The Urban Parasol is an innovative urban structure that offers sustainable solutions for providing comfortable, safe and interactive urban spaces year-round, and creating social and economic growth. Using energy-efficient heating and lighting technologies, together with wireless interactive functions, the Urban Parasol was designed to accommodate any user of any outdoor urban space. It can be easily affixed to existing urban fixtures, such as bus stops and service posts, to improve the experience of waiting for a bus during the winter, for example, by providing a warm semi-enclosed space. Furthermore, as a self-sufficient structure, it provides a sustainable alternative to the environmentally harmful outdoor heaters that have been widely used in outdoor seating areas in various cities.
The interactive features were designed so as to create a physical social network, by encouraging social interactions between users of parasols in various locations, as well as to allow a city to gather user-generated data, which could then be used to improve cities and the public realm.
Problem - Outdoor spaces - streets, plazas, parks, parklets, sidewalks - that are bustling with people and activity during the temperate months, turn unaccommodating and empty during the harsher winter and summer months, which bring cold, wind, rain, snow and heat.
- Public transitional spaces, such as bus stops and other waiting areas, in many areas lack protection from such weather conditions for the public.
- Public spaces that are underutilized throughout cities, whether vacant areas or places that are simply uninteresting destinations, have enormous potential to generate social and economic activity, and create safe and comfortable places for citizens and tourists alike.
- Outdoor seating areas for commercial use in many cities - cafes, restaurants and bars - are in need of sustainable alternatives to the outdoor patio heaters that are increasingly being banned due to extremely high levels of carbon emissions.
How could these outdoor urban spaces be transformed using innovative solutions, so that they could be comfortable and enjoyable all year round, while creating points of interest that create opportunities for social interactions and civic engagement ?
Solution The Urban Parasol is a solution for cities to provide an urban amenity that creates comfortable and interactive urban spaces year-round. By integrating sustainable solutions for energy-efficient heating, lighting, and interactive functions, it encourages social interactions throughout a city’s open spaces through a human-machine interface (HMI) and provides a platform for cities to gather data from its users using Arduino technology. Its modular and customizable design allows the parasol to be tailored to the needs of any public/urban space, and to be easily affixed to existing urban fixtures, such as bus stops and service posts. They can be spread throughout the city (and between cities) to create a physical social network.
Impact on economy The urban parasol would positively impact the economy in various ways:
- Local businesses, such as cafes, restaurants and bars, which rely on their clientele seeking outdoor seating, would greatly benefit from the Urban Parasol as an alternative and sustainable solution to the outdoor heaters for winter use that are increasingly being banned in various cities. As such, the parasols could contribute to the financial and economic sustainability of these businesses by maximizing patronage.
- The Urban Parasol, as an amenity that would offer citizens and tourists points of interest with comfort, security and the opportunity for social interactions, would increasing pedestrian traffic to such areas and promote economic activity.
- The Urban Parasol would add to the accessibility and robustness of information technologies in the city. Through the wifi-enabled structures, cities would be able to strengthen their economies by increasing communication with its citizens and gather valuable user-generated data which could further be used to devise innovative improvements to cities.
Impact on culture The interactive features of the wifi-enabled Urban Parasol can create a physical social network with users of parasols in various locations throughout the city, thereby enhancing the experience of public space for users and promoting social interactions. Thus, the Urban Parasol has the potential to strengthen cultural dialogue and civic engagement.
It creates points of interest for citizens to spend time in public space and linger, and improve the level of health and well-being for all citizen groups in the city by providing access to comfortable public spaces.
Impact on ecology The Urban Parasol is incredibly energy efficient in its dynamic design and technology, and can assist cities in generating more sustainable urban environments. By providing an alternative to gas heaters used in open spaces, energy waste and greenhouse gas emissions would thus be significantly minimized.
The Urban Parasol harnesses and efficiently utilizes solar energy by integrating path tracking and responsive solar panels, thermodynamic solar panels and space blanket insulation. Light sensors would allow the parasol to accurately follow the sun’s natural path, and therefore maximize energy absorption.
Heating and LED lighting activation is controlled using motion sensors and thermocouple sensors (to measure temperature) to avoid any waste of energy. The parasol would re-orient accordingly, to create a semi-enclosed protective shelter for the user in dark and cold weather, for example.
Wireless-enabled remote control access enables cities to program, control and monitor activation of heating, lighting and interactive features, so that they could be programmed to be activated and/or dimmed for chosen scenarios (based on user proximity, time of day, climate, etc.)
The Urban Parasol reduces noise and odor/smoke pollution, with noise-absorbing Quiet-fiber material, and odor and smoke-absorbing activated charcoal material.
Impact on politics The Urban Parasol has great potential to improve participation by citizens in decisions and political processes. By creating wireless-enabled interactive points of interest, cities could establish a platform to communicate with citizens and enable them to gather solicited data, which could then be processed, analyzed and used to improve cities.
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