What Do People Talk about When They Talk about the Future of Cities?

7.31.13 | Guggenheim Lab is posting its list of the top 100 urban trends. Over the past two years, the BMW Guggenheim Lab, a mobile urban laboratory that is exploring life in cities today, has asked visitors to the lab in New York City, Mumbai, and Berlin for their thoughts about cities. As their website says, “Created as a resource, 100 Urban Trends aims to identify the most talked-about trends in urban thinking, as they were discussed in these three venues.” Here’s what they have to say about it:

“In recent years, there has been an unequivocal shift in the study of cities. Urban thinking, whether related to architecture or urbanism, has become dramatically less focused on infrastructure, and more on the ultimate goal and reason for the existence of cities—that is, the well-being of the people that inhabit them and constitute their very soul and essence.”

The different trends in different cities are telling. Mumbai focuses on big things like governance and abuse intervention, while Berlin zeroes in on biking, aging, and accessibility. New York hits on health care, affordable housing, and aging.

There must have been a 3D Printer display in Berlin and New York; what other reason could there be for 3D printing to turn up as #1 trend in both? Is it really THAT pervasive?

More musings on the list are going up regularly at the Guggenheim Lab Log, but we’re going to examine them periodically, starting with Urban Fatigue—the gist of which seems to be: “Sometimes, living in the city can be tiresome and weary, and makes me wonder why I do it.” I’m not sure why this is at the top of the list, much less a notable trend. The same can be said of living in small towns or cities. Give me ethnic and economic diversity, the ability to easily get around without driving, neighborhoods instead of subdivisions, and the economic, cultural, and culinary buzz of a major city every time.

Trust explores the underlying social glue of cities (and civil societies, really). “Yet we seem to have designed the cooperative impulse right out of some urban landscapes,” writes the author of this post. “People who live in car-dependent sprawl report being less likely to hang out with neighbors, less likely to volunteer, less likely to vote, and less likely to rise up and protest than their urban cousins. Can design help us reverse this trend?” Yes. It’s called New Urbanism, and its advocates and practitioners have been showing the way forward for decades.

There is Share Culture, which postulates that this may be the time to reexamine and relegalize “boarding” or “rooming” houses as a solution to so many affordable housing woes. “Imagine: in most cities, there exists next to nothing within the legal market between living in an apartment and living on the street. Rooming and boarding houses once filled that in-between gap.” Boarding houses have been part of American culture and society since the Colonial Era. What happened in the past 50 years that made them undesirable? I suspect it’s the same zoning-code mentality that forces housing—and housing types—and retail to be segregated. Restoring the legality and legitimacy of boarding houses is an idea worth investigating.

Bike Politics notes the odd controversies surrounding bicycles since their invention in the late 19th century, noting how now, in the early 21st, they’re coming into vogue again in the US (which lags far behind European countries—not to mention The Netherlands, which is in a class by itself—in creating bicycle infrastructure). Cyclists’ demand that they, too, are legitimate users of public streets is stirring the pot in cities across the country. Cars, having dominated the public realm since 1945, are not going to share easily. Residents who want their towns to add cycling lanes, bike-sharing programs, etc., will have to be the parents in this situation and demand that cars share with everybody else.

Shifting gears, we’d be remiss to omit an observation about the forced bankruptcy of Detroit. Along with Rachel Maddow’s ongoing coverage of the Michigan law that allows the governor to overturn locally elected governments, this post at The Urbanophile is one of the best commentaries I’ve yet read. It’s worth your time and consideration.

Photo/ BMW Guggenheim Lab

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