Smart City - Smart Environmental Sustainability

Growing and developing responsibly

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Date 03 November 2021

Environmental sustainability is a key element for a Smart City to fully integrate and for growing and developing responsibly.

“By using advanced technology and other innovations, we can shape a precinct that's better equipped to address today's urban challenges that often have a negative impact on the environment.”  says Louise de Roubaix, Environmental & Horticulture Manager at Century City Property Owners’ Association (CCPOA).  

One of our key focus areas, and most definitely a part of Century City that’s unique in terms of natural resources is its most precious natural treasure, Intaka Island, a 16ha wetland at the centre of the precinct.  “The environmental protection of Intaka Island and its use as an environmental education classroom is key to the overall integration of people, development, and the sensitivities of true conservation, and is the foundation of our environmental sustainability philosophy.” explains De Roubaix.

Home to 231 species of indigenous plants, 120 bird species and several small terrestrial animals, Intaka Island has an internationally recognised heronry, is the starting point of Birdlife South Africa’s Flamingo Birding Route and is recognised as a voluntary conservation site by Cape Nature.  “Another major feature of Century City is our canals,” says De Roubaix.  “We have 7.5km canals running through the precinct, excluding the water bodies of Intaka Island and Ratanga Park.  Our canals are a very sensitive and important part of Century City.”

De Roubaix explains that the construction of Intaka Island as a man-made wetland was not only to create a lush green lung to Century City, but as a method to clean and polish water by replenishing and circulating the canal water.  “This provides a natural healthy environment for people, plants and animals alike.  We conduct weekly and monthly sampling of the water, which is then sent away for testing at laboratories to ensure that we are meeting water quality standards.  In addition, we harvest the aquatic plants that grow in the canals to ensure that the waterbody is fit for passive recreational purposes such as canoeing and our Intaka Island water taxis.  Aquatic plants aid in the natural uptake of nutrients and the harvesting thereof plays an important role in removing excess nutrients in the water. This is critical for the balance of our Century City eco system.”

There are several ways that Century City, as a smart city, promotes environmental sustainability.

1. Smart parks

Smart parks use technology - environmental, digital, and materials - to achieve a series of values: equitable access, community fitness, enhanced health, safety, resilience, water and energy efficiency, and effective operations and maintenance.  

“Free Wifi spots are available across many of our public open spaces.” explains De Roubaix. “Visitors can enjoy free Wifi in Central Park, Century City Square, Intaka Eco Centre, Intaka nature reserve, Manhattan Park and several walkways.  We aim to add more spots across the precinct and have started rolling out free Wifi across the new Ratanga Park.”

The multi-functional, energy efficient Intaka Eco Centre, can accommodate groups of up to 75 at a time and includes an assembly area, educational activity centre, conference facilities, reception, catering and ablution facilities.

“Our smart “Sustainable Living Best Practices” exhibits at Intaka Eco Centre facilitate environmental education and include a living green wall, freshwater fish tank, hydroponics, aquaponics, a worm farm, rainwater harvesting, a biodigester, a wind turbine, solar panels, and a renewable energy sources classroom,” says De Roubaix.  “We’re in the process of installing interactive educational signage in the Eco Centre where learners can press a button and hear the call of specific animals and birds.”

Essential to environmental sustainability is Century City’s approach to water use and water preservation.  Water-saving devices for irrigation of parks, medians and gardens is a top priority and automated and computerised irrigation is in place to ensure that efficient watering takes place in cooler times of the day and seasons.

With 27 290m² of landscaped gardens and 53 193m² of lawned areas, and a further 12 719m² of vacant land on which exotic invasive species control takes place, it’s no small task to maintain Century City’s greenery. Ratanga Park, which is currently under construction, will add an additional 5ha of park area and a 1.7ha water body.

“We have been making use of treated effluent water for irrigation and toilets for 20 years, but we always look at ways to improve and make our way of doing things smarter,” says Gordon Ralph, Facilities and Infrastructure Manager at CCPOA.  “We’re currently implementating of a high-tech upgrade to our irrigation system that would give us access to real-time intelligent information on our wide-spread irrigation system.  This would include leak detection, detecting where sprayer heads are broken and so on.” 

De Roubaix explains that using technology to improve knowledge of our natural world has become a key tool “The use of Google search or related apps to identify both horticultural plants for residents’ walking landscaped pathways and for fynbos species in Intaka Island Nature Reserve has taken education of our environment to a new level.  There are also a multitude of apps for animal tracks and bird call identification. iNaturalist as an example, is a great app which promotes citizen science.” 

“We increasingly use technology by digitising our landscaping designs and creating digital maps of all plants and trees in Century City.  We’re always keeping an eye out for more ways to blend technology with our own efforts.”

Intaka Island currently has a camera trap which provides very useful footage, such as the nocturnal activity of the resident caracal, and there are also dome cameras across the Island providing 24/7 live feeds on the Intaka webpage.  CCPOA also uses drone technology to map invasive species and ecological burns from aerial imagery.

“The use of Artificial Intelligence via Bioacoustics to further research and monitor local faunal species is our next goal,” says De Roubaix, “Phase one will include the monitoring of several predefined vocal bird species by placing AudioMoth sound recorders around the island and phase two will be real-time call detectors. This project is anticipated to set the standard within the global conservation community for real time monitoring.”

2. Reducing carbon emissions by introducing smart alternatives to transport.

Century City was developed as a walkable neighbourhood, where all amenities are in easy walking or cycling distance.  Walking is strongly associated with reduced rates of obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes, and contributes to a generally healthier Century City community.  Century City has formulated a “Walkability Plan” for expansion on the current efficacy of infrastructure.

The precinct currently has three electric vehicle recharge stations, with the BMW charging station open to the public.

3. Supporting energy efficiency

“By reducing energy consumption and demand, reducing pollutants and heat, energy efficient cameras, GPS and traffic lights are all ways to support energy efficiency,” says De Roubaix.

There are currently 22 developments in Century City that have received Green Building Council Certifications. Eight of these developments have achieved a 5-star green rating from the Green Building Council of South Africa, one being Canal Walk Shopping Centre for existing building performance, awarded in 2020. The remainder all have 4-star green ratings. Century City Urban Square mixed-use development was awarded the first 4-star green rating for a mixed-use development in South Africa in 2016. The Aurecon building was the first 5-star green rated building in South Africa.

4. Improve urban solid waste management

A readily accessible recycling drop-and-go facility for residential general waste is available in Century City and the garden refuge from common areas and aquatic weeds from the canals are recycled as compost off site. “We record the amount of general waste generated and have computerised records of waste stream to landfill and recycled,” says De Roubaix.“We report regularly on our conversion to carbon savings and the reduction of our carbon footprint.”

5. Real-time monitoring and management of energy and environment

Intaka Eco Centre’s energy efficient building uses and promotes the use of renewable energy resources to generate energy for a self-sufficient Eco Centre, with back-up batteries to store excess power. “We currently have screens displaying our energy generation and consumption for our visitors to see and learn from,” says De Roubaix.  “Our main project for 2022 is to get the Eco Centre completely off the grid.”

“We also make use of the Davis Weather station to record the weather in Century City and our next phase is to have information readily available on our Century City app, and to display it electronically in our Eco Centre”

Smart cities spark citizen engagement - using technology to connect urban citizens with environmental issues that affect each of us. The focus should be on information sharing to foster behavioral change, with the goal of encouraging the community to make more sustainable decisions about what they consume and how then manage their waste. Citizen engagement is essential to any city’s efforts to reduce its environmental impact, and technology-enabled projects, like bringing awareness and creating real change.

Century City has invested heavily in infrastructure that promotes a more connected urban development and environmental sustainability. A healthy environment leads to a healthier, happier lifestyle!