Planning for the future:
hyper-connected / small infrastructure cities?
Just as cars revolutionised the way we live and changed our cities beyond recognition, so smart technologies are going to change us in the future. Cities are just beginning to prepare – with many still in denial, still allocating huge budgets to technologies that have peaked and will soon start a fast decline. It is imperative that this time people and their prosperity are firmly placed at the centre of decision making. Car usage has peaked and we are heading towards mobility as a service There is growing evidence that car usage has peaked (see also 'end of the car age how cities outgrew the automobile'end of the car age how cities outgrew the automobile'), and many cities like London, Dubai, San Francisco are actively promoting diversified transport and place-making strategies. This has marked a slow change from the heavy infrastructure-driven investment of 20 years ago. In London, it is being celebrated by the New London Architecture exhibition ‘Ten Years of Transforming Spaces’ . Unfortunately, it is no longer enough, as technological change is rapid and more should be done to unreservedly prepare and capture the benefits of future change.
Very importantly, the words ‘accessibility’ and ‘mobility’ are rapidly becoming more prominent than ‘transportation’. This is a total change of point of view, one that can open the door to a complete set of different approaches and solutions: access and mobility are a people-centred service (the ability to go from A to B and have a good experience at the same time), while transportation implies the provision of infrastructure – and the past 100 years of history have shown that sometimes that infrastructure has carved cities and communities, creating severance instead of multiplying interaction.
Global and local
In addition, in the larger cities, the interplay between the far away and the local are being polarised. Take London, for example: airports and rail usage in rapid growth, shortening physical distances, while the use of digital hyperconnectivity to all parts of the world is becoming an everyday fact of life. But, locally, we all enjoy lots of local integration and attachments: from cycling to the local square and market to strong neighbourhood based initiatives, often digitally enabled. Within this context, the people of the city will be globally and locally hyperconnected, somehow ignoring the physical middle distance: much easier to go from London to Paris, Amsterdam or New York, than to Norfolk or Cornwall!
Portable devices already provide people with information on travel choices, routing, places to visit and activities. In cities with open platform transport data, it is now possible to explore local space in a totally new way. Multiple choices for exploration are possible and available to anybody, enabling the enrichment of the experience we have of a local place. Businesses are already trying to hyperconnect and present themselves locally and globally: Uber, AirBnB, JustEat are the expression of this global/local dynamic and way of living.
Are progressive cities in denial?
As driverless cars generate sceptical debates on whether they will work or not in the busiest urban streets, the risk is that we fail to focus on the big and small changes already underway. Driverless car technology is already coming, as cars acquire sensors and the first self-driving and self-parking devices. These technologies will also bring all sorts of safety and comfort applications to all sorts of systems, which could make physical disruptive infrastructure redundant. Just imagine, for example, if bicycles in London would have a digital safety bubble that would automatically make heavy vehicle and buses stop before a collision? We could then design our cycle provision in a much friendlier way!
How are cities like London and others responding? Are they seeking to make long distance connectivity smarter and friendlier, and much better interfaced with the local, flexible and agile? Or are they ploughing ahead on old approaches of parking, segregation, heavy handed infrastructure?
Cities like Helsinki could be leading the way towards a flexible, integrated, service oriented mobility, with great consequences for city planning.
MARTINA JUVARADirector at URBAN Silence
URBAN Silence is friendly and fun, but committed to intelligent work