La masterclass di Milano

02. The City of the Future

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Urban foot traffic came before the “car city” and even the train, so this idea of the future is a kind of nonsense or joke.

But it’s a way of grasping the city. Urbanists and planners tend to think in terms of heavy infrastructure. The world of cars is extremely costly, with its thick roads to accommodate heavy trucks. It’s all very expensive. And we don’t always have the reflex of thinking beyond the car. Yet a world beyond cars exists; it’s everywhere. At times, in the face of the “car city”, it struggles, but it is everywhere. And there’s already a lot of potential in most European cities. Through urban planning, calm pedestrian areas—places to walk in calm—could be protected. The argument for them would be livability and safety for children, who could walk to school without getting run over.

And so, linking together our calm pedestrian areas, we don’t get a geometrical shape but a network or collection of overlapping and transecting lines. A network does not have a predetermined form. It’s not a right-angle shape. It’s a pattern, like spaghetti thrown onto a plate. And the Metropolitan Trails program is perhaps a way of bringing to light a true network of comfortable walks. And once we decide that, “yes, we can set up and conceive cities based on a network of calm pedestrian areas”, what can these calm pedestrian networks become? They can become the city of the future. A city where at last we will be rid of combustion engines and fossil fuel consumption. A city that was already there before cars, of which pieces can still be found between car roads. What we’re doing is shining a light on them and protecting them. They’re here for the future, whenever we’ve had enough of the car economy.

We have a tendency to ignore urban planning strategies that encourage walking, just as we tend to give short shrift to culture, deeming it a bit secondary and unessential.

Yet if we encouraged city walking, we could reduce the use of public transportation, particularly over short distances. Many people take the bus just two or three stops. If they walked instead of taking the bus—this is a situation currently being studied, and it’s becoming clear the savings would be enormous. If car use were reduced 10%, traffic jams would be practically non-existent. And if public transportation use went down 10%, costs related to maintenance and repairs would drop 25%. Part of the work is then to change the mentality of city planners and show them that this is a tool and solution. It’s one they haven’t considered.

The solution predates the car: it’s walking.