Search results for "driverless"

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Road To Automation

A Michigan facility is the nation’s epicenter for testing self-driving cars

The race is on to develop connected and automated vehicles (CAV) that are viable and affordable. The road to this goal is not a simple one, though. While Silicon Valley is working on the software side of the challenge, the U.S. government is looking back to the place where it all began: Michigan. Specifically, Willow Run in Ypsilanti Township.

Willow Run was a B-52 manufacturing plant during World War II. Today, the site is in the middle of a transition that will make it the epicenter of automated-vehicle research. Willow Run is now home to the American Center for Mobility (ACM), and it has been designated as the first national CAV proving grounds by the Department of Transportation.

At over 500 acres, the center includes a variety of environments designed to simulate real-world situations. These include a 2.5-mile highway loop, a 700-foot-long curved tunnel, two double overpasses, and multiple intersections and roundabouts. Matched with Michigan’s varied and sometimes extreme weather, the center provides everything needed to put new autonomous testing technologies through their paces.

The first task of the facility will be to help establish voluntary standards for CAVs, infrastructure, and autonomous technologies. Along with the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) and SAE International, the center will work to identify the most immediately needed guidelines for safe automated transportation. The center is also working with the University of Michigan’s Mcity, a smaller research facility with its own proving ground. Mcity’s position within the greater university allows researchers access to the school’s engineers, public policy experts, and law, business, social sciences, and urban planning faculty.

As a public-private partnership, the center is also working with companies like Toyota and AT&T. Toyota, which already does automated research at Mcity, recently invested $5 million into the center. AT&T is providing a dedicated LTE cellular network needed for the communication side of the CAV equation.

“As we move forward with the development of autonomous cars, we must remember that not all test miles are created equal,” said Gill Pratt, CEO of Toyota Research Institute, at the announcement of the Toyota-ACM collaboration. “The road to creating a car as safe, or safer, than a human driver will require billions of test miles including simulation, real-world driving on public roads, and closed-course testing where we can expose our systems to extreme circumstances and conditions. The new ACM closed-course facility is a significant step forward in this journey and will accelerate our ability to help prevent crashes and save lives.”

According to the World Economic Forum, 10 percent of vehicles in the U.S. will be driverless by 2026. Before that can happen, new hardware and software will have to be developed to overcome issues of trust, cost, efficiency, and safety. The U.S. government is counting on Michigan’s automotive brain trust to solve these issues and move the country back into the lead position in the automotive industry.

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Data Breach

Google’s Sidewalk Labs emerges as top contender for Toronto waterfront project
What happens when urban planning decisions fall into the hands of tech companies? This is a question that has been asked with increasing frequency as driverless cars, data-driven urban interventions, and "smart cities" have insinuated themselves into the daily news cycle. This week, it was reported that Sidewalk Labs, an urban innovation startup under Google's parent company Alphabet, has emerged as the top contender to tackle a major new urban development project in Canada. Waterfront Toronto, a government-funded corporation operating in of Canada's most populous city, has selected Sidewalks Labs for Quayside, a project which aims to rework 12 acres along Old Toronto's inner harbor into mixed-use space including residential development, of which 20 percent must be affordable. Quayside is part of Toronto Waterfront's mission to adapt nearly 1,977 acres around the city's port to modern use. Waterfront Toronto has been upfront about their tech-focused approach to the redevelopment project. In the competition's RFP, they announced the project was to be "a test bed for how we construct the future city" focused on "forward-thinking urban design and new technologies to create people-first neighborhoods." Sidewalk Labs seems to match these requirements, with projects like the Link NYC wi-fi kiosks now dotting the streets of New York's five boroughs, which is managed by a new Sidewalk-managed company called Intersection. Much like their (and Google's) parent company Alphabet Inc., one of Sidewalk's approaches has been to function as a kind of business incubator for organizations dealing with topic-specific urban interventions. Among their other projects, Cityblock Health addresses urban space as a determinant for public health and Semaphore Lab prototypes adaptive traffic lights. Sidewalk's slogan, "We're reimagining cities from the internet up," may provoke unease among urban planners or socially-minded architects – language is telling, and this catchphrase is notably people-less. Even when addressing issues like affordable housing, urban congestion, and health, solutions based on predictive algorithms rather than human experience can engender healthy skepticism. Waterfront Toronto, now in a self-imposed "blackout period" as they finalize the process, expects to make a formal announcement sometime this fall. The board has a scheduled meeting on October 20th to decide on the staff recommendation.
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Still Boring

Elon Musk’s Boring Company receives approval to build a test tunnel in L.A.
Elon Musk’s The Boring Company—a tunnel-focused start-up aimed at reducing the overall cost of building underground tunnels in urban areas—has received approval from the Hawthorne City Council in Los Angeles County to build an initial two-mile-long test tunnel under the city’s streets. The approval was made this week and would allow Musk’s Boring Company to extend an ongoing pilot tunnel being dug on the site of the company’s headquarters in Hawthrone, near Los Angeles International Airport. The company is building the tunnel using a second-hand boring machine that was originally used to dig a sewer tunnel in San Francisco, Daily Breeze reports. The souped-up boring machine is named “Godot” and is designed to dig tunnels that measure 14 feet in diameter, 50 percent narrower than traditional subway tunnels. The smaller diameter is expected to bring costs down considerably, reducing costs three to four times compared to traditional methods, according to The Boring Company website. In recent weeks, the company took to building a shaft and a 160-foot-long tunnel on the property, a passage that will be extended underneath local city streets as soon as is feasible. With the approval comes a series of new details surrounding Musk’s plan, including a proposal for a new type of autonomous vehicle system that would allow the entire system to function seamlessly. The 14-foot wide vehicle would consist of an automated platform that can hold pedestrian passengers and bicyclists. These so-called “Skates” would travel in the tunnels and be capable of carrying people, vehicles, as well as other types of freight. The tunnels are also being planned to reuse excavated dirt from the construction process into site-cast building blocks that can be used to line the tunnel interiors in lieu of conventional concrete coatings. Musk also expects that the tunnels will be a useful way of extending a proposed Hyperloop network into dense urban areas.  Brett Horton, SpaceX's head of construction, said in a statement, "We won't have construction crews walking down the street, we won’t have any trucks or excavators working in those areas." Instead of performing labor-intensive and traffic-snarling decking procedures like those involved with traditional subway construction, "Everything that we’re doing is underground," Horton explained. For now, construction on the tunnels continues.
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The Future is Now

Can technology and design save us? Norman Foster Foundation’s first forum ponders the challenges
The Architect’s Newspaper is in Madrid for The Future is Now Forum, the inaugural event hosted by the Norman Foster Foundation. The Forum featured a remarkable list of figures from the design world and beyond, from Pritzker Prizewinning architect Alejandro Aravena to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and historian Niall Ferguson. Foster and numerous panelists were optimistic that design and technology could provide solutions for an ecologically and urbanistically challenged planet, though the path forward isn't without dangers and challenges.  The forum was, in a way, the Madrid-based Foundation's debut. The organization aims to foster innovation and research on the built environment while also implementing real-world projects, such as the Droneport featured at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale and slated for construction in Rwanda. The Foundation is inherently interdisciplinary in scope, with its wide-ranging focus extending from architecture to infrastructure, engineering, technology, cities, the arts, and more. “I describe it as questioning traditional hierarchies and adopting a roundtable approach to creativity,” said Foster in a description of the organization.
The Foundation (which is entirely separate from Foster + Partners) grew out of a series of international traveling scholarships for architects that Foster initiated in 2007. A physical space for the Foundation would not only receive the scholars, but promote its “holistic approach to design” to a wider audience through a range of programming and exhibitions. Those activities will be grounded with the Foundation’s archive of Foster’s work, which includes prototypes, drawings, transcripts, films, photographs, models, and more. Since 2017, more than 74,000 items have been cataloged and more than half those items are already digitized. Eventually, all of them will be available on the publicly accessible online archive. While the Foundation introduced its new headquarters two days ago (AN will follow up on its design when images become available), today was its inaugural Forum, which was split into three sections: Cities, Technology and Design, and Infrastructure. Foster kicked off the forum by describing the challenges the world faces, specifically rapid urbanization, a transportation revolution (such as driverless cars and pedestrianizing cities), and climate change. With a heavy dose of Buckminster Fuller, he emphasized the need for interdisciplinary intervention and holistic design, something the Foundation will do. The first panel (featuring former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Richard Burdett, Professor of Urban Studies at London School of Economics, architect Maya Lin, and Foster himself) was fairly straightforward, with an emphasis on the benefits of urban density and the inherently democratic nature of cities. The overriding theme was a need for strong political leadership to present grand and compelling visions to tackle urban woes: "Cities in the West have forgotten the power of planning," Foster lamented. Elon Musk's Hyperloop and Bogotá's highly successful bus rapid transit (BRT) system were also highlighted as examples of successful, radical thinking as well. But it was a comment from former Mayor Bloomberg about technology eliminating jobs that would set the stage for sharp disagreements in the next panel.
The second panel focused on technology and design. It started with a set of striking projects from Professor Matthias Kohler of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, which included flying drones constructing a brick tower and robots fabricating a new kind of formwork that allows for curving concrete shapes. Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder of MIT Media Lab, was especially bullish on technology's potential to shape design: "The end of constructing things of components" such as bricks or concrete is coming to an end. Architecture will be "like planting a seed and watching a building grow... additive construction is over." Niall Ferguson, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, countered that a massive backlash was coming for all this progress: When middle America and Europe figure out that technology is taking their jobs, he said, there will be resistance, even if it's futile. Citing Uber as an especially egregious example, he argued that Silicon Valley sees its inventions and inherently "awesome" and unstoppable, thereby failing to anticipate the reaction of those on the losing side of innovation. Furthermore, Ferguson described how many scientific inventions—from splitting the atom to drones—were frequently turned into weapons of war. His critique was hotly debated by Negroponte, though it succeeded in introducing doubt to the techno-utopian aspects of the Forum's Buckminster Fuller-esque aspirations. Next, Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena delivered the keynote prelude to the final panel on infrastructure. He delivered a more grounded argument about the need for infrastructure to serve multiple roles in the cities. In the face of massive urban inequality, he said, we can't touch income directly but we can strategically design public spaces, transportation, and other urban infrastructure to ameliorate the problem. Examples included using hard infrastructure (e.g. waste treatment) to create new public spaces or platforms for housing, providing opportunities for individuals to be self-sufficient and off the grid, and prioritizing space-efficient transit (such as walking, biking, and buses over cars) in the precious public space of streets. His thoughts were echoed throughout the final panel that followed. Henk Ovink, Special Envoy for International Water Affairs for the Kingdom of the Netherlands and seminal figure in Rebuild By Design, emphasized that infrastructure is a political and cultural challenge as well an engineering one. "We had a water democracy in the 1100s," he said of the Netherlands, which meant the public was always deeply included in the design process. Without a similar process, communities won't understand, own, or accept big infrastructure projects. Also on the panel was Jonathan Ledgard, director of Rossums Group and leader of the Norman Foster Foundation's Droneport project, who sought to counter Ferguson's earlier critique. He cited the Droneport, a hub for commerce and community where drones bring and send away small, high-value goods (such as medicine or mechanical parts) as one example of how low and high technology can mix to benefit the common good. Foster concluded the forum on a historical note. While cars have become the enemies of cities, they were once their saviors, as they eliminated the mountains of horse manure that horse-driven carriages and trucks created. Yesterday's friend can become today's enemy. Still, he said, "the exchanges today give me great hope for the future."
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#SCNYC17

Sidewalk Labs may develop its own district to test smart city tech
This May 3 to May 6, the Brooklyn Navy Yard's Duggal Greenhouse is hosting the inaugural Smart Cities NYC conference and expo. Smart Cities NYC is ambitious in its scope, with a global selection of speakers whose backgrounds include government, the tech industry, academia, real estate/development, and design. Autonomous vehicles, public health, construction technology, resilient urban landscapes, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are just a few of the subjects being discussed. The Architect's Newspaper is covering the first two days of the conference—see yesterday's coverage here! Dan Doctoroff, C.E.O. and co-founder of Sidewalk Labs, Alphabet's urban innovations company and designer of LinkNYC, today laid out his company's vision for driving smart city technology into the near future. Before delving into Sidewalk Lab's goals and methods, Doctoroff painted a picture of an industry facing intrinsic challenges. "Getting things done in cities is really hard.... no city in the world does a good job of truly integrating the physical and the digital," said Doctoroff. That's why, he said, venture capitalists hadn't invested deeply in smart city technology companies. Additionally, as infrastructure crumbles and cities become unaffordable, the public loses faith in government's ability to solve problems. Yet, he believes that technological innovations in materials/fabrication, social media, machine learning, and related fields have the ability to revolutionize cities the same ways that steam engines, electric grids, and cars did in the past.   Doctoroff then discussed an ambitious plan to accelerate the innovation process. Sidewalk Labs is "looking into developing a large-scale district" that would serve as a smart city technology testbed. The company is currently in the feasibility studies phase, and it remained unclear if this would be ground-up construction, but it sees this test bed as critical. Thanks to its district-scale size, it will attract an aggregation of innovators whose collaborations and synergies will create positive feedback loops of experimentation and success. Put differently, the sheer scale of the testbed will make its technologies greater than the sum of their parts. Once successful models are discovered, he predicted, they will be quickly dissimulated. He cited The High Line (a Bloomberg-era project that Doctoroff oversaw as deputy mayor) as an example of a globally and rapidly copied idea. Throughout his speech, Doctoroff often repeated that such innovations would only be successful if they improved quality of life, health, opportunity, equity, and other laudable goals. To that end, he outlined several specific areas where Sidewalk Labs was pursuing its ideas. One was the more efficient use of real estate; Sidewalk is currently looking into prefab modular housing, sensors that monitor building performance in real-time, and robotic delivery services that would reduce the need for residential storage space. Another area is mobility systems that would replace private cars, which Doctoroff said were a financial burden to many ($9,000 to $10,000 per year for a single family), as well as creators of sprawl, lethal accidents, and carbon dioxide emissions. Sidewalk Labs is exploring self-driving cars, car shares, optimizing existing road network usage, and the incentivizing of walking and biking. Sidewalk Labs's third area of focus is sustainability. Most notably, Doctoroff cited a thermal exchange system in development that could capture buildings' wasted heat, thereby reducing energy usage by up to 80 percent over a year. He also mentioned more familiar techniques, like greywater recycling and Passive House technology. A fourth area involved urban commons: the "public realm that is the city's living room or backyard," as Doctoroff put it. Innovations in that department included the use of retractable ETFE canopies to protect bike lanes and sensors that monitor air quality and the status of public assets (presumably benches, streetlights, and similar infrastructure). Lastly, Doctoroff referenced the "close-knit community that uses data to improve services." This area of focus included ensuring universal access to broadband and undertakings like LinkNYC. The improved collection and analysis of data could improve healthcare delivery and new democratic forums. On the whole, Sidewalk Labs's plans were ambitious and brimming with technological optimism, despite the challenges that smart city technology companies face. The question of top-down versus bottom-up efforts was a final and critical undercurrent of its vision: "You can never truly plan a city, you can [just] lay foundations," said Doctoroff. How exactly that plays out, and where the public has an opportunity to shape and direct these technologies, remains to be seen. Want more technology news for the architecture, engineering, and construction industries? Don't miss The Architect's Newspaper's Tech+ expo, coming to New York City this May 23!
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Making No Small Plans

Optimism fuels Miami’s mega-developments, but a denser Miami isn’t a sure thing

This article appears in The Architect’s Newspaper’s April 2017 issue, which takes a deep dive into Florida to coincide with the upcoming AIA Conference on Architecture in Orlando (April 27 to 29). We’re publishing the issue online as the Conference approaches—click here to see the latest articles to be uploaded.

New York or Los Angeles?

These are the two contrasting models of urbanism that Raymond Fort, designer at Miami-based architecture firm Arquitectonica, cites when asked about Miami’s future. In New York, numerous walkable neighborhoods—whose density, convenience, and character are major assets—are connected by a robust public transportation system. In Los Angeles, low density and car-oriented urbanism is the norm outside the downtown core (though transit-oriented development has begun to spread in recent years). Many developers working in Miami are clearly enthusiastic about the New York model. However, that future isn’t guaranteed: The potential for car-dominated sprawl and other hybrid models still exist.

Arquitectonica is behind Brickell City Centre, a 5.4-million-square-foot complex of offices, luxury condos, a hotel, and ample retail south of Downtown Miami. Developed by Swire Group, Brickell is one of the many large, mixed-use developments in Miami that signals movement toward density. Phase one opened late last year, and phase two will entail an 80-story mixed-use tower.

Just north of downtown, there’s Miami Worldcenter, a 17-million-square-foot, 27-acre complex. It’s a joint venture by multiple developers, with Boston-based Elkus Manfredi leading the master plan and designing the center’s phase one, which is anchored by a 1-million-square-foot retail podium. Phase two is a $750 million convention center and hotel.

Development isn’t only concentrated in the urban core. About two miles north of Downtown in the Wynwood neighborhood, developer Moishe Mana and Miami-based Zyscovich Architects are poised to build a 9.72-million-square-foot, 23.5-acre development that will feature as many as 3,482 residential units, a mix of retail, office, and cultural programming, as well as an extensive public “Mana Commons” that will cut through the complex’s cluster of medium-rise towers. Dubbed Mana Wynwood, it won approvals last September. More like it may be on the way: In Little Haiti, the Eastside Ridge development will replace 500 townhouses with 7.2 million square feet of mixed-use development, and another project dubbed “Magic City(also located in Little Haiti) would see an innovation center, business incubator, housing, retail, and other art-entertainment facilities arise across a 15-acre campus.

What’s driving all of these major concentrations of development? In part, affluent young professionals across the U.S. are moving to cities seeking walkable, transit-connected neighborhoods, and developers are eager to meet that need. But there are factors unique to Miami. One is the city’s zoning: The Miami 21 code, implemented some six and half years ago, has significant parking requirements that incentivize large developments. For example, in dense high-rise areas, the code mandates 1.5 parking spaces per unit. Consequently, smaller projects struggle to meet the logistical and economic challenges of incorporating that much parking into their site. Bigger projects can more easily integrate a parking garage into their lower levels. Furthermore, if a development covers nine contiguous acres, it can qualify for a Special Area Plan, an arrangement that allows developers more flexibility in situating parking and negotiating the rules of Miami 21’s form-based code. This maximizes the development’s value. Brickell, Mana Wynwood, and the Worldcenter, as well as virtually all of Miami’s major developments, are (or have applied for) Special Area Plans.

Miami’s geography is also part of the equation. John Stuart, professor of architecture at Florida International University and executive director of its Miami Beach Urban Studios, explained how wealth from the Caribbean and Central and South America has historically flowed into Miami. “We have this gravitational pull from the south,” he said. Affluent people from Chile, Venezuela, and elsewhere come to Miami seeking “these kinds of urban experiences where they’re safe, their products are confirmed as authentic, but they’re close to their own countries….”

But the city’s geography turns from an asset to a risk when one considers the threat of extreme weather and sea-level rise. Miami Beach, which sits a mere four feet above sea level (compared to Miami’s six feet), is regularly inundated during king (high) tides and is spending nearly half a billion dollars to raise streets, install pumps, and push back the waters. Faced with such uncertainty, Stuart sees mega-developments as “just overflowing with optimism” and the belief that climate change will be remedied, ameliorated, or far enough away to not warrant significant concern in the near future.

In the shorter term, how Miami 21 and public transportation evolve may be deciding factors in shaping the city. In Wynwood, the City of Miami Planning Department is testing out a new zoning overlay that alleviates parking requirements for developments with smaller units. If Wynwood ceases to become the exception, then dense growth may not be restricted to Special Area Plan developments and the downtown urban core.

This leads to the issue of public transportation. “That’s at the core of much of what’s fragmenting the city, holding it back economically, socially, culturally,” said Stuart. “There’s very little opportunity for people who live in a neighborhood they can afford to access other neighborhoods for employment, artistic production, or other means.” Miami is in the process of funding and planning an expansion of the Metrorail, the city’s above ground heavy-rail rapid transit system. Eighty-two miles of new rail and six new lines—costing $3.6 billion—would connect the city’s burgeoning neighborhoods with each other and downtown. Complicating the situation are Uber and Lyft, whose low rates can be competitive with public transportation. Moreover, according to Fort, the prospect of driverless cars adds a new level of uncertainty to major public transportation investment.

A conversation about public transportation and mega-developments must also include the question of affordability. According to a 2016 study from the New York University Furman Center, in Miami “85 percent of recently available rental units were unaffordable to the typical renter household,” making the city the least affordable for renters among the country’s top 11 metro areas. But there are glimmers of hope: As development moves from the urban core and the waterfront to places like Wynwood, more non-luxury units may come online. Additionally, the city is already taking steps to increase affordable housing stock: A measure passed in late February would reward residential projects that feature affordable units with greater density and less required parking. However, while the downtown core and Wynwood don’t have large existing communities facing gentrification, that challenge may arise elsewhere. In other instances, density alone may deter development: Earlier this year, local opposition stopped a 1.2-million-square-foot Special Area Plan development east of Little Haiti.

For a firsthand experience, Fort recommends riding the Metrorail to survey the city—from there, you can see pockets of development (Coconut Grove, Little Havana, Brickell, Downtown) that he thinks could become medium-density nodes in a new polycentric city. He also cites neighborhoods like Edgewater, Wynwood, and the Design District that aren’t on the Metrorail but are still growing. “That’s what I think the next phase of development in Miami is,” he said, “where we look at neighborhoods and understand what’s missing” to make them mixed-use, denser, and affordable. Optimism for density, however, is just one of many factors—climate change, transportation technology, affordability, and zoning codes, to name a few—that will shape Miami in the years to come.

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Smart Cities NYC '17

Brooklyn Navy Yard to host four-day smart cities conference
This May 3 to May 5, multiple venues across the Brooklyn Navy Yard will host the inaugural Smart Cities NYC conference and expo. The conference is ambitious in its scope: it features a global selection of speakers with backgrounds ranging from government to technology, academia, real estate/development, and design. Key topics of interest to architects, designers, and developers will be transportation (from biking/walking to driverless cars), public health, innovations in construction risk and public/private partnerships (with panels on the LaGuardia Airport redevelopment and Penn Station), resiliency, and the Internet of Things (IoT). Smart Cities NYC Founder Jerry MacArthur Hultin told The Architect's Newspaper that the conference:
...represents what we're trying to do more broadly as a strategy: Build a capacity to use technology in cities to get people a better life. We're looking at any of the levers that make that happen so that young people start inventing more things, governments pick up on these ideas and do them, companies finance them and make them happen, citizens help design them. The more there's an ecosystem of activity, the better.
Notable participants include a team from Columbus, Ohio handling the city's $50 million "Smart City" grant, Matthew Claudel of MIT's Design X (who will be on the panel "Anticipatory Urban Design for the Age of Autonomous Vehicles"), New Lab, Ger Baron, the Chief Technology Office of Amsterdam, James Ramsey, co-founder and creator of the Lowline (who will be on the panel "The Repositioning and Revitalizing of Cities"), and Daniel Zarrilli, senior director, climate policy & programs chief resilience officer, New York Office of the Mayor—and that's just to name a few. See a full list here. The conference will feature lectures, workshops, and social gatherings spread across the Navy Yard venues, which include the 35,000-square-foot Duggal Greenhouse, 30,000-square-foot Agger Warehouse, and the 5,737-square-foot Building 92. The former two are large, open event spaces while the latter features a cafe, terrace, and multipurpose room. There will also be tours outside the Navy Yard (details TBD). "Architects have been beginning to see that this new technology is really going to influence urban design, building design," said Hultin. "Seeing the new technology, debating, imagining what you can do with it, it's really essential." For more on Smart Cities NYC '17, see their page here. Tickets range from approximately $420 to $1,250.
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Staying Ahead of the Burb

Changing demographics and new technologies promise to reshape American suburbs

Cookie-cutter Levittowns epitomize the post–World War II generation’s housing: Shaped by subsidies and segregation practices like redlining, vast tracts of cul-de-sacs and ranch homes filled up with white Americans emptying from the cities. Now, as a new generation stands to form 14 million new households over the next decade, the suburbs are poised for major changes.

How and where the next wave lives are the major questions put forth by “Housing in the Evolving American Suburb,” the 2016 report from the Urban Land Institute (ULI), a nonprofit developer and real estate research group based in Washington, D.C. Its analysis takes a big-picture snapshot of America’s suburbs in an attempt to update and more accurately reflect demographics and spread beyond Levittown. Seeing the suburbs figuring prominently in issues ranging from aging to immigration and economic growth, the report aims to create “a new analytic framework for classifying suburban housing markets.”

Drawing extensively from census data, the ULI—working with real estate consultants RCLCO—used factors such as housing types, population density, employment density, and distance from city centers to identify the suburban areas outside of America’s 50 largest metro areas. Organized by census tract, each area is classified into five suburban categories based on land value and a host of development trends.

Using these definitions, one immediate takeaway was that the suburbs are growing. “There’s absolutely…an outward migration from metro areas and regions based on the cost of living, which is principally the cost of housing,” said Stockton Williams, executive director for the ULI Terwilliger Center for Housing. Furthermore, the newer, more peripheral, and affordable suburbs are growing faster in comparison with older suburbs, regardless of whether the latter were wealthy or low income. And, contrary to popular perception, the suburbs are increasingly more diverse. By one estimate, suburban America was nearly 90 percent white in 1980. Now, while what the ULI defines as “economically struggling” suburbs are 62.1 percent minority (a definition that includes all races except non-Hispanic whites), “established high-end” and “stable middle income” suburbs are 33.8 percent and 51.2 percent minority, respectively. By comparison, non-Hispanic whites were an estimated 61.6 percent of the national population in 2015. However, the report and its accompanying online map (available at RCLCO’s website) make it impossible to distinguish what minorities make a census tract diverse. Moreover, segregation can still persist, depending on your standards and how close you look—a fall 2014 Harvard GSD studio still found the legacy of suburban segregation alive and well in Long Island’s Nassau County, which the report identifies mostly as “stable middle income.” While identifying that form of discrimination was not the report’s goal, Williams predicted that immigrants in particular would shape suburbs in the future.  He said demand for newer, more peripheral, but higher-end suburbs will “increasingly be driven by second- and third-generation immigrants.”

Also contrary to population conception is the suburban demographic: 75 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds in the report’s top-50 metro areas lives in suburbs. That age group (millennials) may drive major national changes there. “There are still a lot of millennials who have not really formed households, or even if they have, have not even begun to fully express what we expect to be their purchasing power and their preferences in the housing market,” said Williams. According to previous ULI studies, 75 percent of millennials plan to move in the next five years, and that group has a strong preference for car-optional neighborhoods that are diverse and pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly—in other words, compact mixed-use developments. So what will happen when millennials want to upgrade the sizes of their dwellings, form households, or pursue home ownership, especially when as of 2014 the median household income for those aged 25 and 34 was $54,243?

More prosperous millennials may remain in cities or move to newer, higher-end suburbs—ones developed with dense, walkable, mixed-use downtowns as amenities. For the rest, other possible destinations arethe many “economically challenged” suburbs well situated near urban cores. “There, we could see a reinvestment, meaning an influx of younger families, or families of any age who want to buy, who can buy more…because prices are lower,” Williams said. Such a phenomenon is already underway near Washington, D.C., in parts of Prince George’s County, Maryland, which Williams said is “now attracting residential investment and mixed-use and even arts and cultural redevelopment.”

Another complicating factor is the fate of older suburban housing stock. Though it’s unclear at what rate those homes will enter the market, when they do, there may be little demand from younger generations for homes “that were built in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, largely to meet the needs and preferences of the nuclear family unit of that era, in communities that may not always reflect today’s preferences,” said Williams. Lastly, the prospect of driverless and electric vehicles—estimated to enter widespread use in 20 to 30 years, according to the report—could be highly disruptive. Autonomous and shared vehicles could vastly curtail parking requirements that stifle density while making long-distance car commuting more amenable. Electric vehicles could also make the suburbs more sustainable.

While some have portrayed the report as another round in the city-versus-suburb debate, that’s not Williams’s takeaway. He argues that the suburbs’ range of housing options make them integral to the success of their cities and vice versa. “You really are seeing pretty significant and sustained growth in a number of the metro areas…where housing is more affordable.” But a range of factors—from fair-housing enforcement to driverless cars, aging in place, and millions of households’ preferences—have yet to play out in each region.

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SimCity IRL

This Silicon Valley startup is building a brand-new city from the ground up
Y Combinator, the Silicon Valley–based business accelerator and investment firm that backed Airbnb and Dropbox, has turned its attention towards an ambitious project that most of us only dream about during a SimCity gaming binge. Y Combinator's nonprofit division, YC Research, is inviting collaborators to research ways to build a more affordable, legible city. The project intends to find ways to reduce a household's housing expenses by 90 percent and write a full book of city code that's less than 100 pages long. The ultimate plan, Y Combinator partner Adora Cheung and president Sam Altman said, is to produce a real city to demonstrate these principles in practice. The project will be a stage for testing ideas in urban policy and for expanding the scope of Y Combinator. Although the company hasn't chosen a location yet, the firm will solicit proposals for streamlined construction, an advanced power, driverless cars (this is Silicon Valley, of course), and smarter zoning and property law. Altman states that YC Research will ultimately have an annual budget of over $100 million. "The central theme is to work on things that we need for the successful evolution of humanity," he told Bloomberg Technology. Why would a firm that funded Airbnb, the bête noire of housing activists, be interested in affordability? Altman strenuously denies that Y Combinator's new project is meant to soften the image of the tech industry, whose thousands of highly-paid Silicon Valley workers, many critics contend, are driving up the cost of housing in the Bay Area. He maintains that Y Combinator is applying its "innovation model" to a pressing urban issue. Interested? Initial applications are due July 30.
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Green Futurism In Vitro
Throughout the book, 48 diagrams, called
Janette Kim and Erik Carver

The Underdome Guide to Energy Reform
Janette Kim and Erik Carver
Princeton Architectural Press, $25

When a radical idea emerges, mockery is easy. One measure of its gravity is that taking it seriously enough to critique it, extrapolate from it, and apply it can take nearly as much disciplined creativity as generating it.

The Underdome Guide presents ideas from the Underdome Sessions, a panel series held in 2010 by the Van Alen Institute New York Prize Fellowship, Columbia’s Urban Landscape Lab, and Studio-X, where participants considered multi-systemic responses to anthropogenic conditions, metaphorized as variations on an implausible scheme.

For example, Buckminster Fuller and Shoji Sadao’s 1960 proposal to encase midtown Manhattan under a two-mile-wide glass hemisphere was “breathtaking in its reductivist ambition to solve many complex problems with a single architectural gesture,” but was a serious enough thought-experiment to become an archetype, notes Georgeen Theodore in the Guide’s section introduction on “Territory” (one of the four organizing concepts, alongside “Power,” “Lifestyle,” and “Risk”).

 

Bucky’s dome spurred systems-based thinking about inputs, flows, and outputs. Authors Janette Kim and Erik Carver and their colleagues recognize the challenge of scaling up from closed-system scenarios to open systems that include political power as well as renewable power, social interactions as well as economic exchanges, mimetic implications as well as material transformations. Facing tension between local problem fixing and systemic ambition, the contributors grapple with it gamely—and shrewdly enough to recognize when the challenges cease to resemble a bounded game.

After provocative table-setting essays by the Underdome Sessions’ moderators, each section includes a set of agendas (brief, elegantly diagramed overviews of 48 site-specific actions, real or conjectural, capitalism-compliant or resistant, scaled from a “personal responsibility” children’s game up to geo-engineering), followed by panel transcripts. The book’s format is logically organized—but enough so, one wonders, to overcome an inherent vice of futurist manifestos, an internal coherence too tight to map real-world conditions purposefully?

 

Aware of that hazard, the moderator-essayists address questions of scale and network complexity early and frequently. Reinhold Martin’s “Power” introduction provides an essential backstory on the rise of the anthropogenic concept in the writings of biologist Eugene Stoermer and climatologists Paul Crutzen and Will Steffen, among others. Martin emphasizes that the planetary crisis reflects a convergence of multiple accelerating variables, not just the global temperature measurements of Michael Mann’s famous hockey-stick graph. Jonathan Massey on “Lifestyle” highlights the social transformations Fuller envisioned in the Dymaxion system—not just a prefab housing design, but a component of an entirely reworked domestic economy that would liberate workers from scarcity and debt bondage just as deliveries by dirigible would liberate their mobile, replaceable houses from specific sites. Michael Osman, considering “Risk,” stresses definitional distinctions to ground risk analysis in objective recognitions of hazards requiring collective action, apart from any one organism’s subjectivity. One observation that deserves to be shouted from rooftops, incidentally, appears in the “Risk” panel transcript: J. Scott Holladay notes that top economists, though widely considered fatalistic about social action against anthropogenic damage, share “a strong consensus that the risks of climate change were several orders of magnitude greater than the cost of reducing emissions... The unpriced externality is so significant that it wipes out all profits.”

 

The relation between the agenda diagrams and contributors is unspecified, though some schemes match areas of expertise (“Make Do: Work with Sprawl,” a “Territory” item on the mixed-use adaptation of a 1950s North Seattle mall around a light-rail station, presumably reflects input by Retrofitting Suburbia co-author June Williamson; in the “Risk” section, “Decouple: Individual Response,” on Mormon resource-storing practices, matches historian Jonathan Levy’s interest in religious, mathematical, and societal frameworks for understanding risk). Tension persists, particularly in the “Territory” discussion, between a focus on the achievable (e.g., the glass-half-full observations of America 2050’s Petra Todorovich Messick on the efficiencies catalyzed by regional rail networks and PlaNYC-scale retrofits) and on rewiring of entire systems (Denise Hoffman Brandt’s extension of biological sources-and-sinks analysis into the socioeconomic realm as well as the carbon cycle). Likewise, the “Lifestyle” panel airs author Heather Rogers’s arguments from Green Gone Wrong about the limits of solutions within a market framework, in bracing contrast to cases that are often isolated, under scaled, or merely symbolic. However, one, Bjarke Ingels Group’s W57, offers an encouraging mix of hedonistic amenities and high-performance technologies operating beyond the single-building level.

Certain case choices imply more provocation, or perhaps desire to de-emphasize the usual suspects, than purpose. The Citadel in Benewah County, Idaho (erroneously rendered as “Beneway” in the “Power” section) is a strange representative of “smash the state” alternativism: it’s a walled settlement of gun enthusiasts (assault-rifle ownership isn’t just allowed: it’s mandatory), screened for extreme-right ideological purity and supported by a firearms firm. Its proprietor, not mentioned here, is a felony-level extortionist; it may never exist beyond the fevered websites of militiamen who speak in code of sheeple, Threepers, and SHTF (look ’em up, though you may not want to accept these people’s browser cookies). Arguably Arcosanti, Twin Oaks, or even Drop City would be more credible heterotopias, certainly greener though shorter on shock value.

A few quibbles—Masdar City’s diagram, for example, shows “driverless electric-car drop-off sites” beneath its podium, a feature trimmed from its post-Foster iteration—do not seriously compromise the impression of widespread action on multiple fronts. In some respects, this manifesto addresses the already-well-informed more effectively than it expands its potential readership; the essays condense considerable debate, and a reader may be excused for wishing contributors would explicate entire icebergs rather than just their tips (a full-scale bibliography would help). Still, The Underdome Guide is both a handy overview of improvisations against accelerating crises and a cogent set of arguments why no sane inhabitant of Earth can consider conditions anything but critical.

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IBM Watson launches a “Siri for Cities” app as more tech companies clamor for smart cities where “things” can communicate and supply data
The IT industry is pushing relentlessly to institutionalize smart cities by installing internet-connected lampposts, digital signage, building facades, and more. IT research and advisory firm Gartner predicts that by 2020, 2.9 billion connected "things" will be in use in the consumer sector. IBM Watson jas joined the breakneck race with the launch of its “Siri for Cities,” a cognitive computing platform that enables users to ask complex questions about city services. By speaking into their smartphones, laptops or Apple Watches, residents can inquire about fire and police services to parking and waste collection. The app supplies responses by drawing upon a database of FAQs, but IBM has outfitted the technology to interact with the language of more in-depth questions, analyse swaths of data, and respond in a concise, evidence-based manner. The mobile app will be piloted in Surrey, Canada, to create a centralized hub for the city. Purple Forge, a digital agency hired by the local government, is working to integrate these capabilities into the pre-existing “My Surrey” app, which streams hyper-local news, events, job listings, bike routes, parking information, and more in real-time. “IBM Watson’s learning abilities are such that the technology builds its knowledge and improves as citizens use it, much in the same way humans learn,” said Bruce Hayne, chair of Surrey’s Innovation and Investment Committee. “This pilot is expected to enhance customer experience by increasing the accessibility of services while providing the city with insight into opportunities for improvement and reduction to service delivery costs.” Reliant on data and interactivity, IBM’s new gadgetry overlaps noticeably with Google’s recently launched Sidewalk Labs, an independent company that aims to develop and incubate new technology to address urban ills. After acquiring Titan and Control Group, Sidewalk Labs announced its first initiative: resuming the work of Link NYC to convert New York City’s unused phone booths into public WiFi hubs. According to the FCC, 55 million people in the United States lack broadband internet access. The WiFi hubs will be tall, thin pillars with digital tablet interfaces and large ads slapped on the sides to keep them free to use. Through Titan’s ad network, Link NYC could bring $500 million in ad revenue to the city over the next 12 years, the DeBlasio administration has predicted. Meanwhile, City Science researchers at MIT’s Media Lab are building mobility networks for “multi-modal transit.” One initiative is a search and recommendation engine for a variety of energy-saving transit modes, such as car-pooling and bike-sharing, determined by weather, traffic, and past user patterns. Researchers are angling for further energy cutbacks by designing and prototyping electric scooters, driverless cars, and compact bike-lane vehicles.
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Real-life SimCity in New Mexico to become testing ground for new technologies that will power smart cities
A simulation video game can become a powerful innovation lab for new urban technologies, where researchers can test-drive every outlandish “what-if?” in a controlled environment. The Center for Innovation, Technology and Evaluation is launching a full-scale SimCity—a small, fully functioning ghost town equipped with the technology touted by futurists as the next generation of smart cities. Resembling a modest American town with a population of 35,000 spread over 15 miles, the virtual metropolis is sited on a desolate stretch of land in southern New Mexico. Set to be wired with mock-up utilities and telecommunications systems as realistically as possible, the quintessentially mediocre town will even have a gas station, big box store, and a simulated interstate highway alongside its tall office buildings, parks, houses and churches. The town will also be sectioned into urban, rural and suburban zones. From nuclear war to natural disasters to a stock market crash or a triple whammy of all three, the ho-hum hypothetical town will soon play host to driverless cars and packages delivered by drones, alternative energy power generation and never-before-tested public monitoring, security and computer systems. The goal of CITE is to provide the opportunity to test large-scale technology experimentations in real-world conditions “without anyone getting hurt,” said Bob Brumley, managing director of Pegasus Global Holdings, the Washington state-based technology development firm behind the concept. Brumley estimates that support infrastructure, including electric plants and telecommunications, will take 24 months to create, while the city will be fully built between 2018 and 2020. The uninhabited virtual city affords possibilities to test otherwise non-starter ideas hampered by safety and feasibility concerns in the real world, where human beings are the most fickle of variables. “It will be a true laboratory without complication and safety issues associated with residents. Here you can break things and run into things and get used to how they work before taking them out into the market,” Brumley told Wired. One of numerous experiments he envisions involves deploying a fleet of driverless freight trucks controlled by a centralized wireless network. Testing on a real freeway, on the other hand, would be too hazardous. Other ideas range from simple practicalities—having small drones drop off packages on doorsteps—to cataclysm readiness—simulating, a large-scale, real-time attack on energy, telecommunications and traffic systems, or the effect of a “massive electromagnetic pulse attack on all the integrated circuits in our economy.” Brumley estimates an initial investment of $550–600 million in direct investment, with an estimated total cost of $1 billion over the next five years as the city grows in size and complexity. We can only hope that their servers don’t crash.