The Jean-Paul Sartres of tomorrow may develop their grand ideas not inside smoky Parisian cafes but outside them, seated under solar-powered parasols that don’t just provide heat but also absorb their cigarette smoke.
Paris, the city of around 10,000 cafes with outdoor seating,
is finding that the recent ban on smoking inside restaurants has resulted in smokers congregating outside. « In the summer it’s OK, but in the winter it’s cold and you have to provide heating for the guests, » explains Georges-Etienne Faure, advisor to Jean-Louis Missika, the deputy mayor of Paris in charge of innovation, research and universities. « But it’s crazy to heat the outside. » Making matters worse, the gas heaters by the tables spew sinful amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. The patrons’ smoke pollutes the air, too.
But how to find a fix that solves both the CO2 problem and the smoke? After realising that no French company seemed able to provide Paris with a solution to its dilemma, Missika and his team submitted a challenge through the organisation Citymart, asking for bids from around the world. The winner, the small American urban design firm Amorphica, specialises in futuristic, sustainable solutions from a self-sustainable high school in Mexico to sailing drones that collect oil after major spills.
According to the company’s spokeswoman Leemor Chandally, the urban parasol « was devised as a solution for cities to provide an urban amenity that creates comfortable and interactive urban spaces year-round. For example, it can be easily affixed to existing urban fixtures, such as bus stops, to improve the experience of waiting for a bus during the winter by providing a warm semi-enclosed space.
And for restaurants, it provides a sustainable alternative to the traditional gas heater.
« It harnesses and efficiently utilises renewable energy », explains Chandally. « And it integrates path-tracking and responsive solar panels, thermodynamic solar panels and space blanket insulation. Light sensors allow the parasol to accurately follow the sun’s natural path and therefore maximise energy absorption, and heating and LED-lighting activation is controlled using sensors to avoid any waste of energy. » And, she adds, « the parasol re-orients to create a semi-enclosed protective shelter for the user in dark and cold weather. »
Indeed, Amorphica believes its urban parasols can revolutionise city life by providing a sustainable source of heat and comfort and even generate clean energy. According to Chandally, it can be used in « outdoor spaces that turn unaccommodating and empty during the harsher months. It can also be used in public transitional spaces, such as waiting areas, which in many areas lack protection from such weather conditions. »
Comfortably waiting outdoors, courtesy of green energy? Sounds like an urban dream.
Paris will be the first city to try out the parasols. « Now we’ll experiment with the parasols, test them and above all see how Parisians like them, »
reports Faure. « The experimentation is decisive. If Parisians like the parasols, we’ll take them large-scale. »
Experimenting with out-of-the box solutions, then taking the good ones large-scale, has in recent years become a hallmark of Paris city planning. Missika’s office has already put out challenges for 200 problems, tested the winners and installed several of them across the city. One which tourists will be familiar with: fully wired bus stops featuring touchscreens and mobile phone charging stations. « Posing a challenge to an issue, rather than identifying what it is you want and put out a tender, is good for us, » explains Faure. « It helps us develop a vision for how the city can evolve. »
Like Paris, more and more cities are using climate change as an opportunity to rethink what a city should look like.
« Sustainability will be a major factor in how we shape our cities in the future »,
says Morten Jastrup, senior analyst at the Danish thinktank Sustainia. « And in emerging and developing economies, urbanisation means there’s an even bigger need for sustainable solutions. Just look at Beijing. People won’t leave the city because there are problems. Instead they’ll force officials to innovate. »
As a result, cities as different as Chicago and Seoul are reinventing themselves as pioneers of sustainable urban planning. The metropolis in the American midwest, not previously known for avant-garde green solutions, is turning a neighbourhood once dominated by a steel mill into a sustainability showcase, building 15,000 housing units that will be powered by renewable energy. According to Chicago Lakeside Development, the neighbourhood will feature a pioneering utility system and a living lab for sustainability solutions. It will completely eliminate waste too.
Paris’s city administration has not yet decided where the pilot project will take place. But, says Faure, it won’t be the Champs-Elysées: « Companies always want to be there, but socially it’s important for us to test products with real people, so we put them all over the city. »
Reblogged from theguardian.com
Photo © Shutterstock / kosmos111