Combining low-tech and high-tech to build the city of the future

Do you prefer proudly plain Y-fronts made of recycled organic cotton, or are you more the sort to wear a smart swimming costume that tells you how long you’ve spent in the sun? Smart cities stuffed with sensors or an eco-neighbourhood with aquaponic ponds and micro-wind turbines in the shared garden? A cosy jumper to keep the cold at bay or ‘smart’ heating? Essentially, low-tech or well-connected high-tech? Why not both?
Firing on all cylinders
Faced with the urgent climate situation and the forecasted depletion of natural resources, simple and cheap technology could be combined with the latest innovations to achieve the same goal: better energy performance – and less consumption, too. Fitting your home with lights that only turn on if sensors detect that someone is there doesn’t mean that you can’t build the walls out of wood and straw to improve the insulation. A building fitted with smart thermostats that limit heat waste, or with smoke detectors that can directly alert firefighters in the event of a fire, could also have a shared laundry room for all residents.
In the same way, ‘smart grids’ – with electric vehicles and ever more high-performance energy storage solutions (still a long way from being satisfactory) designed to support the boom in green intermittent energy sources – are also cutting-edge innovations that are part of the move towards smarter consumption. Essentially, it’s low-tech high-tech!
Cities designed for their inhabitants
The city of the future cannot just be focused on technology. In Paris, the sociologist (and city council member) Jean-Louis Missika reiterated that “a smart city is a lung breathing at the same pace as its inhabitants.”
Considering low-tech has the merit of bringing back the question of use: technologies have no value or meaning unless they meet needs when citizens want and are able to adopt them.
Grey areas of new technologies
So low-tech and high-tech aren’t incompatible. On two conditions. The first is that the energy needed to build high-tech solutions – to extract materials, transport them, the manufacturing process, etc. (so-called ‘grey energy’) – does not negate their aim, which is precisely to reduce energy waste.
In addition, high-tech must not lead people to expect it to provide ready-made solutions for every problem, or there is a risk that we will never reconsider our lifestyles. “Above all, low-tech is a reflection on needs, one that is located between an ecology of supply that advocates alternatives and transition and an ecology of demand that asks questions about our lifestyle choices: do we really need the progress we are being offered? Would it not be better to limit ourselves somewhat, to revise our relationship with mobility, to organise ourselves differently? Low-tech is an attitude that aims to better serve the high-tech products that are currently available,” concludes Philippe Bihouix in his book L’Age des low-tech (The Age of Low Tech).

To go further
Innovation for smarter and greener homes

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