the emergence of a truly civic Smart City. After all, smart technology cannot be the only criterion for a functioning town in the years to come.
(Source: BNP Paribas – L’Atelier)
How can the blue economy make a difference?
What if the future of sustainable business is at the bottom of the ocean for once? Marine biodiversity contains resources that can meet the environmental challenges of many sectors. Perhaps yours, too. Find out more during an online event about the promising blue economy on 11 March 2021.
Blue is the new green
71% of our planet consists of water. Seas and oceans play a crucial role in our climate, and coastal areas can capture up to five times more CO2 than tropical forests. The blue economy wants to benefit from all these advantages to improve both the environment and our well-being,
With local being the keyword. And that's where the difference lies with the green economy, which also focuses on the environment and health, but not always in such a sustainable and smart way. Eating organically grown quinoa from Ecuador, for example, is healthy and eco-friendly, but transporting it here is expensive and creates high amounts of pollution.
What does the underwater world have to offer that can be reused, recycled or converted into new sustainable products? A lot, it turns out, as the unique properties of organisms such as algae, starfish, jellyfish or sea cucumbers can be transformed into sustainable products with high added value. This is a process that requires creativity and innovation, and is already with us today.
For your sector, too
The blue economy is expanding rapidly and could bring about a revolution in a wide range of sectors such as healthcare, food, the plastics industry, cosmetics, energy and even aerospace. It is fully capable of helping companies transform their traditional activities into a sustainable model. And in Belgium's ports, the country already has a huge advantage and excellent access to coastal and offshore areas.
Another scoop of microalgae?
Microalgae, for example, offer a lot of promise, as they can renew themselves and thrive both in the desert and in the ocean. They contain many healthy components, such as proteins, that can be used to develop food products.
When discussing the oceans, the plastic problem is never far away. Human beings are producing more and more plastic as the world's population grows, yet the problem with the existing plastic is that it's nigh on impossible to recycle as its components are hard to separate. By making a completely different type of plastic from biomass, its recycling is already considered at the design stage. A large amount of biomass remains unused in the oceans, and using smart, natural polymers could revolutionise plastic production, for example. These polymers are capable of self-renewal and can adapt to their environment.
Who will pay for it?
Great ideas, you think, but who will pay for them? The financial sector certainly wants to play a role in this revolution and is prepared to take risks and invest in new technologies, production systems and R&D.
This commitment was formalised in various ways during the climate week in New York at the end of September 2020. BNP Paribas signed the Principles for Responsible Banking (PRB) and joined the UNEP FI's Collective Commitment to Climate Action, a partnership between the United Nations Environment Programme and the financial sector. In terms of the maritime sector, the Bank committed to working with customers to preserve and sustain the oceans. Read more about this commitment here (only available in French).
Would you like to find out whether the blue economy could make a difference to your sector?
Sign up here for a free online event on this subject on 11 March 2021 (in English only), organised by BNP Paribas Fortis Transport, Logistics and Ports Chair.
What is the future for mobility post-coronavirus?
The health and economic crisis has affected all aspects of every sector. Among them, mobility, for both private individuals and for companies.
Mobility is evolving every day. And it has been driven further as a result of the coronavirus crisis. Many people have been locked down and working from home has been widespread in many parts of the world.
The coronavirus crisis has changed concerns about transport
We are no longer moving around in the same way. And concerns are no longer the same. According to a BCG Consulting report, social distancing and vehicle cleanliness are the most important aspects for 41% and 39% of respondents, respectively, when choosing a mode of transport. There is also pre- and post-Covid mobility, with respondents being more likely to choose walking, their own bicycle or scooter, or their car than before the crisis.
Sustainable and alternative mobility in the years to come
Mobility has not necessarily waited for the coronavirus crisis in order to evolve. And, according to the same report, the share of more environmentally-friendly vehicles will continue to increase. By 2035, more than 35% of new vehicles will be electric cars, becoming the predominant form of motorised transport worldwide. Autonomous cars will also become more common, with 10% of vehicles being level 4 vehicles (able to travel without a driver, for example), and 65% level 2 or higher.
Customised mobility for employees, right now
The future of mobility is also relevant now, especially for businesses and the self-employed. The need for alternative modes of transport does not only concern private individuals, but also employees. There is no longer a single mode of transport for all situations, but a range of means depending on the need at a given moment. Electric cars, hybrid vehicles, electric bicycles, a public transport season ticket, car sharing, leasing, etc. These modes can take different forms and be combined in a mobility card, for example. There are benefits for the employees and managers of a company but also for the company itself through cost reduction, optimisation and fleet management.
Find out more about our tailor-made mobility solutions
The road to alternative mobility
Nowadays, responsible fleet management is built around sustainability. We're here to help you identify and realise your Corporate Social Responsibility ambitions.
Together we can cut your company's carbon footprint, improve employee mobility, and make sure these steps become a central pillar of your company's added value. In short, our aim is to have an alternative mobility policy.
We can help you make the switch to alternative mobility and new technologies to reduce your carbon footprint. Our SMaRT approach ensures your fleet has the best energy mix to match your strategy and driver profiles.
Alternative mobility needs new technologies to go hand in hand with new infrastructure. That's why we offer not only electric cars, but also the right charging solutions, too. As part of our integrated service provision we can determine how many charging points you need, install them, and manage how they are used both at the workplace and at the driver's home.
Modern mobility management is about more than just cars or vans. You need a 360-degree approach. We'll work with you to determine your mobility strategy and needs. Greener cars are just one of the options available. We have a number of mobility management solutions (such as the Mobility Card) and alternative mobility solutions (such as bicycle leasing) to inspire your organisation to offer a more flexible range.
Focus on employees
When you put your employees at the heart of your organisation, you're in a better position to find skilled employees, satisfy them, and retain them. Go a step further than just an alternative mobility solution: focus on their safety and let them play an active role in achieving your sustainability goals. Trust us to improve their safety and integrate new technologies.
Operational leasing is offered by Arval Belgium SA/NV, with the intervention of BNP Paribas Fortis SA/NV – Montagne du Parc/Warandeberg 3, B-1000 Brussels, Brussels Register of Companies VAT BE0403.199.702.
Promotion only available from Thursday 21 January up to and including Wednesday 31 March 2021 and is only available to professional clients (self-employed, liberal professionals and SMEs) of BNP Paribas Fortis and Fintro.
The information provided here does not constitute an offer. An offer is made only after your file has been accepted and is always subject to Arval Belgium SA/NV's General Terms and Conditions.
Mobility, more than just four wheels
BNP Paribas Fortis offers complete mobility solutions. Sometimes a four-wheeled fleet is not enough for your mobility needs.
As a reliable partner, we can help you with every step – or pedal – of your mobility trajectory.
Mobility analysis and advice
Our mobility managers can work together with your relationship manager to develop a future-focused mobility strategy.
We start by listening to you: we want to understand your needs and concerns when it comes to mobility. This is our starting point for creating the best mobility solution for you and your company. We will build on this foundation with our expertise, while also taking Belgium's specific legal and fiscal ecosystem into account.
New mobility solutions
As well asfull-service leasing,we also offer our core product giving you access to our full mobility range, a wide range of basic services and added-value services such ascar parts,carpool management,bicycle leasingandmobility cards. All of our mobility services and their associated services such as parking, electric charging, fuel, tolls and car washing are within reach.
Managing your mobility budget
We'll help you and offer advice about implementing the federal mobility budget[VBK1] in your company. If that's too limited to meet your specific needs and aims, we can develop a personalised mobility budget solution to manage your mobility costs in line with the legal framework, just as we've done for a number of clients previously.
We've already implemented some tailored cost-neutral solutions, allowing our clients to combine lease cars with lease bicycles or other mobility solutions. This means the company can meet its goals while also making good on its promises and obligations.
Those ambitions might range from an ambitious CO2 agenda to a competitive offer to attract talent or a solution to solve your lack of car parking spaces.