Aggregation Aggravation: Paper Cities

Aggregation Aggravation: Paper Cities

A blank sheet of paper and a crumpled one present different creativity challenges. A blank sheet gives the opportunity to challenge assumptions and a crumpled one the challenge of reuse. We have a paper challenge in reimagining city land usage as we change our working, living and transportation needs. Let’s look at creative solutions to that design problem in relation to car parking planning (give it chance!) in cities.

The Blank Sheet Solution

In 2006 the award-winning Mountain Dwellings project was completed by the (Bjarke Ingels Group) in Copenhagen. This building rethought the combination of car parking and accommodation to include a natural landscape form and the social needs of the occupants. A blank piece of paper rewrote assumptions of the industrial and residential division of usage.

Now 11 years later perhaps there were assumptions that went unchallenged. Expectations about vehicle ownership (a product becomes a service) and energy (from fossil to renewable.) Even though relatively new, the future has crept up on this building proposition.

The Crumpled Paper Solution

The architectural firm Gensler has been researching the effects of autonomous vehicles on city land usage including the reuse of car parking spaces. No small problem or opportunity, as there is both small chunks (street parking difficult to aggregate) and big chunks (car parking garages) difficult to disaggregate.

Like the Mountain Dwellings mentioned above, from talking to urban planners with legacy landscapes, there are some problems with assumptions about reduced numbers of vehicles proposed by Gensler. For example, fleet sizing for peak demands requiring a sizable float, the fallacious idea of ‘moving but parked’, optimal recharging processes and the problem of transitioning between legacy and future driven schemes.

Why is this interesting?

There are four takeaways from this:

  • Our solutions with the future in mind will not be 100% future proof but can still be an improvement on past assumptions
  • While theoretical thinkers, strategists and political leaders matter on vision, those realists working on the ground have a coalface expertise that needs to be accounted for.
  • Periods of transition can be messy and we need to leave room for big challenging experiments when we change the physical environment shared by many.
  • Rather than the components changing in our environment is also the metaphors and language we use to think about them. For example, we still have legacy social problems from the 20th idea of the modern city as a machine for living in. From Le Corbusier and his modernist ilk we inherited high-density urban housing blocks, ‘projects’ and estates. All these developments have horrendous social problems that have yet to be overcome.  Instead, we might move from a metaphor of ‘city as machine’ to a ‘city as computer’ for example. While introducing useful measurability though that metaphor too has dangers such as excluding humanity and imposing constant monitoring.

In conclusion then, rather than get lost in the detail of technology and style it is also important to monitor the conversation. Through the language used, we will have a better understanding and selection of the metaphors underlying city planning.

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