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Urban Future 4.1.0

Urban Future 4.1.0

by Joachim Ritter

The visions that our researchers and architects have of our cities in the future are fascinating, to say the least. Cars that drive around safely on their own, green facades, happy people moving through stress-free, bright spaces, all designed to perfection…

Photo: Fraunhofer / Lava Architects

Modern cities in the world we live in today tell a different story: noisy streets full of smelly cars in an architectural space full of road signs and visual overload through advertising – conventional billboards and luminous advertising or media facades. And the people in our cities today? Besides the happy ones, we have quite a number of dubious or shady characters, plus those that leave trails of cigarette butts, chewing gum or fast-food packaging behind them. We are not going to be able to change this kind of behaviour that fast, but we can at least spend our time productively and consider how we can work on the right content for alternative … backdrops.

But still the ideas our researchers and creative visionaries are coming up with certainly drive the urge for change, even if nobody is one hundred per cent sure how to really go about it. Cars that drive by themselves without anyone at the wheel gives cause to wonder if we will actually need road signs in the future at all. Nobody will have to pay attention or react to them in future, because everything is programmed into the control software and handled by “smart” vehicles. That gives cause for hope…

And yet that is not all: what are our future cities going to look like at night? There is hardly any graphic evidence available depicting what cities might look like after dark. Probably the first question we should be asking ourselves is whether we will need any road lighting at all, given that automobility will be (literally) steering the way forward! A nightmare scenario for the lighting industry? Good prospects for proponents of the Dark Sky movement? Problems that are likely to vanish into thin air?

This is destined to become the topic of one or more doctoral theses for sure. Can we survive in future without road lighting? Or will road lighting per se change? After all, self-driving cars will still have passengers who will want to look out of the window at their surroundings, also at night. Are the chances stronger than ever that we will find ourselves opting for scenic lighting as a solution for the urban realm? Exciting questions that are going to be occupying us in the months and years to come.

Or does it make us feel uneasy when we can hear a car coming – although smart cars on the market today are relatively silent – but are not able to recognise or envisage danger? Nobody has any problems parking a car with the aid of a park assist system. The speed at which the car is parked does not leave anyone fearing their life is in danger. But self-driving cars that I have no control over, and that do not necessarily function in accordance with what I see through the car windows, do leave me feeling a little queasy. The phrase “alternative facts” comes to mind: not something one can immediately feel comfortable with.

For sure, the future of digitalisation will bring about change, most of which we cannot yet get our heads around. It was not much different at the onset of industrialisation, to be honest. And today we tend to take the standpoint that industrialisation was a positive step in the development of mankind. Then again, we must not forget that every development inevitably incorporates some disadvantages. Industrialisation had, and still has, an immense impact on the global climate. And digitalisation entails immense risks when it comes to our freedom of movement, which is definitely limited now already since the introduction of surveillance systems. It may not have been reality in 1984, but there is every likelihood we will get there by 2084.

Blade Runner, George Orwell and Jules Verne are great references when it comes to visions of the future that at some stage we recognise as not being based on reality. Although I must say, the film Blade Runner did feature a number of scenes that took place in the city at night. But that was just alternative facts, right?

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