Thinking inside the box

Nick Myall
29 May 2018

An exclusive report from behind the closed doors of the Reclaiming the Streets Task Force Session

The World Architecture News, Urban Challenge 18: Reclaiming the Streets is focusing on a new vision of the streets of the future.

The advent of autonomous vehicles and an increasing awareness of the health risks from vehicle pollution will change the look of our streets over the next couple of decades. Self-driving technology enables cities to fundamentally reimagine their streets, by reducing the amount of road and parking space devoted to privately owned cars while shared self-driving fleets promise to return city streets to a time when they were an asset to communities.

As a result we must all work together to create an effective blueprint for our city streets. As part of this process, World Architecture News has assembled a Task Force made up of professionals from across the architectural, engineering, technology, commercial and planning spectrum who will assess the range of opportunities and proposals that focus on 'reclaiming our streets'. The Task Force gathered in central London on 22nd May with participants from New York, Amsterdam, Brisbane and Washington DC taking part in a lively debate.

Commenting on the Task Force’s mission, WAN’s Founder and Editor in Chief Michael Hammond said: “Our Urban Challenge programme for 2018, ‘Reclaiming the Streets’, is a really exciting project. With a flood of diverse technology interventions heading our way, our cities are literally heading for a major cross-roads. Someone in the session suggested it was like trying to plan what impact electricity would have on our cities at the end of the Victorian era. The changes clearly do represent a once-in-a-generation opportunity to enhance our cities and as Brian Kilkelly stressed when addressing the session, we need to have a big vision. City Leaders are restricted in what they can do, often being only able to react to changes imposed on the them. So the Task Force’s remit is to build that big vision and present it in the form of a manifesto to a panel of International City Leaders on September 20th at our Symposium at the NLA in London.” 

Addressing the Task Force, Brian Kilkelly Development Lead at Climate-KIC said: “We need to decarbonise at a much faster rate, this creates a huge challenge, but also a business opportunity. Even if we stopped all emissions today we would still have to adapt to huge changes. Climate-KIC are delighted to be supporting the WAN Urban Challenge and our city streets are a fantastic battleground where we can drive the agenda forward.”

The Task Force was chaired by Peter Murray, Chairman of New London Architecture who outlined the challenge and timescales to the room: “The UK exiting Europe is a major concern. The level of political ambition in the UK lags behind the rest of Europe when it comes to autonomous vehicles. We also need to develop strategies for drone and robot deliveries and the possible introduction of sky taxis. At present 80% of London’s public places are streets. The spaces between the buildings are as important as the buildings themselves.” 

Commenting on the timescales for the introduction of autonomous vehicles Olivia Walker of Bosch Mobility Solutions said: “The technology is already in place and the safety of AVs is well proven.We just need to integrate it with our current infrastructure. We don’t need more assets, it’s about leveraging the technology in the right way. When a street is redeveloped all the city stakeholders must collaborate.”

It was also noted that new technology should not be a diversion from walking and cycling, both of which are key to creating healthier streets and fighting increasing levels of obesity. Using streets for deliveries at certain times and movement/play at other times was also suggested, as well as car free days which would ‘nudge people into rethinking whether they need a car.’ 

Changes in the way we shop, not least the rise of internet shopping, is also creating change in our High Streets...

If you would like to contribute in any way to the Urban Challenge project, please contact Tessa.Schubert@haymarket.com

The ideas that came out of the Task Force will now be taken forward and summarised in a document the focuses on reclaiming our city streets. The debate will continue at a WAN Urban Challenge Symposium that will take place at the NLA in London on September the 20th.  

Nick Myall

News editor

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