Wednesday, 15 May 2013

David Cameron visits MIT: where the future of the city doesn’t include owning a car

On his visit Stateside, David Cameron yesterday dropped in at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The focus was on amazing technological stuff like robotics and the kind of advanced prosthetics shown in the photo.Let’s hope that his briefing material included an article in the Financial Times Weekend Magazine about the MIT’s City Science, “city of the future” research projects. The FT interviewed Kent Larson and Ryan Chin, the architects who run the project, who have a “back to the future” philosophy, explained as follows,

We stepped back and looked at the cities where we all like to be - many of them historic European cities….The cities that work best are the ones organised as they were before the automobile, with small neighbourhoods 1km to 2km in diameter containing almost all the facilities that people need for daily life. So we decided to graft new technology on to the best human settlement patterns from the past.”

They have come up with a 21st-century of a “cellular city” with compact, walkable neighbourhoods - as resilient and self-sufficient as possible - connected by public transport and shared vehicles to a wider urban infrastructure. Chin commented that the key is to move away from private ownership to “an ecology of shared use vehicles.” Social factors are already moving in this direction: MIT students do not care about owning things as much as their parents did at the same age. As Larson says, “Why own a vehicle or even a house, which is an illiquid asset that ties you down….Sharing is a much more rational model than the one I grew up with.”

“The streetscape should have priority,” says Larson. “That means low-rise buildings along the street, four or five stories high, with taller buildings set further back. You can fit a lot of people into a neighbourhood if they don’t have private cars – and enjoy the positive aspects of high-density living without the negative ones.”

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