Mexican 'smart city' would be 100% energy efficient, self-sustaining

An Italian firm has put forward an idea for a green city that would be completely self-sustaining, modern, and green.

Mexican 'smart city' would be 100% energy efficient, self-sustaining
Image source: Stefano Boeri Architetti
  • An Italian architecture firm has proposed a sustainable city for Mexico.
  • The plans call for a 100 percent self-sufficient metropolis, with renewable energy, Venetian canals, and endless green space.
  • This design is one of many "smart city" proposals as of late that point to a new form of urbanism.

Imagine a city that manages to combine nature and technology harmoniously, a self-sustaining metropolis where green space is punctuated by modern buildings and the bustle of city life.

Such a city is currently in works, as Milan-based architecture firm Stefano Boeri Architetti has just announced plans for a smart "forest city" near Cancun, Mexico that will be able to provide all of its food and energy.

Eco-Utopia?

An aerial view of the proposed city. Notice the surrounding green space and extensive canal system.

Image source: Stefano Boeri Architetti

According to the firm's press release, the city will cover 557 hectares, 400 of which will be green spaces containing 7,500,000 plants. Designed for 130,000 people to live and work there, it will feature a wide variety of housing types to accommodate the needs of its residents.

The economy of the city will be circular, with all of its food, water, and energy needs being self-generated. The designs also include a grand research center so that the city can host university departments, conferences, and curious scholars of all ages.

The city even has plans to improve the way we interact with our data. The architects told Dezeen that "Big data management is used to improve the governance of the city, hence, the life of its citizens. Sensors are distributed within the building fabric: they collect and share relevant information, which is then centrally analyzed and turned into suggestions in support of everyday life. For example, by mapping on an app the expected outdoor comfort experience within certain areas of the city."

This data will be handled with "full respect of the privacy of the citizens."

If all goes according to plan, the city will be built on an area currently used as a sand quarry for hotels that is tentatively scheduled to become a shopping center.

Can it really be self-sustaining?

Artist's impression of the fresh water canals.

Image source: Stefano Boeri Architetti

The city is designed to fully sustain itself through an ingenious system of energy production and water desalination. A ring of solar panels will surround the city, generating enough power for all of the inhabitants. Water will be pulled from the Caribbean and desalinized using a solar tower. This water would be used to irrigate crops through a system of navigable canals.

Transportation will be handled by an entirely electric public "Mobility in Chain" transit system. Cars will all be left outside of the city.

What carbon emissions there are will be captured by the endless plants. The firm notes, with evident pride, that "thanks to the new public parks and private gardens, thanks to the green roofs and to the green facades, the areas actually occupied will be given back by nature through a perfect balance between the amount of green areas and building footprint. The Smart Forest City will absorb 116.000 tons of carbon dioxide with 5.800 tons of CO2 stocked per year."

While it currently only exists on paper, the visionaries who have dreamed this plan into existence hope the city can be an example for the world and a testing place for ideas on sustainable urbanism. It will join the ranks of several other smart cities that have been proposed as ways to improve our existence, make the world more sustainable, and move beyond the limitations of our current urban planning paradigms.

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

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