Students envision infrastructure for 'smart' cities of the future

Wei Li

This fall, Texas A&M students are developing concepts for the cities of the future, “smart cities” optimized for efficiency with a digitally networked infrastructure that aids management of resources, utilities, transportation and more.

Led by planning professor Wei Li, the ambitious interdisciplinary project, ENDEAVR, will engage students from the colleges of architecture and engineering for six semesters.

Funded by a $300,000 grant by the W.M. Keck Foundation, planning, landscape architecture, and visualization students are joining engineering and computer science students to envision “smart” infrastructures for two mid-sized Texas cities yet to be determined.

After participating in seminars that cover the history of cities and how to shape proposals from concepts in different disciplines, students will begin the envisioning process in one Texas city.

“The students will work with community members to develop ‘smart’ solutions for urban challenges — transportation, climate change, economic growth, and social inclusion —  that integrate virtual, physical and social infrastructure systems,” said Li.

The student’s final “smart city” plans will be reviewed by city residents as well as planning and engineering professionals.

“The project simultaneously fosters students’ intellectual, technical, collaborative, and psychosocial development, helping them become lifelong learners and creative problem solvers,” he said.

To assess the projects impact on the first targeted community, Li and ENDEAVR faculty plan to interview stakeholders, conduct a survey about the students’ learning experience, and publish their findings in peer-reviewed publications and on a project website.

Researchers will apply lessons learned in the this phase of the project, then repeat the process in another community.

The project will be aided by various campus units, including Texas Target Communities, a College of Architecture outreach group whose affiliated faculty and students aid municipalities that lack planning resources; the Texas A&M Education Research Center, whose scholars evaluate funded education projects; and others. 

ENDEAVR took seed at a May 2017 interdisciplinary faculty workshop exploring infrastructure development scenarios related to an anticipated future of autonomous vehicles and “smart” communities.

“Workshop participants concluded that science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics students are in urgent need of interdisciplinary training to develop critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills to develop new urban infrastructures,” said Li.