Urbanism Next | Leaders gather in Portland to discuss the future of cities

The modern city as we know it is under threat. Autonomous vehicles, the sharing economy and e-commerce are beginning to change the way we design our future cities. When faced with these unprecedented changes, city planners, managers, leaders, designers and architects turned to SCI, and its latest research initiative, Urbanism Next, to collaborate on steps moving forward.

“If cities do not jump ahead of these developments, they will simply wither,” warns Jeffrey Tumlin, the SCI 2017 Expert in Residence, and the Keynote speaker at SCI’s recent Portland Urbanism Next Workshop and Charrette. Tumlin is the Director of Strategy at Nelson\Nygaard, and just concluded his tenure as Acting Director at the Oakland Department of Transportation.

With the guidance and input of Tumlin’s expertise as a resource, the SCI-organized event facilitated a forum for these national leaders to brainstorm ideas and plan for the challenges they will face when self-driving cars hit the streets. Attendees spent the day discussing the similar impacts that are already being felt due to the surge in e-commerce, and the sharing economy, inspired by companies like Uber and Lyft. The day concluded in a design charrette of three different urban sites in Portland, allowing architects, planners and urban designers to work together to reimagine the impacts these technologies may have on street design, parking and overall urban form.

Those in attendance thoughtfully identified some of the major issues that will result from these advances in technology, and rightfully, they were worried. Nico Larco, SCI co-director, explains that without adequate preparation, the technological developments will lead to massive unemployment across varied industries.

“There is great agreement that these issues span well beyond transportation and we need to stop focusing on autonomous vehicles as a new and shiny technology and more on the secondary effects it will have on city form, design and development,” Larco says. “If we are not prepared, it will have deep and likely detrimental, if not catastrophic, economic effects” (Quote originally written by Laurie Notaro, Around the O).

Catastrophic economic outcomes were not the only concern. Many indicated alarming opportunity for further development of inequity. They worried that AVs would become accessible to only the most affluent members of society, creating surge in city sprawl and increase in gentrification. However, the conversations were not exclusively bleak. Leaders agreed that with proper foresight and strategic preparation, cities can avoid the mess entirely and be ready to tackle the daunting challenges that lie ahead through active leadership and collaboration.

“If planning begins immediately,” Tumlin states, “there wouldn’t need to be one single layoff; the existing labor force could be transferred over gradually to the emerging transportation system” (Notaro, Around the O).

The consensus was clear: technology is going to change the way we define cities whether or not we want it to; leaders are ready to tackle those challenges and ensure a transition that launches our cities into the future. Or in other words - bring it on.


Story by Chloe Meyere, SCI Press and Communications Coordinator