What Will Our Urban Landscape Look Like in the Future?

5.1.13 | If our understanding of regional resilience resembles the evolutionary resilience model, then a quartet of recent articles suggests to me we’re in one of Gunderson and Holling’s “reorganization phases” (described here by Simin Davoudi; more on this paper later this week), characterized by both turmoil and opportunity.

Leading off, Patrick J. Kiger provides an overview, Imagining Land Use in 2063, which seems more grounded (sorry, no pun intended … much) in better reality than Robert Moses ramming cross-Manhattan highways through buildings or Hanna-Barbera’s Jetson-ish future of flying cars and robotic Rosies cleaning cloud-topped apartments.

“If you need a reason to contemplate what the urban landscape will look like 50 years from now, consider that construction of it is already underway,” he begins.

Drivers of our 2063 reality will include population growth and demographic shifts, climate change, technological and design advances, the scarcity or abundance of resources, and economic evolution, Kiger says. It remains to be seen whether that means an outflow from suburbs to cities’ central cores, as Christopher Leinberger predicts, or smaller, rural cities as Joel Kotkin predicts.

Either way, Enrique Peñalosa posits in A U.S. Template for a Third-Millennium City that population growth — estimated to add 36 percent, or 116 million people, who will require about 74 million new homes by 2050 — will demand the creation of a new urban environment: one that shrugs off the 20th century’s obsession with cars, but acknowledges the American obsession with its suburbs.

Traditional urbanist approaches like zoning codes that allow apartments above retail and encourage higher density development in central city cores help, but aren’t game-changers. Part of the answer already exists in places like Bogotá, Colombia, where the Porvenir Promenade and greenways are part of a pedestrian- and bicycle-only roadway network known as the Ciclorutas de Bogotá.

Anyone’s life would be transformed if within a couple of blocks of home it would be possible to enter a network hundreds of miles long made up of ­pedestrian-and-bicycle-only promenades offering the opportunity to ride a bike as a substitute for a car or just for fun, to walk, or simply to sit on a bench and read and watch people pass by, free from the noise of cars.


 A more radical way to create well-located low-density suburbs would be to initiate large programs of demolition, redesign, and reconstruction, which would lead not only to higher density, but also to a different urban model—cities with hundreds or thousands of miles of pedestrian-and-bicycle-only promenades and greenways, as well as miles of bus-only or tram [streetcar]-only roads.

So, having drilled down from the über-future to a municipal template, we come to the neighborhood — Civita: San Diego’s New City within the City. A 230.5-acre transit-oriented development on a former quarry, “the $2 billion project embraces San Diego’s ‘City of Villages’ planning concept, which calls for everything needed by residents to be within walking distance of their homes or accessible by mass transit, says Brian Schoenfisch, the city’s senior planner for the project.”

Where cities, suburbs along current or planned transit corridors, or — if Joel Kotin’s predictions for 2063 should be proven correct — smaller cities along regional passenger rail corridors are concerned, developments like Civita are a good way to reorganize our way out of our self-inflicted economic and climate chaos.

And fittingly with these topics, here’s an appropriate upcoming conference of note:

  • June 13-14, New York City: How To Fully Complete Your Streets, hosted by the Project for Public Spaces, covers placemaking and streets, healthy street design, community street typology, and more. Instructors are PPS Founder and President Fred Kent, and Gary Toth, director of project planning. Cost is $550 for early registration, $600 for late registration; group reservations ($450 per person) are available for parties of three or more. Fee covers materials, breakfast and lunch for both days, a cocktail reception, and a PPS membership.

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