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Thread: Future of cities

  1. #1
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    Future of cities

    The size of cities today are determined by the distance a commuter can reach from home to work in a car within an hour or two (typically 30 to 40 miles). In the Victorian age, the size of cities were determined by the commuting distance by railroad or street car. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, city size was determined by commuting distance by horse-drawn carriage or foot.

    What if, in the future, improved engine and fuel tecnology enabled cars to travel safely and efficiently at speeds of over 100 mph, and computer systems ensured that even the most crowded expressways were accident-free?

    Or what if private air travel (helicopters) went from the domain of the mega-rich to average households? What if Ford could release a new "Ford Heli" helicopter that sold for $30,000 and that could sustain speeds of 150 mph during your morning commute? What if every suburban rooftop could easily become a helipad?

    What would cities look like without automobiles and without roads? Or with roads that enabled commuters to traverse 75 to 100 miles to work each way?

    When this day arrives, will there be an inevitable explosion of suburban sprawl as residents scatter the maximum distance to achieve minimum population density and land cost? If there are no roads, what spatial patterns will the development take? Will it be clustered in centers around retail, schools, and hospitals? Or around lakes and rivers? Or will the population spread evenly like butter on a slice of toast?

    When this new age of urban development comes, how can we ensure that it will be more environmentally friendly than the development of the past? What effects will improvements in transportation technology have on our environment in general?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    The Henry Ford Museum has such a helicopter on display. Funky looking thing.

    http://www.hfmgv.org/museum/heroes/i...rs/scripps.asp

    You can speed things up as much as you want. Some people will still want to live in the City and others will still want to live in a compound far away. I can't see many folks being able to afford a compound lifestyle. I also can't see how spreading out will keep the costs of doing things low. Even if you could figure out an interurban type way of moving folks, rural will still be underserved by transit. You're not going to fly six miles if you need bread, you will drive or bike it. I'd get sick of travelling that far for bread all the time.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

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    I have a hard time believing that low-cost personal helicoptors will become the next transportation wave. Think of the insurance costs, for one!

  4. #4
    Cars and highways didn't stop places like London and New York from thriving. Magical flying machines won't change this.

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    Quote Originally posted by KarlCandy View post
    I have a hard time believing that low-cost personal helicopters will become the next transportation wave. Think of the insurance costs, for one!
    What about in 20 or even 50 years? A miniscule number of people already commute via helicopter today. Even if it reached 2% in a few decades, it could start to snowball like hybrid cars, or the Internet, or any new technology. If the advantages are clear, and if the demand is there, mass production drives prices down and brings the technology to the masses. Is the car of today any less technologically complex than a small helicopter?

    As for insurance costs...

    According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were nearly 40,000 traffic fatalities in America in 2005. (In comparison, there were approximately 50,000 American casualties in the Vietnam War.) My family's auto insurance is less than a hundred dollars a month, and we live in the third-highest state in terms of number of traffic fatalities.

    Even if insurance costs doubled or tripled, an additional couple hundred dollars a month wouldn't amount to a small fraction of our overall household budget.

    And we would assume that computer technology would make commuter air traffic as safe or safer than automobile traffic. Basically, any move that any vehicle made in air space would be computer guided, much like airplanes of today.

  6. #6
    Good observation about commuting distances, but I'd suggest that this is just one variable among many that, when blended, define the aspirations of the typical, middle-class American.

    Other variables are important, too: available land, cheap energy, public perceptions of the core city (schools, crime, etc.), and government attitudes about infrastructure expansion. But in the end, the "marketing department" seems to trump all. Its amazing, really, that the American Dream changes so little over geography and time.

    In the 1950s, the sky car was the logical extension of American-style suburbanization, and 60 years later it still is. But for how much longer?

    The one thing that might "kasplode" the American modus vivendi is the disappearance of cheap energy. I'd say the marketing guys are talking about "feet" more than "helicopters" these days. Fine by me.

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    The city of the future. It's amazing how many different visions there are. It seems that "green" is a popular view of the future. As in, the clean, green metropolis and its eco-friendly suburbs. That's my take on it. There will always be people who crave urban living; and others not. If skycars ever become available to the masses, My guess is that they'll be used by only a few who'd prefer to live waaaay out in the boonies. Some already have such country homes, and use helicopters or biweekly home visits to some degree.

    another note, there's also been some reverse trends in the city/suburb relationship in America. The city was once known as a dirty, grimy center where the poor or minority live. Decades from now, I can see the city as being clean, pricy, and more attractive than the clogged, dirty and cheaper suburbs. That's how it is in France anyway. (Paris being the rich, trendy center; its suburbs being the ethnic slums)

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    Quote Originally posted by biscuitboy86 View post
    another note, there's also been some reverse trends in the city/suburb relationship in America. The city was once known as a dirty, grimy center where the poor or minority live. Decades from now, I can see the city as being clean, pricy, and more attractive than the clogged, dirty and cheaper suburbs. That's how it is in France anyway. (Paris being the rich, trendy center; its suburbs being the ethnic slums)
    That trend has already happened in Houston. The inner-loop has seen property values boom to double or triple of those in suburbs. And this has squeezed out the indigent, who are now moving farther and farther out into the suburbs. The suburbs have become racially and economically diverse. Some of the worst crime-ridden areas in the metro area are now in the suburbs.

  9. #9
    I wouldnt put too much hope in helicopter-like transportation solving our traffic problems. Most people won't want them overhead (imagine the noise!). They would need special "sky lanes" and merging would have to be carefully managed to avoid crashing. Then, where would you park them?

    I think that the biggest trends over the next 20 years will be increasing energy costs and renewed investment in mass transit. It's going to make inner cities more and more attractive and make exurb living less attractive.

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    Quote Originally posted by Gotta Speakup View post
    I wouldnt put too much hope in helicopter-like transportation solving our traffic problems. Most people won't want them overhead (imagine the noise!). They would need special "sky lanes" and merging would have to be carefully managed to avoid crashing. Then, where would you park them?
    I'm no expert on this, of course, but some ideas off the top of my head are:

    - improved technology in the future to reduce the noise

    - multiple (vertical) levels of sky lanes - and a nearly unlimited number of horizontal lanes - unlike roads for automobiles

    - to avoid crashing, we'd be talking about air traffic control technology - every position of every airborne vehicle would have to be tracked and coordinated at the same time - quite a task, but with continuing improvements in computer technology, it may be relatively straightforward to accomplish this by the time helicopter technology is affordable for the average commuter

    - for parking, i was guessing that helicopters would takeoff and land from rooftops of homes and buildings - but current automobile parking lots and driveways could be converted. this also assumes that commuter helicopters would probably have to get smaller over time as the technology advanced.

    I think the biggest obstacle isn't just technological - it's probably things like public acceptance, training (all the new drivers), safety as you mention, noise, and the other concerns you describe.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gotta Speakup View post
    I think that the biggest trends over the next 20 years will be increasing energy costs and renewed investment in mass transit. It's going to make inner cities more and more attractive and make exurb living less attractive.
    So true these things would be total gas hogs!
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  12. #12
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    Need Planning

    Quote Originally posted by woodlands View post
    The size of cities today are determined by the distance a commuter can reach from home to work in a car within an hour or two (typically 30 to 40 miles)....

    I would say the size of cities is determined by the ambition of developers and politicians along with the lack of good planning that is caused by those well intended yet blind forces rather than by modes of transportation. We have had the technology for rapid transportation with speeds up to 14,000 mph for almost 30 years (developed by the Rand Corp.). Good Urban Design and Planning is adaptable; it provides a way to stay ahead of the developers who by default, due to time and money constraints, must trample planners underfoot, as things are. If only planners could come to a consensus on it, I am sure there is a better way than the prevailing continuous growth Mega-Metropolis mentality.

  13. #13
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    I think one key to manageable city/urban agglomeration size and the subsequent traffic patterns/impacts is a nodal format for job centers within the agglomeration.

    If a place has one central job center than traffic patterns and impacts are going to be difficult.

    This often happens in large metro areas currently and many large central cities.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    I tripped across this the other day: Personal Rapid Transit It apparently really exists in a small-ish town/city in West Virginia. (EDIT: Linky to the PRT in existence that I tripped across the other day. I didn't realize how generic that first article is. Sorry.)


    As for some of the rest of this conversation: No, I really don't see flying vehicles as the future of cities. I did see an interesting piece on TV some weeks ago about a city in a South American country (I am thinking Brazil) where they do have "air taxis" -- ie small helicopters for hire like a taxi -- because the congestion on the ground is so horrific that it makes sense for highly paid executives to pay the high price for an air taxi rather than spend all day stuck in traffic, trying to get some meeting or other. But I think that is a confession that the city in question has horrible failures in making the city as a whole work (and I don't just mean transportation, which is just "the presenting problem", in my opinion).

    Anyway, flying takes so much more fuel than driving and driving a conventional vehicle is already an issue in terms of cost (both environmentally and monetarily). The best solutions are elegant ones -- ie the simplest solution which actually meets all necessary criteria without extraneous expenses, hassles, etc. Whatever that solution turns out to be, it will rule the future. I doubt we have really dreamed it up yet. But I can't see it involving flying -- especially not people flying themselves to work as pilots of their own private helicopters -- which is so complicated, so costly (again, both environmentally and monetarily), etc.
    Last edited by Michele Zone; 04 Jan 2007 at 12:39 PM.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    Doesn't the FAA require large bubbles of airspace between anything flying? The airspace would get congested pretty fast with people in personal helicopters. And given the chance for mechanical failure, those helicopters plummet to the ground. No chance for gliding to a landing in a cornfield. We already have anough to worry about without the danger of helicopters or people in rocket packs falling on our houses. That's a future I'll pass on, thanks.

    Besides that, what does a future where people of different social classes mix less and less portend for the future of democracy in the US? Is social stratification inevitable? Will there be a "transportation divide" akin to the "digital divide"?
    Adrift in a sea of beige

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    Cyburbian H's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Michele Zone View post
    I did see an interesting piece on TV some weeks ago about a city in a South American country (I am thinking Brazil) where they do have "air taxis" -- ie small helicopters for hire like a taxi -- because the congestion on the ground is so horrific that it makes sense for highly paid executives to pay the high price for an air taxi rather than spend all day stuck in traffic, trying to get some meeting or other.
    I saw that show recently (on Discover Atlas, I think) where it showed the growing "Heli Taxi" industry in Sao Paulo, Brazil due to the heavy auto-traffic. I beleive the show stated that every new building in the city over 10 stories was built with a heli-pad, and most major older buildings were being retro-fitted.
    "Those who plan do better than those who do not plan, even though they rarely stick to their plan." - Winston Churchill

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by boilerplater View post
    Besides that, what does a future where people of different social classes mix less and less portend for the future of democracy in the US? Is social stratification inevitable? Will there be a "transportation divide" akin to the "digital divide"?
    Air taxis -- giving a whole new meaning to the term "social stratification".

  18. #18
    Cyburbian AubieTurtle's avatar
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    I live in downtown Atlanta and up until recently, the only helipads were at hospitals and the airport. A few corporate headquarters had them but they were rarely, if ever, used.

    Now my neighborhood is going through a building boom and is getting three helipads, all with the same intention of bringing in VIPs to their hotels rooms and condos without dealing with traffic. There is also an airtaxi service that has opened to fly people from the far flung exurbs north of town to the airport south of town. They mentioned that if things go well that they would also start offering commuter service to two of the three central business districts.
    As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron. - H.L. Mencken

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    Cyburbian
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    Way too many problems for personalized use of helicopters to catch on like you suggest in the next 100 years. Who knows what kind of contraptions will be around in the future.

    I agree energy prices will be the biggest player on determining the characteristics of development in the future.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian craines's avatar
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    I think as long as there is available space we will move outward for no other reason as it is easy.

    Once we move outward we will move upward.

  21. #21
    Quote Originally posted by KarlCandy View post
    I have a hard time believing that low-cost personal helicoptors will become the next transportation wave. Think of the insurance costs, for one!
    How about bumper boats? There are tons of underground creeks that could be dug up, many of them are under or next to current roadways. I could see my 14 yearold son learning how to drive a boat a whole lot easier than a helicopter.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian craines's avatar
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    HeliPads and Copters are so yesterday...........JETPACKS are the way

  23. #23
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Michele Zone View post
    Air taxis -- giving a whole new meaning to the term "social stratification".
    Ha! I just read an interesting interview with Walter Hook at the Institute for transportation and Development Policy about tansportation issues in the developing world. Somehow this seemed a fit (just replace "cars" with "personal air transport device"):

    "In developing countries, the people who own and operate cars tend to be a small minority; they tend to be the richest people in country, and they tend to be the decision-makers. In the developing country context, the notion of using scarce public roads and space to give priority to public-transit users, cyclists, pedestrians, open space, and meaningful interaction in the public realm has a class meaning. Dedicating urban public space and roads to private cars means turning over most of those public resources to the richest 1020 percent."
    Here is a link to the rest of the interview if you care: http://www.planningreport.com/tpr/?m...18&format=html
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

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    The ongoing Graying of America means the hot mode of future travel will be - the golf cart!

  25. #25
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by wahday View post
    Ha! I just read an interesting interview with Walter Hook at the Institute for transportation and Development Policy about tansportation issues in the developing world. Somehow this seemed a fit (just replace "cars" with "personal air transport device"):
    That's a hoot. But I was mostly thinking of the two words "stratification" and "stratosphere" in relation to the idea of rich people having private helicopters and what not.

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