Ending Our Car Centric Culture

Barnaby Bennett, Director, UTS Sydney speaks with Chris Isles, Director of Planning, Place Design Group. Both Barnaby and Chris are presenting at the 2018 Urbanism New Zealand Conference 14-15 May in Wellington. To register www.urbanismnz.co.nz

Chris is presenting ‘Building the Street of the Future’ in our Case Studies Session Tuesday 15 May at 4.00pm. Barnaby is presenting in the LIVE Session Tuesday 15 May at 3.00pm.

Future Street

What are streets going to look like in the future? What happens when we reintroduce complex ecologies, deprioritise cars, and integrate more intelligent technologies? Over the past few years Chris Isles, from Place Design Group, has been asking these kinds of questions. Chris is talking about smart streets on Tuesday afternoon at the Urbanism New Zealand Conference and I had a chat with him recently about things urban and smart.

Chris is executive director of Place Design Group, an urban design and planning company with offices in various cities around Australia and China. He opened our conversation by making the sharp point that change is coming to our cities and in this change there is a real danger that the role of urbanists, planners and designers will become overwhelmed by the purveyors of tech that lead conversations around these issues: the promoters of smart products, the companies supporting driverless cars, and their enthusiastic lobbyists. Chris sees this as a risk for two reasons. Firstly, as students of the city planners, designers and urban designers have a sense of the public and civic importance of these places as being central to the very existence of cities, this isn’t necessarily a view shared by inventors and promoters of technology. Secondly, and perhaps more sharply, city-making professionals are the ones that integrate new technologies and ecologies together, both spatially and organisationally, and a focus on products alone risks overlooking the skill it takes to do this.

In response to these concerns Chris collaborated with a range of NGOs (Smart Cities Council), Australia Institute of Landscape Architects, and corporate partners (Telstra, GoGet) to produce a significant prototyping and demonstration project called The Future Street, in downtown Sydney. This project involved the temporary construction of a 100m long section that demonstrated ‘greener’, ‘smarter’ and ‘more complete’ streets which integrated public transport, smart furniture systems, data collections tools, and autonomous vehicles. The project was a demonstration in that it showed the 100,000 visitors a vision of what the streets might start to look like in the future, and it was a prototype in which data was collected and observations made about how people used this new space.

A central argument of the Future Streets project is based on ending, or at least diminishing, the car centric culture that dominates most cities today. Around 30% of central cities are currently taken up by the movement or storage of cars and that removal of even some of this space presents enormous opportunities for cities and public spaces. When this is combined with a desire for greener and more ecological cities and smart digital materials a new vision of an old idea emerges.

At the conference Chris will discuss the issues involved with the next generation of smart streets, the role of the designer and city-maker in conversations around smart objects and digital safety, opportunities for revenue generation for councils, and the significance of doing a 100m demonstration project.


Barnaby Bennett and Chris Isles


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