Jessica O. Matthews and Wanona Satcher: How one can Create a Higher Future for Cities

The Covid-19 pandemic has drastically changed the way people live, work and interact with one another. Nowhere is this more evident than in cities, whose future functions and roles in our lives seem far less clear after last year’s change.

Kimberly Weisul, Editor-in-Chief of Inc., sat with two entrepreneurs with extensive urban design and development experience: Jessica O. Matthews, founder and CEO of Uncharted Power, a New York-based sustainable infrastructure company; and Wanona Satcher, founder and CEO of Mākhers Studio, an Atlanta-based production studio and urban development company. The group discussed the future of cities at Vision Summit 2021 Inc., a virtual event on March 24th. Here are two of the solutions they advocate.

Data is used to build a more efficient infrastructure.

Imagine if buildings, sidewalks, or streets could tell you what was going on around them. In a way, they can. Data from the physical infrastructure can be used for smarter, more efficient energy solutions, Matthews said. For example, your company uses specialty road paving equipped with compact, single-board computers and power cables embedded in a fiber-reinforced polymer to transform sidewalks into data centers. Among other things, information from the sidewalks can alert community managers when the concrete has broken to improve pedestrian safety. The material also makes the implementation of other new technologies, such as laying fiber optics for the Internet, more convenient.

“It’s easier. It’s faster. You no longer have to worry about ever digging again,” said Matthews.

Data can also help keep the network resilient, she added. Instead of turning off the electricity completely in an emergency, you can determine where you want it to go and where not. This ultimately leads to lower costs and shorter repair times.

Small spaces can offer great opportunities.

As the population of cities grows, you might think that less land is available for community building and nurturing. Not necessarily, said Satcher. Your company uses sustainable materials like shipping containers to build affordable housing, pop-up clinics, and common spaces. The concept is that any urban space like a parking lot can be transformed through these modular plans, creating “the capacity and efficiency you need to build mixed-use developments in half the time and half the cost”.

Satcher noted that these rooms can be used as “factories in a box” where local artisans can build unique rooms tailored for a particular community. They provide workplaces, training for workers and the opportunity to redefine local supply chains.

“We can not only address small manufacturing and demand opportunities, but also buildings and space solutions that are inexpensive to build, sustainable and reuse existing materials,” said Satcher. “The aim is to create an equitable supply chain in which marginalized communities are not only consumers but also producers from raw material to finished product.”

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