Smart Moves for Cities: The Urban Mobility Revolution Will Start With These 3 Projects

A smart city isn’t necessarily a city brimming with technology. This crucial (and, thankfully, growingly accepted) clarification was strongly emphasized by a panel of experts during the Smart City Expo in Barcelona. However, the piloted driving—which, in layman's terms means cars that drive themselves—that Audi has been testing and implementing is as high-tech, impressive and brimming with technology as one might expect. Beyond the “ooh and aah” factor of a car that needs no human driver, the spatial implications for our cities are undeniable, and the sooner architects can learn to work with and appreciate this technology, the better. In a city equipped with smart mobility solutions, we can expect technology to drive positive changes to social behavior and the affordability of the cities. But for this, we need visionary leaders.

Last week Audi showed their commitment to finding these visionary leaders in the field of architecture by announcing the implementation of three Urban Future Partnerships in Somerville/Boston and Mexico City. In the words of Audi CEO Rupert Stadler, the three pilot projects represent a key move for the car manufacturer: “The development of an investment logic for mobility infrastructure in cities will be an integral part of our company strategy.”

And this is a wise choice, especially since many architects and urbanists tend to subscribe to an in-vogue vision that projects limitations on the number of cars on the streets to create more people-friendly urban spaces. Stadler acknowledges this, explaining “I know some people don’t consider cars to be a smart solution in the cities anymore, causing traffic jams and costing precious jams. You won’t be surprised to hear that I have a different point of view; in fact, with our new urban solutions, the car will reach a totally new level of being smart. Our vision is to create and to work on a system where individual mobility becomes the source of social benefits rather than costs.” By including architects in this conversation, Audi is forging an important link with the stakeholders who will be responsible for designing our future cities. Piloted parking alone will reduce required spaces for parking by up to 60%. What will we do with this newly liberated space?

City leaders, CEOs, architects, real estate developers, and urban planners cannot deny the fundamental importance of finding new, sustainable, comfortable (and, of course, profitable) solutions to issues of mobility in the urban environment. As the home to an ever-growing percentage of the world’s population, cities must provide transportation infrastructure and frameworks that allow us to maximize our time and space—and Audi wants to lead the way in the development of the next wave of vehicles that will work with the realities of smart, sustainable cities. 

Since, as Stadler surmises, “urban mobility as we know it will change a lot,” the Urban Future Initiative projects announced last week will harness “context driven innovation.” Read on for more details on the three projects announced by Audi.

Intelligent parking space management in Assembly Row 
Somerville, MA

As more and more mixed-use developments prove popular with millennial city-dwellers, developers like Federal Realty Investment Trust (FRT) are placing their bets on projects like Assembly Row in Somerville. Planned on a former industrial wasteland seven minutes outside of Boston, the Assembly Row district will contain residences, offices, retail space, leisure amenities and a hotel. But for perspective, the market demand and code compliance for parking spaces in new developments can represent around 40 percent of the surface area—enough to "make or break the profitability of a development,” says Chris Weilminster, executive vice president for real estate and leasing at Federal Realty Investment Trust.

Courtesy of Audi

So, what if you could drastically reduce parking space requirements with self-parking cars? When you remove people from the parking process (and the staircases, elevators and circulation spaces humans require before and after they park their cars), you can save two square meters per car. And what if you could optimize how and when each car is used? The implementation of a shared fleet of cars, and Assembly Row's developers can optimize even further. 

Courtesy of Audi

Audi explains, "For the new site at Assembly Row, these results have already had an initial impact on future construction considerations. According to Audi, if implemented, FRT could to save approximately 26 percent of parking space area in the first building phase of the piloted parking optimized garage (Block 5)—even though the garage serves multiple users, i.e. conventional and self-parking cars next to each other. The highest efficiency in parking space, at around 60 percent, could be achieved in the Assembly Row neighborhood by the year 2030." 

Courtesy of Audi
Courtesy of Audi

Intelligent traffic management at Union Square 
Somerille, MA

Not all traffic is created by people trying to reach their destination. In fact, up to 30% of peak-time traffic volume is attributable to drivers who are searching for a place to park. For this reason, Audi's project in Somerville aims to make parked cars and cars looking for parking spaces virtually disappear. Using piloted parking technology similar to what was describe above in the Assembly Row project, streets in Somerville's Union Square can be cleared, allowing for more attractive, user-centered spaces. In the future, users can exit their cars at a central location, leaving their cars to park themselves in garages that are off-site, and preferably in areas that are "less attractive."

Courtesy of Audi
Courtesy of Audi

“The car will always be part of our mobility. At the same time, due to congestion and parking problems, today it shows us the limits to our mobility. With technologies from Audi we expect to be able to use the available urban space more efficiently. This enhances the quality of urban life,” says Somerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone.

Courtesy of Audi

With car-to-X technologies such as Audi’s “traffic-light information online,” traffic flow speed can be optimized, resulting in reduction of road space. If a car knows the ideal speed one should use to reach intersections when lights are green, traffic flow significantly improves. 

Courtesy of Audi

Intelligent time management in Santa Fe
Mexico City

In a city where commuters spend an average of approximately one month per year in their cars, perhaps nowhere is mobility more important than in Mexico City, and especially in the Santa Fe district of the city. It's a problem so critical that the district faces abandonment, with companies and commuters unwilling to sacrifice productivity for unreasonable travel times. On the bright side, of the 63 percent of commuters that use their cars every day, a whopping 87 percent are willing to share.

Mexican architect Jose Castillo puts it simply and clearly: “To think about cities is to think about mobility. And I think it’s the responsibility of the architect to understand this relationship between built form and infrastructure. The Audi Urban Future Award and the Audi Urban Future Initiative have allowed us to think of the problems of Mexico City through the lens of mobility.” Castillo led last year’s winning team in the Audi Urban Future Award and he is now carrying over his data analysis to develop actionable solutions. The idea is to pinpoint the incentives that will cause commuters to change their behavior.

From premium sharing solutions to new business models, or to working schedules adjusted to intelligently to combat traffic, the goal is to encourage, in Audi's words,"a more constant volume of traffic on the roads and better capacity use of means of transportation." 

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Cite: Becky Quintal. "Smart Moves for Cities: The Urban Mobility Revolution Will Start With These 3 Projects" 25 Nov 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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