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Industrial Ethernet Book Issue 105 / 11
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Smart cities: What is the city but the people?

That's the question William Shakespeare lets Brutus ask in his play "Coriolanus". And that's the question that city planners still ask today. How can we develop smart cities that create sustainable economic development and high quality of life for the people.

A SMART CITY MAKES efficient use of physical infrastructure, and supports a strong and healthy economic, social, cultural development. Today we try to achieve this using information technologies, artificial intelligence and data analytics. But the concept of a smart city is not novel, it dates back long before the invention of the computer and Internet.

16th century skyscrapers

The first high-rise apartment buildings were not erected in New York or Chicago, but in the yemenite city of Shibam. Around 500 houses, most of them built in the 16th century, are all made out of mud brick and arise up to 11 stories high. Shibam's densely packed design keeps the buildings shaded for most of the day, protecting them from the intense desert heat.

Window openings are kept small and located to avoid direct sunlight and have engraved wooden lattice, sculptured with geometrical designs to allow air flows and provide shade. The buildings also have a shaft next to the staircase, which acts as a chimney for pulling a breeze of cool air from the ground level through the building.

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Natural air conditioning

Another fine example of an early smart city is Mohenjo Daro in the Indus Valley in Pakistan.

The city had a well planned layout with multi-story brick homes arranged on a grid plan. The orientation of the buildings helped to catch wind to provide a natural form of air conditioning. Despite being built circa 2500 BC, it already featured a sophisticated plumbing systems.

The city had a central well system and large public baths. Individual households obtained their water from smaller wells. Waste water was channeled to covered drains that lined the major streets.

Mohenjo Daro was abandoned in the 19th century, and the Indus Valley Civilization declined. Since the site was rediscovered in the 1920s, significant excavation has been conducted, and today it is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Early street lighting

The master-planned Benin City did not survive long enough to become a World Heritage Site. In the 13th century it was the capital of the Edo empire, located in what is now southern Nigeria. Unfortunately, nothing is left of it, as Benin City was completely destroyed in a British "Punitive Expedition" in 1897.

Benin City was designed according to the rules of fractal design. The city was purposely laid out in mathematically predictable patterns with similar shapes repeated in the the clusters of houses, the houses themself, and the rooms of each house, forming perfect fractals. The city was surrounded by around 500 distinct villages, all enclosed by massive walls, four times longer than the Great Wall of China.

It was also one of the first cities to have street lighting. Huge metal lamps, fuelled by palm oil, were placed around the city to provide illumination for traffic at night.

Early foreign explorers describe Benin City as a place free of crime and hunger, with large streets and houses kept clean. A Portuguese captain wrote in 1691: "The city is so well governed that theft is unknown and the people live in such security that they have no doors to their houses."

What is the city but the people?

Leopold Ploner

Source: Industrial Ethernet Book Issue 105 / 11
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