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The high density, innovative city

Today more than half of the world population lives in cities, and the number will continue to escalate. But we still build cities on a model invented in the 50s and 60s.

To challenge this tradition the MIT media lab is working on a new model for the city of the future.  At the Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona, Kent Larson, Principal Research Scientist, presented a strategy to fit more people in every city, while at the same time increasing livability.

 

From industrial city to city of the future
The centralization of the industrial city, creating sprawl in urban regions from Mexico City to the new mega cities in China, is obsolete, Kent Larson argues. In search for a new urban model the MIT Media Lab looked back at the evolution of cities before the automobile became a central part of urban planning. Cities with an even distribution of everyday amenities – such as cafes, shops, physicians and pharmacies. And where most of what people needed in life was within a five- or 10-minute walk. A city structure promoting livability.

 

The compact urban cell
With livability in mind the lab worked on a ‘neighborhood cell’ as the foundation for the development of the future innovative city. The neighborhood cell is a compact urban cell providing what most people want within a 20-minute walk. Besides this, the neighborhood cell can also be a resilient electrical microgrid providing community heating, power, communication networks, etc. And at the same time being linked in a mesh network with neighboring cells all connected by mass transit.

Inside the compact urban cell the structure of the future city is based on a number of design principles allowing for increased city density, while at the same time increasing livability. The design principles target walkability, mobility, housing, workplaces, Kent Larson explains.

 

Walkability and Mobility
The streetscape of the future high density city is walkable. Superhighways for joggers and bicyclists, bike lanes at main thoroughfares, reclaimed streets for pedestrians are already being implemented with success in cities around the world; from Seoul Korea to Boulder and New York.

Shared-use is key. ‘Mobility on demand’ should be strengthened through an ecosystem of shared-use vehicles connected to mass transit. If you share a vehicle, you can have at least four people use one vehicle, as opposed to one, Larson explains. In addition to bike sharing, the MIT is working on a small electrical car that is optimized for shared-use in the city. The car is able to park itself autonomously and folds so that it is occupying less space. Altogether shared use, folding technology and autonomy could increase land utilization by 28 times.

 

Housing and Workplaces
Lack of affordable housing for young people is one of the biggest problems facing the city of the future. Instead of building tiny conventional apartments, adding advanced technology will allow people to personalize the apartment. ‘Housing on demand’ enables people to define what their needs, values and activities are and match the apartment through moving robotic walls and intelligent lighting. In this way the apartments function as if they are twice as big, allowing for the double number of units in a conventional building.

Workplaces should be shared. Work is becoming distributed and mobile. The office building is basically obsolete for doing private work. ‘Work on demand’ calls for shared spaces for interaction and collaboration. Shared desks, quiet spaces, and recreation places offer the needed flexibility of the future workplace. 

 

Cities for people
In the end the main thing the future city needs to focus on is people. Cities are places for people, Larson argues. Through innovation a new model for mobility, a new model for housing, and a new model for how we live and work, can improve the livability and creativity of cities - making room for the growing population in cities around the world in the future.

 

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