Cities of the Future Must be Sought in the Present
Shukhov Lab, a Laboratory for Experimental Urban Design, has opened at HSE. Participants in a roundtable discussion dedicated to the laboratory’s opening agreed that to create the cities of the future, the present must be analyzed without adjusting to the forecasts.
The new lab will be an open space for students and professional developers who will have the opportunity to build models and create urban development projects with the use of new technology. The lab has been named after engineer Vladimir Shukhov not only because he made a significant contribution to the development of urban, engineering, transportation and utility technology but also because for nearly 30 years he worked in the same room where the Shukhov Lab will be located.
Students from the new international City and Technology Master’s programme will study and work at the Shukhov Lab. Classes will start in September, and until then, the laboratory will host public lectures and meetings with leading urbanists, architects, and engineers. In 2017, master classes and workshops on prototyping and 3D modelling for secondary school students, organized jointly with HSE Lab and the HSE Prototyping Centre will take place at the laboratory.
At the opening ceremony, Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov said that launching such a laboratory at the Higher School of Economics was a natural decision, since economics can’t be without cities, and that urbanism is part of contemporary economic policy. He also mentioned the unconventional solution in the lab’s location: ‘Our university leads very interesting urban studies for which we are creating a special environment, such as this laboratory’s space. It is open to the street, and passerby can easily look into the windows and watch the students studying and working. This laboratory is an active participant in the urban space’.
We shouldn’t think that there are universal solutions for all cities
Evgeny Yasin, Academic Supervisor of the Higher School of Economics, emphasized that urbanists should work not only with cities boasting populations greater than 1 million, but also with towns of less than 250,000 people. ‘These towns aren’t very attractive; young people are leaving them to study elsewhere and achieve higher living standards. The image of the city is very important, as well as its organization and aesthetics, and this problem of small towns has yet to be solved’, he believes.
According to Vicente Guallart, Academic Supervisor of the Shukhov Lab, the new laboratory is open to anyone who is interested in the topic of cities’ humanization, global urbanization, innovation economy, ‘smart’ cities, urban co-governance, and other related topics. After all, the cities of the future are already becoming our present.
Sergey Kuznetsov, chief architect of Moscow, spoke about the same things at the Shukhov Lab opening. He believes that the discussions surrounding cities of the future should focus less on forecasting and more on the current situation. ‘It makes no sense to make forecasts about what cities will look like in the future, since they usually don’t come true’, he said. ‘For example, people in the past thought that the main problem facing cities of the future would be removing horse droppings from the streets. Now we are laughing at it, but we also can’t know the problems of the future. We can’t invent an ideal city and try to conform to it. History has proven that working with the current situation is much more effective, as is using tools that are already available, such as big data’.
A relevant problem of a contemporary city is the conflict between the dynamics of the new urban society and the conservative material space. Before the appearance of modern technologies, it seemed that these problems were unsolvable. But now there are tools that allow a brand new urban infrastructure to be created. Mobile operators’ data help in analysis of the level of urban mobility; social networks show what people think about various places in the city; and it’s possible to analyze how people spend their money. These and other data shape economic policy. New evolving services help solve the relevant problems of big cities; Uber and car sharing help solve the transportation problem, Airbnb – the accommodation one, and so on.
At the same time, many familiar everyday things are already becomong outdated. For example, Vicente Guallart believes that a private car will soon be a marginal thing, since new forms of transportation and communication city integrity are evolving. Our routes will combine walks, public transportation, and, very probably, driverless cars. And, according to Bruno Moser, partner at Urban Design at Fosters + Partners architect practice, a very important task for future cities’ projects is to give the urban residents an opportunity to manage their personal time, to let them spend it on something more productive than driving a car.
But the urbanists are warning: we shouldn’t think that there are universal solutions for all cities. The challenge for urbanists, and the new Laboratory for Experimental Urban Design among them, is that all cities are unique. One can’t invent a project that would meet the needs of any city. ‘For example, Uber works in Moscow and New York, and it’s prohibited in Spain and France. This means that they need something different’, said Alexei Novikov, dean of the Vysokovsky Graduate School of Urbanism. ‘We should be careful with the technologies that change lifestyles, since what works for Moscow can hardly fit all other cities’.
Maria Melnikova, a graduate of the HSE Vysokovsky Graduate School of Urbanism Master’s programme inUrban Development and Spatial Planning, has written a book entitled Not Just Prefabs: The German Experience of Working with Mass Housing Neighbourhoods. She describes how Germany investigates and solves problems of housing in the city suburbs. Maria spoke with the HSE News Service about her interest in this topic, what she thinks about urban renewal and what she does in Berlin.
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