A month or so ago I produced a series of blogs looking at what might become of our cities in the future. According to those that supposedly know, by the middle of this century it is estimated that 75% of the world’s population will be living in cities. I’m perplexed that given the advances in communication, that I can only assume will continue, that we humans still want to clump together in such numbers. However, I accept that all the evidence points to this being the case. My blogs speculate on what that might mean for how we live. In the last of them ‘How far can we go ‘greening’ our cities of the future?’ I raise the possibility that far from being concrete jungles that these future megacities could, if we want it enough, be filled with greenery, with vertical farms and planted streets.
Now one of the keys to that vision and any other vision, for that matter, of megacities if they are not to become a nightmare, is what we do about transport. What we will have to do (at least it seems that way to me) is build a fully integrated transport system around the needs of the city and its inhabitants rather than try and adapt the city to the selfish, self driven form of transport that currently dominates our lives, often to the detriment of those lives. I am of course talking about the car, or the van or lorry. At this point I must apologise to all lovers of the automobile (of which I count myself one), but I don’t see any alternative. We have to face the reality that cities and cars/vans/lorries, at least in their current incarnation, don’t mix. If you were starting from scratch designing city transport, I don’t think they would even make it past the brainstorming stage. They are highly inefficient, both in terms of the speed they travel in cities (I think the average in London is 12 mph at best) and in use of space with four/five seater vehicles more often than not carrying a single person. Not to mention the pollution (OK I know we can have electric cars)and the problems caused by the human driver element.
Now I’m not saying more buses and the underground,together with the bicycle and walking, are the total answer. But think, if you did start again, what do we want (ignoring the ‘selfishness’ of having your own vehicle). Well to get from A to B in the shortest possible time, safely, with minimum hassle and no waiting or queuing. I’m sure we can think of others but that’s the basics for me. What’s more we have the technology, at least in development, for most of that already. There are prototype self drive cars. There are mechanisms for cars to detect other cars and keep a safe distance/stay in lane etc. We have GPS and computers that plot routes. So with a bit of sci-fi thinking, why not pods (for want of a better word) that are under central control that can pick you up wherever you want and drop you wherever you want (no parking!). All centrally controlled. It doesn’t take much imagination to envision from that a fully integrated system. Maybe on key routes they join together before splitting into smaller and smaller units as you reach your destination. Instead of vans and lorries, bigger pods, designed for, well whatever you need them for. In my cities of the future these pods need not be restricted to ground level, they could take to those highways in the sky connecting the increased numbers of skyscrapers that will be needed. They could take to the underground for longer journeys perhaps. Think about it, no getting stuck in traffic, reliable journey times. No wasted fuel (whatever it is). No searching for parking. Easy separation from walkers and cyclists. Increased space for that greener city I talked about.
The only downside, dumping the automobile, which as I said above I don’t think there is any alternative too anyway. I’d vote for it.