What To Do With The Urban Spaces Technology Makes Obsolete

Peter Madden at the Huffington Post: “Digital tech will make many city spaces redundant: artificial intelligence doesn’t care where it works; autonomous vehicles don’t care they where they park. These spaces must be repurposed for cities to thrive in the future….

This is an opportunity to ask what people want from their cities and how redundant spaces can meet these needs.

There have been multiple academic studies and marketing surveys on this, and they boil down to two main things. Citizens first want the basics: employment opportunities, affordable housing, good transport, and safe streets. Further up the hierarchy of needs, they also care about the physical appearance of the city, including the availability of parks and green spaces, the feel of the city in terms of openness, diversity and social interaction, and the experience in the city whether that’s tasting new foods, buying an unexpected gift, or discovering a new band.


The places that were once reserved for cars can be spaces for pedestrians and bike lanes, with walkable and cycle-friendly cities offering cheaper transit, healthier citizens, and stronger communities. Greenery could flourish, with new parks, trees and allotments providing access to nature, sponges to absorb flood-water and urban cooling in a warming world.

Flexible Working

Who really wants a lengthy commute to a regimented workplace? Future office spaces will harness new technology to help people work flexibly, collaboratively and from multiple locations. When they do travel into the city centre office, this will be oriented around the experience of the individual employee, beautifully designed, technologically responsive, with different spaces for how they work best at different times of the day and on different tasks.

Making in Cities

The 4th industrial revolution allows manufacturing to return to urban centres for just-in-time, on demand and hyper-personalised production. Some ‘on-shoring’ is already happening, with McLaren car chassis, Clarks boots and Frog bikes being made again in British towns again. Data analytics, virtual reality, new materials, robotics and 3D printing will make it possible to produce or customise things on the high-street, right where the consumer wants them.

Affordable Housing

Unused buildings and empty land will be filled by new types of housing. In my home city, Bristol, a redundant building in a parade of shops is being turned into living space for the homeless, AEOB will ‘buy and convert empty offices into homes for people’, and ‘We Can Make’ is offering affordable prefabricated houses for empty urban plots. Housing innovations like this are springing up in cities across the world….(More)”.