Advanced Seminar in City Form: Future of Streets

The Advanced Seminar in City Form invites a group of students to research and discuss themes about the form of cities in an attempt to relate formal theory, with empirical analysis and urban design. This spring’s seminar entitled “The Future of Streets” will examine the conflicts and opportunities that emerge when city streets are retooled for new mobility solutions, specifically shared, electric and autonomous vehicles.

Streets have served as both conduits of movement and as public spaces for human activities and interactions since the dawn of cities. The dimensions, layouts, and design features of streets have, accordingly, always balanced the competing necessities of movement, as dictated by transportation technologies and mode choices of the time, and place making, as dictated by social, economic and cultural aspirations of urban societies. These competing forces shaping streets are clearly manifested in the transformations of streets spurred by the widespread adoption of personal automobiles in the 20th century. Transportation technology can produce profound impacts on streets and indeed, entire cities and regions.

At the dawn of the 21st century, urban transportation technologies are in flux again. The personal automobile industry is being transformed by electrification, platform-based vehicle sharing, and driverless technology. Yet, even with these looming tech-based transportation innovations, many cities are continuing efforts to increase their public transport mode share and reduce the presence of automobiles on their streets—whether private or shared. Public transportation systems are also innovating. Rail and bus services, which have so far been bound to fixed routes and hefty, higher-capacity vehicles, are incorporating custom routes and smaller vehicles to deliver more efficient and less costly solutions for last-mile travel. Bike-sharing systems, updating 19th century mechanical technology with 21st century sharing schemes, are increasingly ubiquitous in cities.

Despite the critical role of streets in the future of mobility and accessibility, surprisingly little research has focused on the spatial demands that new transportation technologies pose on streets and by extension, other vehicles, modes, and activities. Questions also remain as to how the design and regulation of public streets might lend towards continued individualized motorization or incentivize the adoption of new mobility technologies in ways that bolster collective, multimodal, and active forms of transport as well as alternative uses of streets and public spaces. Nor is there clear understanding of how evolving street designs and enhancements alter sociospatial access—beyond the immediate area and neighborhood—at urban and regional scales by means of dynamic residential and commercial real estate markets.

The seminar will address these knowledge gaps by focusing on three sets of critical questions:

  1. How could new street-based infrastructure projects for shared, electric, and autonomous vehicles affect accessibility on other modes, particularly walking, biking, and public transit, as well as alternative uses of streets for social, commercial, and cultural activities and interaction?
  2. What impact could street modifications for new mobility technologies have on land values, residential displacement, and by extension, broader spatial accessibility to urban amenities, services, and resources among different socio-economic groups?
  3. What policy, design and planning options can help cities promote to ensure that new street-based mobility solutions maximize multi-modal, socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable accessibility?