Green City Rehab: 12 Eco Urban Makeover Concepts

When creating a sustainable city from scratch, practically anything is possible, allowing architects, designers and city planners to come up with incredible solutions to everything from housing to transportation. But the fact is, we’re not going to raze the world’s existing cities – they’re just going to need green makeovers. These 12 sustainable urban concepts like trash-powered street lights and elevated bike rails make it easier for city residents to live a low-carbon lifestyle.

Invisible Streetlight

(images via: techpin)

Of course street lights don’t need to be electric, but couldn’t they also be unobtrusive, a part of the urban environment? This interesting design from South Korean industrial designer Jongoh Lee, called ‘Invisible Streetlight’, could be just right for areas like parks or tree-lined boulevards. The lights, which twine around branches, are waterproof and solar-powered with nano wire batteries that have 10 times more storage capacity than Li-ion batteries.

Trash-Powered Lamp Post

(images via: yanko design)

For treeless areas where street lights are unavoidable, perhaps these columns of light could be put to work in an unexpected way. Haneum Lee imagines a lamppost that not only incorporates a compost bin within its base, but is powered by the methane created by the waste as it composts. The bins are made especially for food waste, which could be hard to enforce when so many city residents don’t even put recyclables in the correct bins, but it’s definitely an interesting concept that deserves more thought.

Energy-Harvesting Kinetic Sidewalks

(images via: powerleap)

Think of all the kinetic energy that could be generated from the footsteps of thousands of pedestrians as they go about their daily routine in the city. Walk, run, hop, skip, jump, dance – all of these movements can be harnessed  with what’s known as piezoelectric technology. If the energy’s already there, why not use it? One idea that could be translated to urban sidewalks is POWERleap, piezoelectric tiles created by inventor Elizabeth Redmond. “The project is not about hiding the infrastructure, it’s interactive, playful, flirtatious, and exciting,” Redmond told Metropolis Magazine. “I am calling on all humans to become responsible and sustainable self-generators for the communal grid.”

Human-Powered Monorails

(images via: gizmag)

More aerodynamic than a bicycle – not to mention protected from the elements and far above the chaos of urban traffic – these odd little pod-like human-powered monorail systems could be a real contender as a method of personal transportation in cities. The rider propels herself forward with the power of her own legs, just as on a recumbent bicycle, getting off at various points around the city just like any other mode of public transit. It might have a dweeby name, but the ‘Shweeb’ by designer Geoffrey Barnett has plenty of pluses.

“Here’s how it works,” Barnett explains. “You get up in the morning; descend to the second level of your apartment building where there’s a Shweeb port and empty Shweebs waiting for you. You cruise over the top of the traffic jams. You don’t pay parking. You’ve produced no pollution. You arrive at work fit, healthy and ready to go. You don’t own the Shweeb. You use it like a shopping cart.”

Street Signs Made from E-Waste

(image via: hoyasmeg)

Sure, it’s a small thing. But the materials used to create all of the street signs found in even a single city add up fast – as do the mountains of electronic waste that are all too often shipped to developing countries to poison their soil and water. E-waste company Image Microsystems has a novel solution for both problems: using the e-waste to create the signs. Made from 100% recycled e-waste, Image Microsystem’s signs look like any other standard street signs but divert all that toxic junk from the waste stream.

Solar-Powered Rickshaws

(image via: inhabitat)

Rickshaws have been used for centuries, but some of us have a hard time with the idea of a likely underpaid person lugging us (and our stuff) down the street with nothing but their own bodily strength. But the concept could be used to a similarly carbon-free effect without involving back-breaking labor. This solar-powered rickshaw by Solar Lab combines pedal power with rooftop photovoltaic panels. The rider gets an easy ride to their destination protected by the elements and the driver gets a break. It’s a no-brainer.

Bus-Charging Electric Bikes

(image via: chiyu chen)

Imagine renting a bicycle, enjoying a ride around the city and returning it to a kiosk where your pedal power is converted into electricity to run the city’s hybrid buses. This ingenious idea by Chiyu Chen provides dual-purpose public transportation that would drastically cut down both fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in cities around the world. It could be an interesting upgrade for existing bike-rental programs in cities like Paris and Washington, D.C.

Stackable Electric Cars

(image via: autoblog)

Imagine renting a bicycle, enjoying a ride around the city and returning it to a kiosk where your pedal power is converted into electricity to run the city’s hybrid buses. This ingenious idea by Chiyu Chen provides dual-purpose public transportation that would drastically cut down both fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in cities around the world. It could be an interesting upgrade for existing bike-rental programs in cities like Paris and Washington, D.C.

Elevated Bike Rails

(images via: arch daily)

Okay, so pedal-powered pods are perhaps not the best option for everyone, especially the claustrophobic. Those who still want to hang on to their own personal bicycles could get similar benefits from an elevated bike rail system. While the illustrated idea, called “Kolelinia” by designer Martin Angelov, looks a little dangerous, it’s likely just as safe as riding alongside speeding, swerving cars. This design utilizes a steel cable to provide a track for the bike, but making it a little wider with safety rails of some sort wouldn’t hurt.

Environmental Traffic Lights

(images via: core 77)

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to see for yourself what the air quality is like right there in your neighborhood, or just get super-localized weather info like air pressure and humidity? Hernando Barragan’s entry into the 2009 Greener Gadgets Competition would make that possible. ‘Environmental Traffic Light’ says much more than just stop, go or slow down.

“Just as there are traffic lights that help us regulate traffic vehicular and pedestrian, why not to talk about environmental signals that support decision making on environmental issues? They could give us information – not only phenomena but also the environmental state of our ecosystems. We can imagine these lights in different parts of the city, in parks – in contaminated or abandoned contexts.”

Vertical Farming: Fresh Local Food

(images via: rathaus, inka)

Of course, one of the most pressing problems with dense urban living is providing residents with a reliable local source of fresh food. That’s where vertical farming – of both the skyscraper and rooftop variety – comes into play. Vertical farming is an essential concept for the future of sustainable cities, putting food security back into the hands of the people and reducing the CO2 racked up by transporting food across the country. These two ideas – Sky Farm, envisioned for Toronto by Gordon Graff, and the Inka DIY vertical gardening solution, put unused urban space to work growing produce.

Compost-Creating Urinals

(images via: design boom)

Since the dawn of civilization, people (okay, mostly men) have been peeing in alleyways. It’s just a fact of urban life. And as much as we may wish that they’d take it to the restroom where it belongs, public urination is’nt going to stop anytime soon, so we may as well find a way to manage it. Designer Stephan Bischof experimented with a system called Wheelie Bins, placing them in strategic locations around London. They’re regular trash cans with built-in urinals that funnel liquid waste into a tray containing dried garden grass or wood-ash, where it eventually turns into nitrogen-rich fertilizer. While the need to pull out an unhygienic step-stool may not be the best option, and many cities would likely prefer to discourage peeing in public, the concept could be adapted to indoor urinals as well.

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