Cities are changing. Or rather cities should be changing but most of them aren't because local (and national) governments plus attachment to legacy transport systems means that this change isn't happening.
West Yorkshire - by world standards a pretty wealthy place - is consulting on its transport strategy for 2016-2036. Illustrating the lack of ambition is that the chair of the transport committee thinks it'll be a stellar achievement if we have an integrated ticketing system in place by 2036.
I'd like us to talk about Olli and his friends:
Meet Olli, Local Motors’ 3D-printed, autonomous, electric shuttle bus. Designed to streamline shared transportation systems around the world, this self-driving car could be the answer to public transportation issues. On top of it all, Olli is partially recyclable.
As long as you have a smartphone, where ever you are is a bus stop. And wherever you’re going is the next stop. The Olli app puts control into the palm of your hand. App accessibility allows users to find existing routs, share an Olli, or charter an Olli of their own. Set pick-up and destination locations, ride from point to point, then pay through the app. Much like Uber, just call Olli through the app and it will show up to take you to your destination. Plus it talks to you!
If you're saying that autonomous vehicles aren't a central part of future urban transport systems then you're trapped in those 19th century legacy systems - trains and buses (at one meeting that same chair talked about using canals more). Mind you we've the same problem with housing where innovative solutions using new technology aren't getting the attention they deserve:
Italian innovator Massimo Moretti launched WASP with the goal to “create a means for affordable fabrication of homes, and provide these means to the locals in poverty stricken areas.” WASP’s affordable housing solution combines 3D printing with biomimicry, drawing inspiration from the mud dauber wasp that constructs its home from one of the world’s oldest building materials: mud. The choice of clay and mud inputs for the portable BigDelta was a conscious choice; although many 3D printers use cement, Moretti chose earth because of its low environmental footprint, local availability, and natural insulating benefits. Based on previous prototypes, the BigDelta will presumably build full-size houses using open-source software and a mixture of mud, clay, and plant fibers for reinforcement.
So you think folk won't want to live in a mud hut?
Atelier Koé’s mud home will be built in Ghana at the beginning of 2016 and the Nka Foundation are calling out for participants to come and join the build. The process of building will give participants (many of whom are professionals or architecture interns), a deep insight into the possibilities of local African materials.And it'll look like this:
The same goes for other materials - if we're to get unviable city sites recycled as housing we have to change the model, to forget the problems of 1960s system-build and look at non-traditional materials.
The problem is that our urban design, building, transport and infrastructure planners are still working with those 19th and 20th century legacy systems. The result is that we respond to the challenges of housing and moving growing urban populations through a combination of regulation, price fixing and subsidy. We'd rather subsidise commuter fares or impose rent controls than plan for the space to allow markets to meet need affordably.
There are plenty of other opportunities - from pop-up housing to taxi drones - that need to be looked at in our city planning. But I'll be surprised if any local plan from a UK council even allows for these ideas to be explored. These local plans as well as the economic plans, housing strategies and transport plans simply assume that there won't be any technological change and proceed accordingly. Yet a glance at both house building and transport suggest this is absolutely not the case. We're on the cusp of an autonomous vehicle revolution that will completely change urban public transport, free up space currently dominated by parking and allow more public space as a result. Yet the only response from city authorities appears to be the ramping up of regulations to protect the taxi industry.
In housing new building approaches and technologies might see self-build made simple and easy. Yet building regulations are used (some might say with the connivance of the housing building industry) to resist experimental approaches and planners stick with their clunky approach to land allocation and urban design.
It's time city leaders started to change their thinking and, instead of simply following the tramlines laid by urban planners, started requiring those planners to develop space for different approaches to housing and transport.