A talk at the NLA: Our future streets in 2050

READING TIME: 3 MINUTES

As we enter a new decade, we are also thirty years away from 2050 and so the future of our streets naturally comes to mind, especially when one grasps on to the fact that the world population is set to hit 9.8 billion by then. This was the basis of a talk I recently attended at the NLA (New London Architecture) where six speakers delivered rapid-fire presentations of projects, products, and strategies that aim to respond the way we move around our cities.

These were the four that stood out to me:

1. Recharge parklets by Arup. Susan Claris, transport planner at the multidisciplinary firm Arup, discussed the ‘recharge parklet’ – a modular space transforming parking spaces into an electric vehicle (‘EV’) charging facility and micro-park. With EV charging ports blocking her own street, Claris realised that this could seriously inconvenience pedestrians, especially the immobile, who would find it frustrating to get by. The parklet’s core elements include an EV charging port, bicycle parking, urban seating, and some plants with potential features such as delivery pickup lockers and smart lamp posts being rolled out as well. Not only is it a genius idea to repurpose infrequently used spaces into something more practical, it would also aid in the well-being of city dwellers wishing for a momentary breather. You can find out more about parklets here.

2. Starling CV by Umbrellium. Andrew Caleya Chetty, partner at urban design and technology firm Umbrellium, spoke about Starling CV – an interactive pedestrian and vehicle prediction software utilising LED screens, located under roads, to highlight danger and put pedestrians’ safety right in front of them in real-time. People’s movements, according to Chetty, aren’t recorded and stored for future use. He explains that although road crossings haven’t changed, the behaviour of people crossing them has and so, streets must adapt to that change. The scheme has, so far, been prototyped in South London with further deployments due to take place. You can find out more about Starling CV here.

3. Our reliance on technology could dictate what we want to see in the future public realm. Katerina Karaga, associate at architecture firm Farrells, briefly summarised the findings of a research project conducted between the firm and consultancy, WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff on the future of streets. The study concluded a decluttering of streets to take place where autonomous vehicles (AVs) would significantly transform Britain’s busy streets. Less car-orientated city citizens would use movable ‘pods’ as gathering places to socialise. With social interaction (or the lack of) being a serious issue in itself, people would be able to dictate what experience they’d like to have on the streets through voting on their devices, whether it be an outdoor cinema, yoga classes or health clinic check-ups. These pods would allow those activities to take place with streets being cleared and traffic diverted if need be.

4. “If the streets are nice, people will walk on it”. David Harrison, the vice-chair of London Living Streets, perhaps delivered the simplest – and most effective – statement of the night. He strongly feels that there has been a ‘gross misallocation of space’ in London where we’ve become too reliant on vehicles to get around. “If the streets are repurposed to make walking an enjoyable experience,” he says, “people will walk on them”.

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