Cracked sidewalk


What Will the Sidewalks of the Future Look Like?

Concrete: It cracks when tree roots burst through, it gets so hot that it makes summer afternoons in the city feel absolutely stifling, and it’s the culprit behind many a skinned knee and elbow. So, why do we keep building our cities out of this material that seems to be more of a hassle than it’s worth? That’s the question that’s driving local government and tech companies around the world to investigate smarter ways to build sidewalks. And the idea of building smarter sidewalks is conducive towards other great ideas as well — can a sidewalk be more than just a stone walkway?

Case in point: Pavegen, a London-based company is currently working on developing flooring technology that converts kinetic energy into renewable electricity. In other words, it takes the energy from your footsteps and can use it to power things in the surrounding area, like, say, USB ports that people can use to recharge their electronics. Their kinetic energy tiles have already been installed in train stations, playgrounds, and offices around the U.K. and France, and are serving as a power source for street and bench lamps, among other things.

Another good example: George Washington University recently unveiled their version of energy-conducting walkable panels on their Virginia campus, as well. Unlike Pavegen, however, GWU’s sidewalk harnesses the power of sunlight to then power 450 LED lights embedded under the panels. In a similar vein, Pro-Teq Surfacing created a spray-on substance that absorbs UV light throughout the day and releases it at night to make paths glow in the dark. As for alternative materials, Santa Monica is testing out rubber sidewalks, and Washington, DC, is experimenting with a porous material that can wrap around trees (to prevent those pesky sidewalk cracks).

The exploration of sidewalks is only a small part of a much larger movement towards building smarter cities. From local government to large corporations, people all over the planet are rethinking ways to make cities work better, to make them safer for other people and for the environment. And in some places, the creation of new, public city structures also happens to be strikingly beautiful.

Considering the way things have been going lately for the world, all of this can only be good news, right?

[Pic via Flickr - Nat Wilson]

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