They say people don’t change. This may or may not be true about ourselves, but we have a remarkable ability to change our surroundings, particularly our urban surroundings.
Unquestionably, the most significant change we’re bringing to cities is the sheer volume of people who live (or want to live) in them. More people call cities home now than ever before, with populations growing by the thousands each day. And it’s this biggest of changes that creates the biggest of challenges: cities are growing faster in population than in infrastructure and housing can keep up with.
Population influx carries with it a number of dilemmas, not the least of which is congestion. Foot and vehicular traffic are at an all-time high, and as we close in on an autonomous future with hundreds of thousands of driverless cars added to the array, we can only expect things to get worse—unless actions are taken to make them better.
But who’s to take the action? Who will save our cities from us?
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see the future as bleak and unstable. The complete opposite, actually. But I do recognize serious challenges on the horizon and admit that some sort of “saving” needs to happen.
Since we’re talking about saving, I figured I’d start things off with my two cents.
CORPS & GOV’TS… WHO’S INFLUENCING WHO?
Corporations, the single most significant drivers of economy and innovation, tend to also manufacture exceptional catch 22s. For instance, for all the connective opportunity given to us by internet networks, dissatisfaction has never been higher. For all the ease of online banking and security features, identity theft has never been more common. And for every thing that technology simplifies, it complicates something else. (“Where did I put my wireless earbuds?”) This is the result (not the intent) of technological advancement.
Similarly, digital technology has dramatically revolutionized mobility in the last few years. Just as rideshare companies and digital scooters and bikes have provided new transportation options, they’ve also added to congestion issues.
In some urban areas, rideshare vehicles circling for fares have increased congestion as much as 30%. Walking through any city, it feels like 100% of the sidewalks are scooter-strewn obstacle courses. And with autonomous vehicles on the horizon, many transportation experts warn that congestion is more than likely going to get worse.
So should we just stop technology? No!
Instead, we need new technology and the corporations behind it to be as problem-conscious as they are profit-conscious. In many regards, this will mean B2B collaboration across and within industries.
In today’s cities, we’re seeing this through various problem-solving initiatives, such as pay-per-park apps that merge digital technology with parking data to help drivers find and pay for parking at the beginning of their trip. But in Tomorrowland, initiatives need to be problem-preventing in order to ensure harmonious urban environments.
There’s an understandable desire to put this onus on city governments. When rideshare companies overcrowd transportation markets, we put the heat on city officials to mitigate. When scooters become a nuisance, we turn on the heat for a quick resolve. The problem is, this sort of expectation-delegation can pin governments against corporations, something nobody (particular consumers) really wants to see.
So it is that that the vision future of cities as safe, seamless, and sophisticated metropolises will engender collaboration between corporations and governments at city, regional, and local levels. This is particularly necessary in regards to policy, regulation, and urban strategy.
Admittedly, it’s a tall order. “[Technology] is evolving so rapidly,” explains this article by Next City, a non-profit publication focused on proactive city development, “that it’s often difficult to gauge how policy is responding.” The article goes on to explain that city officials don’t always understand when and where governments need to step in, and that even when they do they are often restricted by state and federal regulations.
I don’t know about you, but that sounds like an opportunity to me.
Organizations, be them tech companies or review boards or mobility providers, have the opportunity to work with, instead of around, city ordinances to make urban areas more pedestrian and vehicle friendly; to disrupt the path of technology without disrupting the flow of traffic, to develop new infrastructure in cohesion with new industries, and to introduce futuristic systems that fit into the vision of future cities.
Just as we’re used to one superhero saving the day, people almost expect a singular solution to save our cities from over congestion. In reality, it will take the collective input of various organizations across many industries and all levels of government.
But, if we can align corporations and the technological advancements they provide with the policies, regulations, and urban strategies designed by governments and mobility experts, I have no doubt we’ll be looking at incredibly convenient and well-managed cities in both the near and distant future.