Designing cities by shifting time

In many ways, the idea of the Fab City is of re-inventing how we do things, of re-thinking why things work a certain way, and if it’s inappropriate, finding a better, more planet-compatible way or citizen-friendly way of doing it.

In this great piece on “the simplest tool”, Sara Hendren (artist and design researcher, and professor at Olin College of Engineering) does just that by drawing our attention to the use of time as a tool to design and recalibrate the city.

It happens in cities everywhere: design, or redesign, created by time. A weekend clock turns an open street into something else entirely — a time structure organized outside commuter efficiency or traffic flows. Urban planners sometimes call it “temporal zoning.” […]

We can creatively reorganize our collective hours and days in ways that help more people enjoy our cities and institutions. Time might be our most valuable resource for building the environments we want.

There’s been a lot of talk about the pandemic opening opportunities to reorganize our work time and our work – life balance, Hendren makes the case that we can do the same in urban settings.

​Closing a street on weekends, “seniors-only” browsing hours to vulnerable customers, extending crossing signals, or adding opening hours to a museum with a useful tweak. Time can be reclaimed.

At the Smithsonian Institution museums in Washington, D.C., for example, a time-based program called Morning at the Museum makes exhibits much more friendly to patrons with disabilities, especially those with intellectual or developmental disabilities. […]

The group eventually opened eight “playing lanes” throughout the city, created a replication manual for other neighborhoods, and generated data to advocate for more sustainable play space in the future.

Perhaps most importantly for our focus here: many of the projects cited were led by citizens in a very simple but effective manner, and this time shifting is a very lightweight way of experimenting, of trying things out and letting the results speak for themselves.