Future of Suburbia: Report from Cambridge

In the United States, over 69 percent of all residents live in suburban areas. Across the globe many other developed countries are primarily suburban, while developing countries are increasingly suburbanizing. By 2050, an additional 2.7 billion people are anticipated to live in metropolitan regions around the world, and suburbs are a significant portion of this urban expansion. Over the past two years, 150 experts from numerous, diverse disciplines contributed research that explores this contemporary global phenomenon – and on April 1st their work was showcased at the MIT Media Lab for the Future of Suburbia conference.

The “Future of Suburbia” was chosen as MIT’s Center for Advanced Urbanism biennial theme in order to shed light on the growing role suburbs play in our lives and how they may be improved for the future.   Suburbia is an often polarizing issue that should no longer be ignored by the fields of Planning and Design.

The conference is just one of three products the Center for Advanced Urbanism created for its biennial research theme. An exhibition, located on the ground floor of the MIT Media Lab included infographic mappings, a 22ft x 8ft dynamic model of a 3 million population polycentric region in the year 2100, and aerial footage of global suburbs. The third product, a publication entitledInfinite Suburbia (Fall 2017), brings together 50+ authors and about 700 references, providing groundbreaking research on our low-density future.

Each of MIT’s five schools were represented at the conference, spanning twelve key fields. Attendees also included students from Harvard and Chapman University, and speakers in demographics, entrepreneurship, history, urban design and media production. The findings were presented within four design frameworks, including heterogeneous, productive, autonomous and experimental, which were explored through a variety of fields; including design, architecture, urban planning, history and demographics, policy, energy, mobility, health, environment, economics, and applied and future technologies.

The conference centered on the question, how might suburbia be upgraded to better suit our needs? Can new suburban models be created for developed, but also developing, countries? What challenges will suburbs face in the future? Despite such a large and complex topic, enlightening data, opinions and predictions were given regarding suburbs and their role in a sustainable future.

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In Southern California, it takes an assortment of villages

by Joel Kotkin & Charlie Stephens

Among urban historians, Southern California has often had a poor reputation, perennially seen as “anti-cities” or “19 suburbs in search of a metropolis.” The great urban thinker Jane Jacobs wrote off our region as “a vast blind-eyed reservation.”

The Pavlovian response from many local planners, developers and politicians is to respond to this criticism by trying to repeal our own geography. Los Angeles’ leaders, for example, see themselves as creating the new sunbelt role model, built around huge investments Downtown and in an expensive, albeit underused, subway and light-rail network.

Yet the notion of turning Southern California into a dense, New York hybrid makes very little sense. Nor has it done much for the regional economy, certainly in Los Angeles. The City of Angels thrived during its period of development into a multipolar region; in the 21st century, as Downtown has gained a few thousand hipsters, the rest of the city has lagged economically while population and job growth – including in tech – has been more robust in the surrounding counties of Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino.

Building off Strength

Southern California, even before the advent of the freeways, developed along the lines of an “archipelago of villages.” Even Downtown Los Angeles, the one legitimate urban core in the region, lost its central relevance by the 1930s and, despite all its self-promotion, employs close to the smallest share – well short of 3 percent – of the regional workforce of any large region in the country.

In contrast, the two fastest-growing areas in Southern California – the Inland Empire and Orange County – are arguably the largest regions in the country without a real downtown. Rather than a negation of urbanity, as some suggest, these areas are nurturing an expansive archipelago of smaller hubs, each serving distinct geographies, populations, tastes and purposes, and constitute the building blocks for Southern California’s urban future.

The advantages of such districts are obvious. They allow people to live as most prefer, in single-family homes, lower-density townhouses or apartments, while having easy access to a walking environment. In many cases, most notably Irvine, there is employment nearby, leading to very short commutes on average. This multipolarity is essentially baked into the Southern California cake; it cannot be transformed without massive economic disruption, and enormous expenditures on transit have so far done little to reduce gridlock or spur broad economic growth.

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Mobile Chargers Are Bringing Electric Scooters to Your City Faster Than Expected

PSFK spoke with Gogoro's VP of Communications about the company's OPEN Initiative and its global expansion

Last year at CES, Gogoro explained to onlookers how battery swapping could eliminate the challenges of EV adoption. Since launching in Taipei in August, the electric scooter maker and energy company has sold over 4,000 EV scooters and built over 125 battery swapping charging stations in the region. Now Gogoro will be making its way to Amsterdam this summer, and hit the U.S. market in late 2016.

But at this year’s convention, Gogoro unveiled two developments that will scale up adoption and even introduce sustainable transport into other smaller, progressive communities. The GoCharger can be used at home or in businesses, and the OPEN Initiative lets people nominate themselves or their communities to adopt the technology, even if GoStations aren’t yet available.

PSFK was able to speak with Jason Gordon, Gogoro’s VP of Communications, to learn more about the new GoCharger and how the OPEN Initiative will get consumers involved in the rollout process.

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Retail and Food Halls are Revamping Southern California Communities

How retail is revamping SoCal's cultural and entrepreneurial scene

In the midst of Los Angeles’ urban resurgence, the city’s suburbs are seeing their own makeovers. An hour south of downtown, Huntington Beach is celebrating the opening of Pacific City, a retail hub and food hall that houses local vendors, a Equinox fitness facility, and social gathering spots—all right across from the beach. While the new complex, developed by DJM Capital Partners, breathes new life into the beach town, it’s just another example of a larger culture and entrepreneurial growth in the Orange County region.

With almost 60 new stores and restaurants, the complex hosts a mix of anchor tenants such as H&M and Tommy Bahama, as well as indie shops, boutiques, and cafes. Pacific City also offers free amenities, with designated hangout spots, with foosball tables, fire pits, and a movie screening section for after a long day at the beach.

While Huntington Beach may be known by locals for its surf, and known to tourists for its weather and proximity to Disneyland, the city’s culture runs deeper than the sand and the big name brands. Pacific City strikes at the heart of the community, embodying “the best of what SoCal culture has come to represent—freedom, creativity, entrepreneurship.”

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GM and Lyft: The Chauffeurs of Community-Minded Cities

A partnership between the two firms will bring self-driving vehicles to the ride-sharing business, what happens to the social dynamics of an urban environment remains to be seen

This week General Motors announced that it will be working with Lyft to create afleet of autonomous vehicles. With $500 million already invested in the ride-sharing company and plans to rent out vehicles to Lyft drivers, GM’s move signifies a changing tide in the automotive industry. But despite the environmental benefits that come with this change, the advent of self-driving cars appears to pose a threat to the social bonds it supposedly forges.

For now, GM will begin renting vehicles to Lyft drivers. GM’s strategic shift to the “big-city business,” away from the traditional model of owning cars and having to find parking for them, fits right into Lyft’s plans for a more “democratic transport” and vision to “reconnect people through transportation and bring communities together”.

Sometime in the future the manufacturer will develop an entirely new fleet of self-driving vehicles for Lyft. Such a system would run more efficiently, allowing for seamless pick-up and drop-off and route optimization for multiple passengers at a time. But is it possible that removing the human element will work against the idea of fostering a collaborative and social community?

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Smart Cities are Beginning to Adopt Electric Scooters as the Future of Transport

As cities expand and demand for electric scooters and vehicles grows, Gogoro is trying to bring a new urban energy infrastructure to market

By 2025 the number of smart cities around the world is predicted to quadruple from 2013, from 21 to 88. Gogoro is an electric scooter and energy company that is helping to lead this transformation by making megacities more connected, sustainable, and smart. Already in Amsterdam and Taipei, Gogoro is seeking out new metropolitan regions. But what cities are fitting for this mobility technology, and what will be the long-term impact?

To get a better sense of Gogoro, it seems fair to say that it’s like Tesla, but with scooters. The company has created the “world’s first high-performance, zero emissions two-wheeled electric vehicle”, as well as an urban battery infrastructure for quick charging.

The scooter also gathers, analyzes, and shares rider data to help riders understand best practices for reducing energy consumption and optimizing performance. Vending machines called GoStations allow riders to swap out dead batteries with new ones, and are spread throughout the city for easy access.

Cities naturally seem like good locations for the Gogoro system, but other geographical, social, and political forces also help determine suitable regions for adoption. Gogoro’s VP of communications Jason Gordon gave PSFK three practical reasons as to why Taipei made sense:

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Congested Cities, Meet the Autonomous Tricycle for Adults

The compact, off-the-grid Persuasive Electric Vehicle encourages physical activity, less traffic, and healthier cities

The Persuasive Electric Vehicle, or PEV (pictured on the right above), is an autonomous electric tricycle that’s designed to get people to change their mobility patterns in cities. It’s self-driving, environmental friendly, and sharable but there’s a catch: you have to pedal to keep it moving.

The PEV concept would use NFC technologies to accurately navigate streets, driving autonomously as it ships packages around town and finding potential riders for ride sharing programs.The tricycle only gets up to 12mph, but it’s meant for bike lanes only.

As for the persuasive element, studies show that those using ride sharing programs were already walking or riding their bikes more than others. Since the PEV is meant to expand the market for sustainable transportation, its focus is to give automobile drivers a reason to switch over—which is, a little exercise. By pedaling, riders generate energy that is stored up and used when needed by the motor. Passengers could choose to take care of their bodies, cities, and environment at the same time.

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Ontario Ranch: Southern California’s First Gigabit Community

Southern California has historically defied traditional city models. The region’s expansive suburban communities and various activity hubs have provided economic and urban amenities for both families and young professionals. Now, SoCal’s largest new master-planned community, Ontario Ranch, is developing a connected gigabit infrastructure, business facilities, and an innovative water replenishment system to add to this dynamic.

Over the next 20 years, 47,000 homes will be built for 162,000 residents in the California city of Ontario. Within 30 minutes from Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside counties, the community will have access to prime work centers in the region. But while many will still commute the good ol’ fashioned way to work, freelancers and home workers will have greater opportunities thanks to the high-speed Internet that will come with all of the new homes.

Similar to Google Fiber, Inyo Networks will provide the gigabit-per-second service for Ontario Ranch citizens, costing users $50 per month through HOA dues and subscriber fees. According to the provider, such a system will serve up a more efficient means of telecommuting, conducting research, and even connecting home appliances to the Internet of Things. What once would take hours to download will now may only take minutes or seconds.

In line with the city’s Healthy Ontario Initiative, the community will also have access to physical amenities such as 1,000 acres of public open space, parks and schools—all connected via pedestrian pathways and bike trails. Sixteen million square feet of retail, office, medical and residential uses will offer local employment opportunities as well, and serve as a space for socialization outside of work.

California’s risk of another epic drought will only be reduced by the ranch’s water recycling and desalination programs. And the ranch’s drought-resistant supply of water promises a future of independence and regional leadership. The New York Times praised the region’s anti-drought capabilities:

Those techniques expand Inland Empire’s water supply without actually requiring any new water, and they represent the leading edge of an effort in Southern California toward water independence.

As the city of Irvine (Ontario Ranch’s master-planned neighbor to the south) develops its newly announced partnership with Google Fiber, Ontario Ranch plans to edge out as the first gigabit community in Southern California. It may spell some friendly competition for the growing Orange County tech district, but the new development’s amenities and resources more so indicate a trend that the SoCal region is ready to innovate and embrace change in the way we design our cities.

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