Heaven Or Hell Scenario
Here are two scenarios; one is that of a desolate planet that we have sucked dry for all its worth. Society has degraded down to the most basic forms of tribalism in which people fight for the last few remaining resources and/or parking spaces. With the pain being felt the worst in large cities where no one has any place to live. And those who do – are working only to survive to the next day.
Some people would argue this is the reality of life in cities today. Call me naïve, but I would like to believe things have not gotten that bad yet.
The other scenario has a much more optimistic outlook. One where humans responded to the pressing threats of climate change, resource depletion, and overall quality of life, with forward thinking solutions. With the best example of these innovations seen in our cities where communities find clever ways to reuse materials, live comfortably with less, and leverage technology to serve the interest of everyday people.
Problems Cities Face
Which of these scenarios actually plays out in real life is hard to call, some days. For all our sake I hope the latter. As a native New Yorker, one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world, I can speak first hand on all the struggles people face in cities today.
Let me vent for a second. Is it just me or are rents too damn high! The cost of living in cities is almost terrifying. The increased wages people receive in cities is completely negated by the fact real estate prices are through the roof. Now New York sure is pricey, but I hear its even worse in cities like San Francisco to Hong Kong.
Then there is the traffic. I really hate traffic. I think its safe to say everyone hates traffic. As much space as we surrender to accommodate vehicles – there still isn’t enough space to fit all the cars people drive. Gridlock traffic in the streets pollutes our cities making the air toxic to breathe. If that’s not bad enough, cars take up increasingly scarce walking and living space from the people. Nobody wins from too much traffic.
In great cities like New York, Mexico City, Los Angeles, and Singapore; transportation models centered on the automobile are an antiquated idea. The cars polluting these environments are taking away valuable space that could be used to accommodate the growing populations of cities. Instead, we see the old becoming new again with more emphasis placed on practical transportation options like bikes, scooters, and ferries. And a few more complicated ideas like autonomous electric vehicles.
We can take comfort in knowing great minds are trying to redesign our metropolitan communities in clever and beautiful ways. University to students, cities leaders, and companies from around the world are putting their best ideas forward to address quality of life in our cities. It is clear several themes are common in the most promising ideas.
Less Space For Cars More Space For People
Researchers from the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) have immersed themselves in these questions of urban mobility in cities. Looking for ways that maximize multi-modal, socially inclusive, and environmentally sustainable outcomes within cities.
Most recently, Andre Sevtsuk a lead researcher at GSD, launched the Future of Streets research project. With the intention of studying how cities might adapt to newly emerging transportation methods like ride-sharing, bikes, scooters, as well as electric and autonomous vehicles.
The project is run in partnership with the planning and transportation departments of Los Angeles and Boston and will feature research and studios in both cities. On Boston’s Newbury Street, Sevtsuk designed a “heaven” situation offering extended pedestrian sidewalks, narrow lanes for autonomous vehicles, new trees and street vegetation, and two-way bike lanes.
At Los Angeles’s Vermont/Santa Monica intersection, Sevtsuk’s “heaven” plan included improved public transport systems, shared AV pick-up and drop-off zones, continuous bike lanes, and active retail facades and street vegetation.
Andhra Pradesh, one of the 29 states of India, unveiled designs to build a whole new capital with greenery and sustainability at the forefront of the design. The city is being been designed to the highest standards of sustainability. The transportation strategy includes water taxis and dedicated cycle routes to encourage cleaner transportation models.
The design will bring together decades-long research on sustainable cities and incorporate the latest technologies that are currently being developed in India. At the heart of the city will be a “green spine” that will run through the entire length of the city. This green spine will provide the foundation for the environmental strategy, which will feature at least 60% of the cities area occupied by greenery or water.
Situated on the banks of the River Krishna, the new city is strategically positioned to benefit from an abundant supply of fresh water, and will be one of the most sustainable in the world. Essentially, every detail of the cities infrastructure has been carefully though out to meet its high environmental standards. A sharp contrast from the environmental inefficiency and pollution that plagues its largest cities like New Delhi and Mumbai.
Spaces That Collect Data
Then there is Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs. The urban innovation company receives a lot of hype due to its plans transform Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront. The lab wants to create a new kind of mixed-use community space.
The Eastern Waterfront in Toronto Canada – will look to develop a new type of city space that combines the best in urban design with the latest in digital technology. All to address some of the biggest challenges facing cities, including energy use, housing affordability, and transportation.
Toronto residents addressed the concern of responsible data use. Residents felt that the Sidewalk Labs project addressed some of their concerns, but insisted that language around privacy and accountability be strengthened and prioritized. Many residents were adamant that data should be housed in Canada.
Exactly what data the urban design firms plan to collect and how is still not clear. But its not outside of the scope of reason to expect weather monitors, foot traffic sensors, and face detection technology.