Future Streets

Barbara Chesi, Programme Director, New London Architecture discusses ‘Future Streets’, the 2019 exhibition and publication investigating the impact and opportunity of technology and new mobility in London.

If we have learned anything in the past year, it is the value of our public space. Having access to nature and quality outdoor space is crucial for our wellbeing, and with London streets making up 80% of public space across the capital, our perspective of what we think streets are for might need to shift.

In 2019, NLA curated an exhibition and a publication looking at the past, present and future of London’s streets, analysing the landscape of innovation in mobility technologies, transport policies and urban planning approaches. The research presented future scenarios to provoke thinking about what kind of city we want to inhabit and what role technology should play in realising that view.

Throughout the history of city design, transportation technologies have driven the urban form—the historical dense urban core of most European cities emerged with a pedestrian’s walkshed in mind, while the suburbanisation of the 19th and 20th centuries was precipitated first by the tram and rail network, and subsequently by the mass adoption of the motorcar.

The consequences of decades of car-domination have now become clear, with huge environmental cost, social isolation, and negative effects on health and wellbeing. However, London has made good progress. In the last 30 years, transport policy has shifted, moving towards the prioritisation and efficient movement of people via public transport and active travel over private vehicle access.

Today, we are seeing new mobility technologies being developed and adopted in London – from advances in automated vehicle technologies to e-mobility, from micro-mobility to mass transit. But what would be the impact on our streets? How do we make sure changing technology will serve to create a human-centric approach to our cities?

Future Streets presents two future scenarios in which the urban landscape might evolve with the arrival of new transportation technology. In the ‘hell’ scenario, new mobility technologies override the principles of healthy streets, resulting in street designs that have no consideration for active transport. The ‘heaven’ scenario illustrates how new mobility technologies could be used to support human centric design principles. In this scenario, emerging technologies help to reduce private vehicle ownership with ‘shared mobility’ and public transport options, resulting in better public space and an increase in active transport modes.

As we come to terms with how cities will recover from the pandemic, it is important to remind ourselves of the value of our streets in supporting our mobility, as well as their role as public space. Technology should serve to create active and healthy modes of travel, that are safe and inclusive, and support London’s movement.