A guest post by Alfred Twu
I <3 Alfred. Good luck on your race!
Great piece, thank you. Presumably electric cargo bikes and bikes generally, along with escooters will be more used as people will use them for short, sub fifteen or twenty minute trips to schools, shops, work etc. Sidewalks will need modifications and adaptations, and traffic calming will be more prominent. We're seeing lots of this kind of adaptation in various European cities. Demand for safe cycle parking bays is going up. I assume multistory carpark will be adapted for other uses - perhaps greener in some way for certains of urban farming, photovoltaic installations, maybe even workshops and the like.
We just visited the lovely Mt Pleasant SC, near Charleston, which allows use of golf carts. If feels so much more fun and casual because of it. There are pretty homes which are located fairly close to the small street, and there are no sidewalks, also giving it a less formal and approachable look and makes it easier to interact with people sitting on their porches.
This doesn’t sound so far away. In some ways, it’s now.
I love the drawings and the effort to imagine how to evolve what we have towards something better.
But... if Manhattan can’t get rid of private cars and street parking and all of their discontents, despite having the absolute most favorable environment in the US for doing so, how will mid-rise inner-suburbs? Because this vision imagines not just a slowing or halt to car ownership and use - which tends to happen organically through gridlock and parking exhaustion - but a significant decline despite many more people in the same area. I live in the same general area as Alfred and believe me there is nothing I would like more than to see 980 turned into a linear park, but I also drive on it regularly, because the East Bay lacks fast, clean, safe alternatives to the urban freeway network, and I see no prospect at all that they will be built.
That would need to be an interurban rail network, at least traffic-separated, and preferably on dedicated ROW or underground. It could be done, but will it? In part this is because of something that is taboo to discuss among progressives, which is that for transit to be an acceptable alternative to driving for adults wealthy enough that cost factors are insignificant, it needs to be clean and pleasant. BART in particular has had a longstanding problem with trains and stations being de facto homeless shelters (and... toilets). You cannot expect support for a radical expansion of transit at the expense of driving if people of above-average wealth cannot imagine using that transit, ESPECIALLY if traffic diminishes organically for unrelated reasons. Transit cannot be both a way to efficiently remove cars AND made to bear the costs of homelessness, drug abuse, and petty crime that it currently does.
And policing in general is a major issue with densification. There may well not be more crime per capita, but there will be more crimes in total, and more sub-criminal nuisance behaviors that affect neighbors, not because “those people” moved in - I am well-aware that wealthier neighbors can be very annoying - but simply because there are more people.
To ground this: my neighborhood has one crack-smoking drunk (who IS housed, in a room in a run-down building neighboring my house), who moves from one little nest to another in the bushes of front yards or little bits of city-owned land with trees. She leaves a mess behind, but it’s manageable - I have cleaned up her bottles and other garbage more times than I could count. If there were even three like her, it would be unmanageable and I’d be calling the cops instead. (Which I never have, with her, because she’s not a physical threat to herself or others, and her behavior at this level can be accommodated.)
I’m not a NIMBY - I would welcome apartment buildings replacing many of the defunct or low-value commercial lots in my neighborhood. Nor am I a fan of the war on drugs. But before we can live in an urban transit paradise, and even if we actually solve homelessness (which I think is very achievable), we need to get real about how to reduce antisocial behavior in public, including drug use, drunkenness, noise nuisances, vandalism, and petty crime. Otherwise people will correctly see their cars as a refuge from it all.
The two alternatives to reconciling that are that we return to urban decay, or we allow wealth to actually displace every poor person from the city cores. Wealthy people are powerful - you know, they have money. They’ve long kept “their” neighborhoods (Pac Heights, Piedmont) clear of poor people and urban nuisances. They will expand those boundaries as far as they’ll go. And it’s not an avoidable process necessarily; I’m engaged in it myself, I bought a renovated house in a marginal but improving area (because I needed a house); I don’t WANT my poorer neighbors to leave, but from the flyers I get, that sentiment certainly isn’t universal.
The TLDR is, we have to make much more progress on solving some of the social nuisance problems as well, otherwise densification will stall.
It remains frustrating to me how disconnected these people are from the reality of remote work. People are going to want bigger homes when everyone is working from home. These smaller-than-average-detached-house apartments aren’t going to cut it.
An insightful vision of the future city. But the future of rural areas is another big question. Rural living has been changed by networked computer communications, making remote work, online shopping, telehealth, and distance learning possible. Simultaneously, interest in locally grown food has increased, and folks are questioning the sustainability and quality of the products of industrialized agriculture, which is changing how crops are produced and distributed. Awareness of the danger of infectious diseases has made dispersed living more attractive. These pressures are changing the rural landscape, but no one seems to think about it.
In the high-density parts of downtowns, I wonder if it would be feasible to basically build a series of platforms over the existing roads, for pedestrian and maybe cyclist/scooters only, and have many/most of the shops have their entrances there instead of at the ground level? A kind of street above the street.
That way the roads would still exist and you could use them to some extent (stocking the stores, mass transit, etc), but you could have a pedestrian area as well?
It might also help when/if climate change gets worse and sea levels rise and storm surges result in flooding.
I'd be surprised if this hadn't been done somewhere already, so it likely isn't a new concept by any means...
Even in suburbs... I would love to see sidewalks installed along streets on the yards where there is easement. I know some homeowners would object but honestly, I feel kids should have a safe place to walk in the neighborhoods as having some additional living units added to homes will increase traffic (as well as the increased delivery vans and bots). I, personally wish to put an addition on my ground level to possibly house my inlaws as they become more infirm, even my son and his family if they need shelter prior... and in the future, my husband may have increased difficulty ascending the stairs-- we don't want to have to transition to assisted living/nursing home as the cost is impossible. A coworker told me that before he turns 70 (he is 59 now), he is divesting all his assets after this past year having to find a safe competent facility for his mother with Alzheimers and selling her home.
In a city of the future
It is difficult to concentrate
Meet the boss, meet the wife
Everybody's happy, everyone is made for life
It is difficult to find a space
I'm too busy to see you
You're too busy to wait
But I'm okay, how are you?
Thanks for asking, thanks for asking
I'm okay, how are you?
I hope you're okay too
Every one one of those days
When the sky's California blue
With a beautiful bombshell I throw myself into my work
I'm too lazy, been kidding myself for so long
Would have thought that tech development, AI and manufacturing automation meant that high density living is likely to die out. Other than young single professionals and rich old people, nobody willingly wishes to live in a city
It is not clear that the "eds and meds" economic model that has replaced the previous manufacturing/distribution economic model of cities has legs. Most health care is directed to senior citizens....a bad economic investment for a nation. And there is growing evidence that higher education may have already reached "peak student" as citizens realize what a bad investment it is for many of us. How long will it be before we collectively realize that these "endothermic" segments of the economy cannot be sustained while continuing to provide for all other needs?
The future cities are already in China while the Americans are still dreaming for their future cities.
Single stair building sounds like a fire-hazard to me.
Noah, you should blog about how tech can be used to preserve biodiversity, since this is a tech optimist blog
Bringing imagination and creativity to urban planning is the first step in freeing society from policy solutions that grow out of a bureaucratic approach. The next step is to get buy-in from developers and private financial interests.