Opening Dialogue. Connecting Culture. | Tyson Moultrie for Mayor of NBMA

New Bedford’s Transition to a Smart City: Resilient Independence, or Technocratic Feudalism?

*Original Article – https://newbedfordcoworking.com/city-state-southcoast/ *

Technological innovation is accelerating faster and faster each day. The Internet of Things (IoT) and distributed data management are on a crash course with virtually every industry. From energy and farming, to overnight shipping and healthcare, we can expect 22 billion IoT devices in operation by 2025.

Why would public works and municipal infrastructure be any different?

A forcing of the Hand: Embracing New Technology

The progression of technology is inescapable, but it is also embraceable. Those who do not embrace it are left scrambling– just ask Blockbuster. Just as every department and office of public works now has an email address and a web page, they will soon have IoT throughout their operations. However, there’s another disruptive force that will drive cities to become smart: Anthropogenic Climate Change.

Before the Storm: Preparing for the Impacts of Climate Change

I’m not a doomsday prepper, but you can’t argue with data. The looming impacts of climate change on cities themselves and on the supply chains they rely on will be fraught with hardship. In order to weather the storm, cities, especially coastal ones like New Bedford, will have to engineer their own resilience in the most efficient and smartest ways possible. This will entail climate-proofing infrastructure, improving mobility logistics, and providing localized security of food, water, energy, and construction materials. Proactivity is key. We do not want to be left wishing we had prepared before the storm occurred.

A Fork in the Road: What will a Smart New Bedford Look Like?

So innovation and climate change will drive cities to become smart, just as it will industrial supply chains and agriculture. But what does a world of smart cities look like? What would a smart New Bedford look like? How will this transition happen? Who will “upgrade” our New Bedford? Who will “run” New Bedford’s logistics and infrastructure? And most importantly, how will they be held accountable?

We are at a fork in the road as we transition our systems and infrastructure. There are two potential paths we can choose, and each will send us toward a very different reality:

Path #1: A Feudal Technocracy

Path 1 is simple: New Bedford employs Silicon Valley to upgrade their infrastructure and logistics. The behemoths of Silicon Valley manage our city, our municipal data, and in return get our state & local taxes along with government contracts. Given the recent news on how these monopolistic entities handle our data, and how they’ve let it be used against us, do we really want to let them be in charge of herding our traffic, aggregating our renewable energy, or assessing how best to respond to natural disasters?

Path #2: From the Ground Up

Path 2 is a little more complicated, and a whole lot more collaborative. New Bedford can turn the necessity to engineer smart-resilience into an opportunity for home-grown economic development. By drafting our own smart-city initiative, the city could decide to only utilize tech developed by companies based locally. This will allow the smart city to be homegrown by native startups rather than the giants of Silicon Valley.

With New Bedford only using technology developed locally, startups are incentivized to base themselves here because they will have guaranteed public contracts while they grow their private business. This 21st century “localized mercantilism” allows the city’s infrastructure to become more efficient, sustainable and resilient while bringing economic development and technological innovation to the SouthCoast.

This will eventually bring down the costs of public works by using green and efficiency technologies to eliminate the waste or misallocation of resources while making the city run more smoothly overall. Mobility would be increased with smart traffic lights and cameras that are able to communicate with each other allowing the most efficient herding of traffic.

Collaborative Opportunities for New Bedford

New Bedford should sponsor technical innovations that are applied to the existing industries of the city and its surrounding regions, like fishing, small-scale farming and art.

Startups could receive certain tax benefits along with the guaranteed contracts to attract business. However, there should be conditions for these startups. They could be required to store a percentage of their capital in local credit unions or be required to allot interns from and work closely with post-graduate career services of Bristol Community College, UMass Dartmouth, and Bridgewater State. They could also be required to host introductory internships or work studies for students from the local high schools, Voc or Diman. This would entice New Bedford’s best & brightest to stay and contribute to the local economy rather than moving to California.

The city could establish a Tech & Governance committee to act as a liaison between the tech sector and city hall. This governance committee would be made up of stakeholders from the different sub-industries within the tech sector, the local industries and businesses adopting the tech, and representatives from city hall. It would cut through red tape and foster friendly and transparent relations between the city government and the technologists/entrepreneurs upgrading the city.

This governance committee would create an interdependency in the decision making processes between the public and private sectors democratizing the impact of technological development. Allowing the public can voice concerns directly to the public sector members of the committee who would then address the concerns directly to the private sector members at the meetings.

The Smart City-State

 

In order to most effectively mitigate the consequences of climate change, The SouthCoast should become self-reliant in terms of energy, food, water and construction materials.

This can be done through distributed renewable energy, indoor farming, atmospheric water generation, and industrial hemp. By developing these industries locally, New Bedford will depend on its own population for both their basic needs and their day-to-day operations. This self-reliance would make it far more resilient in the face of climate change and its impacts on global supply chains while democratizing control over their logistics and data, preventing it from being manipulated and exploited by massive tech monopolies. We could even go as far as to develop our own cryptocurrencies allowing commerce to also become independent from complications in fiat currency and from Wall Street’s antics (It’s a whole new world!).

We need to become self-sufficient and resilient in the face of ecological and geopolitical deterioration, able to continue daily life relatively unscathed from the missteps of Silicon Valley, Wall Street, or D.C.

By proactively engaging in initiatives like this, New Bedford could become a leader of the 22nd century. An era which will not be marked by globalization, but re-localization. A time of increasingly autonomous smart city-states dotting an unfamiliar map of new coastlines, climates, and the waning influence of increasingly irrelevant centralized institutions. New Bedford has a history of being an industrial powerhouse, so why not do it again? This time we can lead the world in the smart-resilience industry, fostering real innovation to solve real problems.

Passed Puffing: Industrial Hemp

Hemp as an Industrial Commodity

Hemp as an agricultural commodity is an emerging industry that will cause huge disruption in terms of manufacturing. The Hemp Industries Association estimated that the total U.S. revenue of hemp products in 2012 was nearly 500 million dollars. The global market for hemp consists of over 50,000 products in nine submarkets. The interior stalks of the cannabis Sativa plants contain hundreds of short, woody fibers called hurds. Hurds can be used to create bedding, paper, plastics, composites, and construction materials such as hemp-metal and hempcrete. Hempcrete is an equally tough and more lightweight substitute for concrete. Since hemp can be compressed to wood and used in papermaking, it would reduce the deforestation of our ever-shrinking rainforests. During deforestation, huge sections of land are cleared of all trees, use of all resources to the point where nothing can grow, and the area becomes a useless wasteland. Once it has been exhausted of all of its resources, the lumber industry simply moves on to the next section of forests. Hemp, however, requires one section of land for growing. If done correctly, cannabis can be harvested in an area indefinitely and does not require more deforestation. It can also be grown indoors.

The documentary Food Inc. points out the numerous and hidden problems with today’s food industry. Hemp can also make food more healthy and natural. Hemp can be used in cooking oil and butter, edible hemp products do not get one high. Hemp seeds contain essential amino acids, B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, potassium, Vitamin E, and carotene, which the human body needs. Food made with hemp is healthier than food made with artificial supplements. In addition, eating healthily improves one’s demeanor and physical health. The most revolutionary industry cannabis can be applied to is fuel. Hemp can be converted into biodiesel and heating oil.

The dilapidated warehouses and factories of Fall River and New Bedford could be converted into huge IoT indoor farms growing both food and hemp. Members of the community can purchase shares in these factories and the produce grown will not compete with the SouthCoast food economy, it will be used as exports to other parts of the Northeast. In times of disaster in Massachusetts, these factories can send food aid where it is needed and will regularly donate to food kitchens. 

 

On top of growing hemp, these factories can be converted into processing and manufacturing operations. Using hemp processing and 3D manufacturing, they can create custom order materials made of hemp-plastic, hemp-wood, hempcrete, hemp-steel along with producing hemp biodiesel. In doing so, ensuring the SouthCoast has local access to affordable and environmentally friendly construction materials that will be needed to rebuild after the natural disasters of climate change. In addition to rebuilding, with 3D manufacturing, custom hempcrete “shells” can be created for existing infrastructure to proactively reinforce it and new infrastructure can be built with hemp materials. Hempcrete is less expensive, stronger, far less resource and pollution-intensive in terms of manufacturing, and actually absorbs CO2 meaning roads, bridges, and buildings can clean the air of pollutants. This would stimulate the local blue-collar economy by offering local businesses in architecture, carpentry, masonry, landscaping, construction, etc a wide range of new and affordable custom order materials.

Flood Protection

Flooding on Belleville Ave. New Bedford, July 12, 2019. (Photo by: Ed Caron)

Storm Surge Protection

In addition to proactively reinforcing and reactively rebuilding infrastructure and buildings with hemp-based materials, new forms of climate-resilient infrastructure can be erected. With locally produced hempcrete and 3D manufacturing, the construction costs of sea walls, wave breakers and floodwater canals are greatly reduced. Hempcrete can be used as the foundation to create artificial marshlands along the coast branching out from the sea walls and the hurricane barrier. Marshes essentially act as giant natural sponges during storm surges and “soak up” storm surges, slowing them and reducing flooding. 

In many places marshlands act as the first line of defense against coastal flooding. Coastal wetlands prevented more than $625 million in direct property damages during Hurricane Sandy. Sea walls typically damage the natural ecosystem, but with holistic design, the benefits of sea walls and artificial marshes can be merged to create regenerative elevated coastlines. With designs that mimic natural wetlands and the introduction of native wetland flora and fauna, especially shellfish the coastal water would be naturally cleaned of pollutants and carbon making it cleaner and less acidic. This would also create a new source of local food and new habitats for endangered coastal wildlife while in itself being a new tourist attraction/recreational area. Elevated pathways should be constructed above the marsh to create a system of walking trails along with ramps to launch kayaks and paddleboards. Placing IoT sensors throughout the wetlands would monitor its conditions and collect data to further the innovation on engineered resilience against sea-level rise and anthropogenic climate change at the Silicon Seaport.

Re-Permeation 

Much of the flooding in urban areas during storms is due to rain runoff. Concrete, asphalt and brick are not permeable materials meaning they do not absorb water like organic soil. This causes water to flow continuously until settling at the lowest point creating flash floods and huge puddles. Rainwater is supposed to be filtered off the streets through the sewer system however sewers are typically overrun and will certainly be overrun more often during climate change. This flooding damages infrastructure, homes, businesses and disrupts mobility/commerce. This runoff typically finds its way into rivers, lakes and the ocean bringing with it pollutants and garbage. In urban areas up to 75% of rainwater becomes runoff. Along with the urban farming referenced in part 3, other forms of “urban greening” can hugely contribute to mitigating cloud-born flooding. Green roofing is the practice of outfitting urban rooftops, from buildings to bus stops with specially designed vegetation beds filled with water-absorbent plants. Intensive green roof systems absorb up to 90% of would-be runoff. The water collected from green roofs gradually drop-drain over a two month period and this slow pace does will not overwhelm traditional drainage/sewage. The water draining is naturally filtered of most pollutants, especially heavy metals.

Along with absorbing rainwater, green roofs offer a number of added benefits. During the summer months, they absorb sunlight keeping homes and buildings cooler, lowering both bills and the carbon footprint associated with air conditioning. This added cooling will make an important difference during the anthropogenic heat waves that will occur over the coming century. A city with many green roofs & green walls will see the same effect on a large scale, cooling the city itself. Green roofs extend the lives of roofs by acting as a buffer from the elements. The same insulation caused by the organic material also reduced outside noise which is a plus for those living near busy city intersections or highways. In areas with urban farmers, green roofs offer micro-pastures for chickens whose grazing helps to maintain the roof. Perhaps the biggest added benefit is fire resistance. The moist soil of the living plants offers a natural form of fire resistance.

 

Rain gardens follow similar mechanics as green roof systems but are places on the ground. They are best built into existing road, sidewalk and parking lot structures. The plants used in rain gardens and green roofs should be locally-natural non-invasive species that are of great benefit to pollinators, especially bees. Beehives should be strategically placed throughout the urban forestry in spots where they will not bother pedestrians. Bees are integral to a functioning biosphere and a network of urban beehives would greatly benefit rain gardens, green roofs and urban farmers transforming food deserts. Having green spaces throughout the city increases resilience during rainstorms, but also cleans the air of pollutants and cools it during heat waves while greatly bettering the aesthetics making the city more attractive to tourists.

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