Urban Tech

Today, Senior Associate Editor Stephen Cass reports from the World Urban Forum, being held in Vancouver, Canada. Watch his accompanying video blog here.


Stephen Cass

Delegates from all over the world have arrived this week in Vancouver, Canada, for the third World Urban Forum. Held biannually, the World Urban Forum is sponsored by the United Nations' Human Settlement Program, UN HABITAT, to discuss issues affecting cities from every corner of the globe.

In 2007, over 50 percent of all people will live in cities, the first time in human history that the overall urban population will surpass the rural population. Set against this background, the theme of this World Urban Forum is sustainability—how can we build cities that won't poison the surrounding region with pollution or condemn their inhabitants to a life in the appalling conditions of a slum?

Although not every problem can be solved with a technological fix, engineers will be at the forefront of tackling many of the problems facing 21st century cities. Take the E-cycle electric scooter, developed by Ecodrive Technology Group Inc. and aimed at the problem of air pollution. A zero-emission vehicle, its manufacturer claims it needs just 12 to 14 cents worth of electricity to charge up, providing a range of around 60 kilometers, and a top speed of about 60 kilometers per hour. The E-cycle scooter uses lead-acid gelpack batteries, but Ecodrive says it is working with a battery manufacturer in the hopes of developing lighter lithium-based batteries, which would increase the range, top speed, and acceleration of the scooter. The current battery will hold its charge for a maximum of three months, but Ecodrive recommends that it be topped off once every month when not in active use. It sells for about US $2900 and is already available in North America in a number of different styles.

If our cities are not to suffer similar fates to those that befell the Anasazi civilization of the American southwest or the Norse inhabitants of Greenland, where, as Julian Diamond argues in his most recent book, Collapse, ecological damage and poor decision making wiped out entire populations, we need engineers to offer as many smart choices as possible to ordinary citizens and policy makers alike. The E-cycle scooter is a good start. Have you thought about helping a city today?

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