Audi Extreme Cities 2050

If you’re already an urbanite, take a walk outside. Is your city capable of supporting double or even triple the number of people it already does?

The chances are it isn’t even close. The chances are that there’s slow-moving traffic, made up in part of existing public transport schemes. Nobody is getting anywhere fast, and even subterranean solutions have their problems – unreliability, pollution and high user costs are just a handful. Moving around cities – urban mobility – is already a big problem.

Projects like the Audi Urban Future Initiative will come into their own over the next few years, as municipalities begin to seriously question how they are going to address their own outdated transport solutions. Established in 2010, Audi’s initiative runs competitions, workshops and collaborates with universities and cultural institutes around the world to research sustainable future mobility in our cities. That’s not just mechanical mobility, either, but social and cultural mobility, too. The emphasis of this endeavour is often on people, not machines.

One such partnership, with Columbia University, proposes five hypothetical visions of the megacities of 2050. It’s called the Extreme City Project 2050, and expresses the “intellectual resources that are generated when a research institution like Columbia University and a technological pioneer like Audi collaborate in order to investigate future urban mobility”.

“Transgenerational Capacity” Hypothesis 1

People are living longer. Advances in healthcare and quality of life mean that by 2050 two billion urban-dwellers worldwide will be over 60 years (in 2050, 60 probably won’t even be considered old).

‘Asymmetric mobility’ sees the urban environment, in particular pertaining to navigation and mobility, change to address this ‘demographic shift’. How this change will manifest itself – and try not to imagine a Zimmer-frame-sharing scheme – remains to be seen, but any transport system will presumably have to be easily accessible and intuitive to use.

“Complexity” Hypothesis 2

A melting pot of multicultural ideas and widely differing ethnic groups, spatially restricted cities offer the potential for innovation. This hypothesis suggests “the city is the most complex entity humans have ever created”, but cities also have to be managed as they are vulnerable to stress in the form of bureaucracy, urban warfare and natural disasters.

Columbia University - As systems come to rely on systems, cascading failures can occur, producing accidents like the meltdown at Fukushima, the destruction of the Deepwater Horizon, or the Flash Crash, in which a series of weaknesses in related systems creates an event that spirals out of control.

Megacities will need to foster cultural complexity whilst guarding against the negatives effects of too many resources.

“Migration” Hypothesis 3

This hypothesis argues that, as the product of migration, people in 2015 won’t settle in just one cities, living in several over the course of their lives. The days of staying your entire life in a single city will be over.

Columbia University - Today, for example, we live in Berlin and from there work for a company based in the USA. In 2015 a job offer comes in from New York, in 2020 it’s London, and in 2030 our children move to Asia and we go with them.

Transgovernmental organisations like the European Union are already facilitating mobility for those chasing opportunity, and as global mobility becomes more efficient the prediction is that migration will explode.

“Generosity” Hypothesis 4

Urban space promotes collaboration, making it easier to “make contacts and take up spontaneous offers”. Generosity, or the propensity to interact spontaneously with others in the interests of enterprise, is a self-sustaining attribute. This hypothesis proposes that the spirit and execution of generosity is as crucial to the development of megacities as any political or financial advances.

Columbia University - The city is by definition a place of coexistence, of sharing one’s environment with other people. It has prospered because people interact and that these interactions defy prediction or regulation. Its culture is based on exchange, the transaction of ideas and knowledge that always exceeds the apparent limits.

“Asymmetrical Mobility” Hypothesis 5

“Getting from A to B”, as this hypothesis states, used to be a fairly easy decision between singular modes of transport. Bus, train, car, it didn’t really matter; people chose the most suitable method for the journey at hand. In 2050, mobility will be far more flexible, and changing between different modes of transport will be the status quo. This is already the case in some cities, but smartphone technology is going to rapidly accelerate this trend.

Columbia University - In the twentieth century, planners sought to absorb increased scales of movement and reduce the negative effects of that mobility by rationalizing it on the basis of symmetric everyday travel patterns. They assumed individuals choose forms of transportation based on predictable commutes to their work location. In this century, travel will become asymmetric, as individuals traverse multiple forms of transportation as they navigate their daily routines. 

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