The city of the future is a remodel, not a rebuild

Alfred Twu, an artist and architect who works on housing and transportation projects, wrote a guest post for Noah Smith’s newsletter with lots of interesting views on the evolution of cities. It’s mostly a sequence of statements of a few paragraphs, so a bit hard to summarise, but here are some outtakes to encourage you to read through, plus there are quite a few of his illustrations spread out along his writing. Twu wrote about renovation, the economy, lifestyle, shopping, colleges, transportation, and dreams.

Renovating the City of Today

The city of tomorrow has many familiar streets and sights of the city of today – after all, it’s a remodel, not a rebuild. While other countries have the option of building new cities or neighborhoods beyond the edge of existing ones, the US already used up most land within commuting distance in the 20th century on low density suburbs. Most of us will live in places that already exist today, but with changes.

The Lifestyle of the Future

With people changing jobs on average every four years, it pays to be close to lots of them. This is one of the biggest feature of living in a city, especially for households with multiple people: you want to be able to change jobs without forcing your family to move.

The Second Downtown: The College and the Hospital

The new heart of many a city is the research university with a medical center. Unlike the office buildings that emptied out after 5pm, colleges and hospitals have activity going on around them into the night and weekends. Clustered nearby are a variety of businesses revolving around these hubs, including research spinoffs, entertainment and dining, and health services.

New Uses for Old Freeways

A potential use for former freeway land is a park that doubles as a flood control channel. As for the big interchanges soaring above the neighborhoods at the edge of downtown – like the steel mills of the industrial age, some of the giant freeway interchanges take on a second career as a unique recreation or arts center, a monument from an earlier time.

The New Dream Home
Higher apartment buildings in the US often have a hotel-style layout where apartments face one side or the other along a long hallway, Twu shows what a single-stair layout can look like, to “allow apartments to have windows facing multiple directions, providing cross ventilation and better views.”

Higher density living will require a change in the government’s role in homebuilding. In the past, government spent money building roads and utilities to make suitable lots of land for building cheap houses, which while built by private businesses, relied on the indirect subsidy of government funded infrastructure. The new system may involve subsidizing the homes themselves instead, or a cross-subsidy system such as social housing.

Well worth a read, and a great example of individuals laying out their own vision for the future. Change can only come when we have better stories to inspire us.

Image: A city of the future, painted by Alfred Twu.