It is rather ironic, that some of our oldest city centres trace back to a time before the car was invented, and had to be made “fit-for-purpose” as far as was even possible. That explains why many Italians drive small cars. But still, you could not even drive a Fiat 500 through a Moroccon Medina.
Then we developed our cities around the car, we all wanted one, and of course we needed a place to park it, at home as well as at work and we built vast networks of arteries covered in concrete and tar, as well as multi-story parking facilities.
Now we will dismantle this infrastructure once more and remodel our cities again. What will we do with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create healthier, more habitable, more humane inner cities?
Technological revolutions that will soon rock our inner cities are:
- Mobility: Car sharing, autonomous driving, electric scooters and bicycles, as well as limitations set by lawmakers being just a question of time (see the debate around diesel in Germany currently). That should all lead to fewer cars on the road, and fewer cars need fewer parking spaces. How many inner city streets can be turned into pedestrian areas, how many more garden parks, children playgrounds, communal pingpong tables, streetfood stands, street caffe’s? As I write this, I have Milan in my mind’s eye, and what it could look like when some of its broad boulevards become places where city inhabitants can unwind, areas for humans as opposed to tarmac and steel.
- Retail: Retailers served for a long time as good looking storage locations close to their consumers. The internet retailers have made this model obsolete, bar a number of categories where progress is slower (groceries for example). Therefore city centres will need far fewer stores, and stores will be more like showrooms to touch the goods, places where the product can be experienced. A great example in this regard is the retailer Globetrotter, where you can actually try the product in a cold room, up a climbing wall, or even a kayak in a pool. So in light of point 1, think skateparks to try a skateboard, basketball courts to try the latest basketball…. all right in front of your home. And of course there will be strong integration between the physical store and the online presence of the brand, with communities building around these locations and activities (examples coming to mind are Lululemon and Rapha).
- Remote, Co and Home Working: Our work place is changing, and remote working is on the increase. Remote working technologies are ever better, mobile networks faster with more geographic coverage. Working with others who are based remotely is becoming ever more acceptable. Freelancing marketplaces are expanding rapidly.
- While car ownership in itself will reduce the amount of cars, which may mitigate my next point to some extent, current rush hour traffic combined with its environmental impacts will also have to limit the amount of work commuting.
- In consequence of above factors I see a trend that some commercial inner city spaces may well become residential again, which will in turn rebalance the purpose of a city.
I am sure there are many more factors and I have focussed on those that I believe will have the most profound impact. I would love to hear from you what you would put on that parking bay in front of your inner city apartment!
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