Predicting the future of cities is somewhat of a misnomer - if a very enjoyable one. However redundant an exercise of itself it mostly is (posterity tells us how wrong it can be), as part of an ongoing process of imagineering our actual futures – as a conversation, it is crucial. In a time of rapid global urbanization, thinking and planning for the future of city life is vital if we are to sustain population growth whilst ensuring quality of life improvements across the globe. The Future City Lab, is an open-source initiative for accruing ideas of our future urban environments by a means of crowdsourcing positive utopian ideas for 2050. In a conversation with Martin Haas, partner of Stuttgart based Haas Cook Zemmrich and co-founder of Future City Lab, Jeff Risom Head of Gehl Institute, answers provocative musings about the role of technology in the city and how radically different – or similar – city life in 2050 might be…..
1. Haas – In the age of ubiquitous and mobile computer technology, the longing for the “real” and the “tangible” will become a counter-pole that also shapes society. How will that influence cities?
Risom - From the telegraph to the telephone to Twitter, statistical evidence indicates that the creation of new communication technology has always increased the demand and frequency of physical meeting. Otherwise why would the computer industry’s innovators, with the means to connecting collaborators from afar, all choose to locate in an area with some of the most expensive real estate in the world: Silicon Valley. Yet Silicon Valley as it exists today is the manifestation of 20th century paradigm based on the proximity to a leading university and the concentration of the best and the brightest working in elaborate and expensive, but often isolated corporate office parks. It is cities, with their diversity, opportunity for chance encounters, proximity to customers and related industries that provide the fertile ground for cultivating the ideas that will shape the future.
2. Haas – In the near future most commodities and services will be available through networking and digital means. Is that the end of shopping malls and retail stores?
Risom - The virtual cannot be conceived as a replacement for “bricks and mortar”, but rather an extra layer that enhances the physical. This added layer of the virtual (which has the potential to lead to more urban density and complexity) only increases the need for thoughtfully designed streets and public spaces. While the potential for technology is huge, we must be careful to not to confuse a city – which is really defined by the people and their interconnected daily lives with its infrastructure, buildings, or technology. Therefore shopping malls and retail stores (or some form of market spaces) will always exist, perhaps not for consumption, but certainly as places for people to meet and interact.
3. Haas – A responsive mobility network will be created. It will respond to the demands of each individual but will at the same time be linked to a ‘collective mobility’. There will no longer be a need to separate private and public traffic. How does this influence the quality of streets?
Risom - I believe that notions of public and private are fundamental to human co-existence and ownership is a very powerful right. So rather than the blurring of public and private, I foresee a form of mobility based on “The Sharing Economy”. This concept of more effectively sharing commodities like private vehicles (the average car is used only 10% of its lifetime and during rush hour in a typical high-income city, only 25% of all private vehicles are in use) will allow us to consume less, more effectively use existing capacity of systems and resources, and provide more freedom of choice in mobility options. This will allow us to build denser along existing streets and transit corridors, meaning street space will become more vibrant but also more contested. In a typical city, streets comprise 20% of all urban space and up to 80% of public open space. In the future, the incredible resource and potential that streets provide will be better utilized.