Reviving the Utopian Urban Dreams of Tony Garnier

During the four years he lived at Rome’s Villa Medici as a recipient of the prestigious Grand Prix de Rome, Tony Garnier spent hardly any time on the study of isolated ancient monuments, as was required. Instead, the young architect from Lyon, France, focused his energy from 1899 to 1903 on what would later become his theoretical chef d’oeuvre: a utopian plan for an industrial city.

“If our structure remains simple, without ornament, without molding, bare everywhere, we can then dispose of the decorative arts in all their forms,” he wrote in Une Cité Industrielle (An Industrial City), published as a book in 1917. The book is a detailed collection of avant-garde designs for a socialist city of 35,000 people. This hypothetical city is heavily industrialized and zoned, divided according to four functions: housing, work, leisure, and health. Garnier advocated for the use of concrete in building, as well as the importance of greenery, natural light, and collective social amenities.

An Industrial City was a bridge between the utopian socialism of Charles Fourier and the Garden City idea of Ebenezer Howard, on one side, and Modernist city planning on the other.   

Another view of Garnier’s speculative city of 35,000. (© Musée Urbain Tony Garnier)

In 1919, Garnier received a letter from a young admirer named Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, who had just encountered An Industrial City. “It is a milestone clearly delimiting a past period and opening up all possible hopes… In ten years, [your book] will be the foundation of all production and be the first rallying sign,” he wrote.  

Today, Garnier is not nearly as well known outside of France as Jeanneret (or Le Corbusier). But “one could say that Garnier is to Lyon what Antoni Gaudí is to Barcelona,” said Catherine Chambon, director of the Tony Garnier Urban Museum, an open-air museum devoted to the architect in Lyon, France’s second-largest city. There’s not a neighborhood in the city where his presence isn’t felt.

This year and into 2020, the city is celebrating the 150th anniversary of Garnier’s birth. The Tony Garnier Urban Museum has put up an exhibit; the municipal archives has, too, focusing on the fruitful professional relationship between Garnier and former Mayor Edouard Herriot. The city’s Renaud Foundation will display Garnier’s paintings, drawings, plans, and photographs.

Garnier, a son of canuts or workers in the silk industry, was born in the working-class Croix-Rousse neighborhood of Lyon on August 13, 1869. Growing up in modest conditions where people worked and lived in the same space led Garnier to consider the social aspect of housing from an early age.  

His youth also coincided with a crisis in the textile industry. Small workshops shuttered to make way for big, mechanized factories. With these economic changes came pulmonary illnesses, to which he lost his mother and two aunts. Sanitation and hygiene came to assume great importance in municipal projects during Garnier’s tenure as city architect.

Schooling was not compulsory at the time, but Garnier’s father insisted on educating him. He revealed himself to be a talented student and made it to the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. After spending four years on scholarship in Rome and one year traveling around the Mediterranean, Garnier returned to his home city. The mayor, Victor Augagneur, gave Garnier his first assignment in 1905: the construction of a municipal dairy. Augagneur then warmly recommended Garnier to his successor, Edouard Herriot.

It is impossible to talk about Garnier’s work without mentioning his decades-long collaboration with Herriot. “Here is a visionary architect dedicated to social progress. And here’s a radical socialist mayor, who has great ambitions for his city in terms of health and housing. They didn’t see eye to eye on all subjects, obviously, but their ideas about Lyon’s future converged,” said Chambon.

Garnier completed about 80 projects over his career, most of them in Lyon. Herriot commissioned what are now seen as hallmarks of the city’s architecture: the popular Halle Tony Garnier, which was originally built as a cattle market and slaughterhouse; the Grange Blanche Hospital, now known as the Edouard Herriot Hospital; and a stadium, the Stade de Gerland.  

The Edouard Herriot Hospital, one of many architectural projects by Garnier around Lyon. (© Noémie Delaire MUTG)

One afternoon in Lyon this past July, Elodie Morel, who works for GrandLyon Habitat, a social-housing management company, pointed me to a five-story building. “Come up,” she said. We visited a sunny two-bedroom apartment with a balcony, overlooking an open space planted with trees. We were at Cité Tony Garnier—a housing estate of 1,500 apartments with 3,000 residents in the Etats-Unis neighborhood.

In the early 20th century, this part of Lyon was neglected, so “the municipality decided to use it for a public housing project for workers in factories nearby,” said Morel. Garnier, an established architect by then, was hired for the job, and finished the estate in 1933. It was a model of social housing with the latest comforts. Every apartment had running water, a gas connection and a toilet, luxuries that were hard to come by in working-class neighborhoods at the time. For the sake of convenience, each building was standardized with only one type of apartment—one, two, three, or four bedrooms—and the buildings were organized in islands served by a network of orthogonal streets and courtyards.  

This new district was as close as Garnier came to his ideal city. “However, he could not include all the public amenities he envisaged, such as a swimming pool and a library,” Chambon noted. “The habitation was also more dense [than he initially planned], owing to economic constraints between the two wars.”

Toward the end of the 20th century, Garnier’s legacy was forgotten even in the housing complex that bears his name. The specter of demolition also loomed, because the buildings were run-down. Long-time residents got together and decided to try to save the estate.

Elsewhere in Lyon, a group of young artists and architects had just established CitéCréation, an initiative to create large-scale urban murals, inspired by Diego Rivera’s work in Mexico. Together, the residents of Cité Tony Garnier, the muralists, and OPAC du Grand Lyon, a social housing company, launched a major rehabilitation project in 1985. Today, there are 25 murals on building walls in the area, drawing thousands of tourists a year. Some of those murals showcase Garnier’s visionary designs.

During a recent walking tour in the neighborhood organized by CitéCréation, a group stood in front of a huge mural. A car slowed down and a man told them: “I live here. I know about these murals.”  Other local residents share his pride in this chronicle of their history and homage to Garnier, who once wrote: “There is enough ideal in the worship of beauty and benevolence to render life splendid.”

‘An Industrial City’ adorns a housing block in the neighborhood that Garnier planned. (CitéCréation)
Garnier himself is depicted in this CitéCréation mural. (CitéCréation, photo © Michel Djaoui)

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The Particular Creativity of Dense Urban Neighborhoods

Long ago, Jane Jacobs showed us how dense, diverse urban neighborhoods filled with short blocks and old buildings were catalysts of innovation and creativity. But when economists and urbanists measure innovation they typically look at big geographic areas like metros. Yet, what Jacobs was talking and writing about was the micro-geographic texture of much smaller neighborhoods like her own Greenwich Village.

A new study, forthcoming in the Review of Economics and Statistics, takes a close look at the effect of small urban neighborhoods—and in particular on key characteristics of their physical layout—on innovation. The study, by Maria P. Roche, a doctoral student at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Scheller College of Business, examines the effect of certain neighborhood characteristics on innovation. The study compares the rate of innovation (based on patents granted between 2011 and 2013) to two key neighborhood characteristics that capture older more compact, neighborhoods built before the mass onset of the automobile: street density (based on the total miles of streets shared by cars and pedestrians) and percentage of housing stock built before 1940.

The study includes a range of control variables to capture the role of amenities like bars and restaurants; the role of a particular type of human capital or talent measured as concentration of college grads and inventors; the presence of key knowledge institutions like universities and colleges; and physical characteristics such as land area and bodies of water. To get at this micro-geography of innovation, the study looks at Census block groups and tracks the connection between neighborhood form and innovation in more than 120,000 block groups or across the country

The study finds that neighborhood form—in particular the density and layout of its streets—has a considerable effect on innovation. It finds that a ten percent increase in street density or connectivity is associated with a 0.05 to 1 percent increase in innovation. This is in line with previous studies which find that a ten percent increase in employment density results in a two percent increase in per capita patenting over a ten-year period and that a ten percent increase in highway connectivity leads to a nearly two percent increase in patenting across metro areas over a five-year period.

Neighborhoods with higher street density not only have more patented innovations, but more citations of the patents they generate. This suggests that neighborhoods with denser streets help facilitate greater knowledge exchange and higher levels of interaction over the ideas they generate, as Roche told me via email. The report reads: “Studies comparing citation data with surveys of inventors have detected a strong correlation between patent citations and knowledge flows.”

The study also finds population, employment, and amenities like bars and restaurants to be positively associated with neighborhood level innovation. Roche sees these as factors that work together with the layout of streets and neighborhood form to spur interaction between people—the exchange of knowledge and ideas that ultimately generate new innovations.

For too long, we’ve seen innovation as something that takes place in corporate R&D (research and development) centers, university laboratories, and suburban office parks. But as Jane Jacobs long ago said, new innovations are more likely to come from the density and diversity of urban neighborhoods.

These Jacobs-identified factors have tended to elude economists and urbanists, who have lacked the kinds of detailed neighborhood-level data and analysis needed to track and identify them. Until now, most studies of the geography of innovation have tracked innovations or startup companies broadly across cities and metro areas. Roche’s study uses detailed data to help us better understand how factors of urban form interact with density to shape geographic micro-clusters of innovation at the neighborhood level. Not only does innovation turn on the presence of universities or concentration of talent or human capital, but on physical characteristics like street layout and form of the neighborhood.

As Roche puts it, her findings provide real empirical “support for the idea that the actual physical capacity to connect people and ideas may, in fact, be one reason why cities, and some neighborhoods are more conducive for innovation than others.” The forms and structure of our cities and neighborhoods are not add-ons or afterthoughts. They are key features of the innovative fabric that powers our economy as a whole.

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CityLab Daily: Dave Grohl Has a Pro-Rock Urban Policy Agenda

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What We’re Following

Smells like teen spirit: Plenty of towns want to be the next big music city. If Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl had to give city leaders policy advice for how to make that happen, it would be this: Look to the kids and make all-ages venues possible.

“There weren’t too many all-ages venues, so we had to make them or find them,” Grohl said of his upbringing outside Washington, D.C., during an interview with The Atlantic’s editor in chief, Jeffrey Goldberg. Speaking at CityLab DC, he recalled the live shows he attended growing up as pivotal to his development. Whether it was grunge in Seattle or punk and go-go in D.C., Grohl said a tight-knit community of musicians can inspire young people to try something creative. Read my write-up of Grohl’s interview on CityLab: Don’t Underestimate the Power of Your Local Music Scene

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Urban and Suburban Lifestyles Are More Similar Than You’d Think

People who live in cities spend their time eating in restaurants, visiting art galleries, attending concerts, and hanging out with friends; they walk or take transit for short commutes to work. Americans who live in suburbs don’t socialize as much, are less physically active, and have long car commutes.

We all have our convenient stereotypes. Now, a new study has come along to bust some of these apart. Eric A. Morris, who teaches urban planning at Clemson University, has found that urbanites and suburbanites are remarkably similar in how they apportion their time on a day-to-day basis.

In his study—the basis of a paper published recently in the journal Cities—Morris used data from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), which is conducted annually by the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics, and covers some 13,500 Americans per year. It asks them detailed questions about how they spent their time on the day before being surveyed, and how happy or satisfied they are with their daily lives.

Morris looks at the amounts of time that urbanites and suburbanites respectively devote to 18 daily activities. The study uses the standard census categories to distinguish urbanites—those living in the principal cities of metro areas—from suburbanites, those residing in metros, but outside of principal cities. All of the ATUS respondents included in the study live in Metropolitan Statistical Areas, roughly 61 percent in suburbs, and 39 percent in principal cities. That distribution almost exactly matches the distribution in the 2010 U.S. Census.

Morris’s findings challenge ingrained stereotypes. First and foremost, it turns out there is very little difference in how urbanites and suburbanites who are demographically similar spend their time. Both the composition of their activities and the amount of time they devote to them are remarkably similar.

Morris finds no significant association between location and how people allocate their time across 11 of the 18 activities. As to the other activities, on a given day, city dwellers are slightly more likely to leave home, do work, or shop for groceries. Suburbanites are considerably more likely to engage in exercise, sports, and outdoor activities.

Even when there are differences in the ways that city and suburb residents spend their time, they tend to be quite small. For example, although urbanites are a bit more likely to leave home, that only translates into about three more minutes of out-of-home time per day than suburbanites, according to the study’s models. Urbanites spend two extra minutes socializing. And they spend about half a minute more on grocery shopping, and taking in arts and culture.

The differences remain small even when Morris compares the residents of a subset of six large, dense, and dynamic cities (including Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco) to other respondents.

Morris, E. A. (2019). “Do cities or suburbs offer higher quality of life? Intrametropolitan location, activity patterns, access, and subjective well-being.” Cities, 89, 228–242.

The biggest difference is in time spent traveling, mainly comprised of commuting to and from work. Here, the results are counterintuitive. We typically think of suburbanites enduring long, lonely car commutes, and urbanites walking to work or hopping onto subways, trains, and other forms of transit. There’s evidence that a catalyst of the back-to-the-city movement was people’s desire to reduce their commutes to have more time to spend with family and friends.

But the reality is that city dwellers devote substantially more time to travel then suburbanites. In fact, residents of the six large, lively cities mentioned above spend more time on travel—15 percent more, or between nine and 12 minutes a day. This could reflect high traffic congestion or long transit rides in these metros. As the paper notes:

[I]t would seem that residence in a principal city of a metro area with a thriving center does not offer materially better access to most opportunities, and in fact the opposite might be true: those in principal cities with large and thriving centers are engaging in a similar amount of out-of-home activities compared with others, but are taking considerably longer to travel to and from those activities.

To find out whether urban versus suburban residence might have particular effects on people with low incomes, Morris looks specifically at that group, defined as individuals with incomes of less than $15,277 or a family of four with less than $32,081. While poor people get about an hour less of activity per day than the non-poor (a finding in line with other research), there is little difference in the ways the urban and suburban poor allocate their time. In urban areas, low-income people spend more time traveling, and those who work spend less time working than their suburban counterparts.

So how does this all translate into happiness? Are urbanites or suburbanites more satisfied with their day-to-day lives? To get at this, the study uses data from survey questions that ask respondents to rate their overall quality of life and experiences of feeling happy, sad, in pain, fatigued, and stressed, and their sense of meaningfulness.

Again, urbanites and suburbanites are more alike than different. Across the board, people are happier when they spend more time on five activities: eating and drinking; exercise and outdoor pursuits; arts and culture; volunteering; and religious participation. The upshot is that suburbanites tend to have modestly higher levels of meaning, happiness, and life satisfaction. By contrast, urbanites in the six largest cities have lower levels of meaning than urbanites in general.

The mild differences between suburbanites and urbanites largely boil down to the satisfaction that suburbanites derive from three activities: caring for others; leisure/relaxation; and exercise, sports, and outdoor recreation. There is no significant association between suburban versus urban location and stress or sadness. Morris concludes that, “in the aggregate, the suburbs may offer a modestly but measurably higher quality of life.”

When it comes to how we spend our time, then, America’s urban and suburban residents have more in common than not. In Morris’s words: ”[S]uburbanites and urbanites may live far more similar lifestyles than advocates of either geography may believe.”

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Dave Grohl Has a Pro-Rock Urban Policy Agenda

Long before the city became known as an Amazon boomtown, Dave Grohl remembers the 1990 Seattle as a place that existed in a “little cultural biodome” of its own. “What did we have? Like, fish and Bill Gates and whatever.”

The Foo Fighters frontman and former Nirvana drummer headlined CityLab DC on Tuesday, talking with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg about how music scenes like the one that emerged in the grunge-era Pacific Northwest can become city-shaping forces. “Those kids were connecting to what was going on in a way that doesn’t happen often,” he said. “It happens just before a musical revolution.”

In those pre-internet days, Seattle was too geographically isolated to lure many national touring bands, forcing fans and musicians alike to go it alone and build their own distinctive indie-rock community. Grohl, who grew up in Northern Virginia’s Fairfax County, was a veteran of Washington, D.C.’s thriving punk scene when he arrived in town. “When I first got there, I hadn’t joined Nirvana yet, but I went to go see them play,” Grohl said. “What I noticed was the identity of the audience. They weren’t like spiked hair and chains and leather jackets. They looked like kids from trailer parks. They had like flannel shirts that they got at the Salvation Army and they wore like Converse Chucks and ripped-up jeans and they just looked like derelicts.”

But thanks in part to the breakout of Nirvana’s 1991 album Nevermind, Seattle suddenly became a brand-name music city; bands like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains joined a gold rush for grunge acts, and the “Seattle sound” became a cultural phenomenon—and a marketing gimmick. “Designers started selling flannel shirts for $800,” Grohl said, “and it changed.”

The success of Nirvana launched a wide-ranging career for the onetime punk drummer; after the death of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain in 1994, Grohl swiftly founded his own band, Foo Fighters, which has so far released nine albums. Grohl also created the 2014 HBO series Sonic Highways, based on the band’s 2014 album of the same name. The show chronicled the musical histories of eight American cities—including New Orleans, Nashville, Chicago, and Los Angeles—that boast influential local music scenes. Among them is Grohl’s own hometown of D.C., whose eclectic musical identity can be credited to visionaries like Ian McKaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi, as well as go-go pioneer Chuck Brown.

At CityLab DC, Grohl was a tireless proselytizer for the community-building power of such local scenes. “Wouldn’t you love it if your city was famous for music?” he asked the city leaders in attendance. “A rich and vibrant music scene brings a lot of happiness. It’s like air—it’s important. You need to have that in your life just to remind you that life’s worth living.”

To foster such an atmosphere, Grohl also had a tip for the policymakers in the crowd: Create more all-ages venues. He got his start as a drummer by seeing shows as a teenager in D.C. clubs like the 9:30 Club. “It was a dump, but it was important to generations of people that found inspiration in that crappy little room,” he said. “People deserve to have an opportunity like that—for people to go to experience music, to learn how to play music, to share music with each other and build a community. Now when I talk about Washington, D.C., I’m proud of being from Washington, D.C. When I say I’m a musician from Washington, D.C., people think I’m a badass. And I agree.”

That echoed an idea that Frank Sirius, current leader of D.C.’s Chuck Brown Band, voiced earlier at the conference, where school music programs trained locals to play instruments and fed the city’s homegrown music scene. “I aspired to be like the guys I watched at the block party and clubs,” Sirius told The Atlantic’s Gillian White.

Even in an era of on-demand digital content consumption, Grohl is still a believer in the transformative power of analog musicianship and live performance. “What’s really inspiring is when you see an actual human being on stage with an instrument made of wood and wires, and one microphone,” he said, “and they do something so moving that you fall into, like, a romantic state of loving life, because people do great things.”

He talked about how, on a visit to New Orleans shooting an episode of Sonic Highways, he marveled at how spontaneous second line parades “just happened like wildfires in Los Angeles.” Every city, he insisted, should to find their own ways to let music play that kind of a role in daily life—and “let it walk down the street.”

“There are thousands of musicians in this city right now that could go on to change the course of popular music,” Grohl said. “They just need the opportunity to do it.”

Watch the full interview here:

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Cities’ Climate Innovations Are Driving the Next Urban Transformation

Earlier in 2019, Vancouver’s city council declared a climate emergency and adopted a new set of climate-action targets that pushed its already aggressive goals to a new level. In response to the urgent need to hold global warming to below 1.5°C, the city set a new goal of being carbon neutral by 2050.

There’s much more going on here than radical climate action, as vital as that is. As Vancouver and other cities invent and implement ways to decarbonize their systems and strengthen resilience to climate change, we are reinventing the basic model for urban development that has prevailed since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution around 1800. In fact, we are transforming urban design and life in cities, and Vancouver’s new City Plan will fully embrace climate and equity as core principles.

As Peter Plastrik and John Cleveland explain in Life After Carbon: The Next Global Transformation of Cities (Island Press), the many urban climate innovations underway carry big new ideas about what cities are and how they should work. And these ideas are replacing ideas that propelled the development of the modern city model we all know.

Vancouver is one of 25 global cities covered in Life After Carbon. The authors detail how these “climate innovation laboratories”— from Austin, Copenhagen, and Cape Town to Melbourne, Mexico City, New York, and Shanghai — have initiated wave after wave of locally grown climate innovations that leave no urban system untouched. These cities, they report, “have come to understand themselves, their place in the world, in a new way and act boldly on their changed awareness.” Their efforts have required remarkable creativity, political courage, and resources. Their work has also spurred collaboration among government departments, and between government and the private and civic sectors.

Plastrik and Cleveland have worked in and alongside many of these leading-edge cities, have written insightful reports about cities’ climate innovations, and were instrumental in the formation of two important city networks: the Urban Sustainability Directors Network and the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance. But Life After Carbon provides more than a survey of urban climate innovations. The authors illuminate a compelling thesis of change that is happening on the ground, not just in theories and elusive visions. They identify four transformative ideas that are embedded in urban climate innovations and show how these ideas are being applied worldwide:

  1. Carbon-Free Advantage. Cities are employing their unique advantages to turn the emerging renewable-energy economy into urban wealth and jobs. The idea that cities can drive economies through innovation and clusters of businesses is new; it overturns the idea that cities are simply supposed to provide entrepreneurs, investors, and corporations with low-cost labor markets and public power and transportation infrastructure.
  2. Efficient Abundance. Cities are more efficiently using energy, materials, natural resources, and space to generate a new kind of urban abundance. In the 1800s, consumption of goods and growth of economies were considered the primary standards for abundance, and cities were designed to promote consumption. Today, though, ideas about abundance are starting to shift. Abundance is now signified by long term sustainability that is comprehensive, not just economic, and widely shared rather than possessed.
  3. Nature’s Benefits. Cities are restoring and tapping the power of natural systems to enhance and protect urban life. By contrast, the previous urban model swept away natural habitats and species, engineered control over waterways, consumed vast amounts of natural resources, and dumped enormous amounts of waste, while inhabitants lost direct connection with the natural world.
  4. Adaptive Futures. Cities are cultivating the capacities of inhabitants and core systems to adapt to new requirements, especially those of climate change. Urban planning previously involved decision-makers imposing their will for control and economic growth on nature and society. Today, climate risks force cities to think differently about the future because it has introduced the potential for disorder and shocks unlike any cities have faced. Planning is coming to focus on resilience, sustainability, and equity rather than control. There is now more awareness that cities must build broad social consensus for change.

The framework in Life After Carbon rings true for Vancouver. Ours is a relatively young city, established in the 1860s with sawmills cutting some of the world’s largest trees into lumber. When a fire in the 1880s swept away what had been built, a modern city rose from the ashes. It had electricity and water systems, and streetcars. It was the western terminus of the new national railroad system, and a port for shipping wood across the ocean. In other words, Vancouver started out as a modern city exploiting local natural resources in a globalizing economy. It has since grown into a city with 640,000 inhabitants in a metropolitan area of 2.5 million, heavily dependent on burning fossil fuels to power vehicles and heat buildings.

By the end of the 20th century, city leaders and residents realized that the city’s future well-being did not lie in doing more of the same. In a radical change in the city’s thinking, we committed to becoming a green city, a renewable-energy city, an economically competitive city, and an equitable city. It’s a clear vision built on different ideas about what a city can and should be.

These commitments to action have helped drive Vancouver’s economic growth. We have partnered with entrepreneurs to develop a fast-growing, job-creating “green economy” business sector, and we are home to 23 percent of Canada’s clean-tech companies. Jobs and population in our community have each grown by more than a third since 1990, while our carbon emissions have decreased in that same time by about 12 percent. Vancouver has successfully branded itself as a highly desirable place for young, innovative talent to find work and build companies. A 2015 study by Brand Finance found that Vancouver is uniquely associated with being clean, green, and environmentally sustainable, resulting in a $31 billion USD brand evaluation.

Vancouver is also working toward a goal of 100 percent renewable energy before 2050. To that end, the city is reducing energy usage and switching from fossil fuels to wind, solar, and hydropower. The largest source of carbon pollution is the burning of natural gas for space and water heating in buildings, so with strong support of council, the public and the building design community, we have put in place a world-pioneering Zero Emission Building Plan for all new construction. The new building code will ensure that new buildings are energy efficient and use no fossil fuel by 2030. We built Canada’s first sewer heat recovery system, which harvests heat from a significant sewer line, enabling residents and businesses to reduce their carbon emissions by up to 70 percent. To produce our own renewable energy, we are harvesting methane from the landfill and partnering with FortisBC, our gas utility, to clean the gas and put it into the fossil gas distribution system.

Our new climate-emergency targets include ecosystem reforestation in the region: by 2030, restoration work will be completed on enough forest and coastal ecosystems to remove 1 million tonnes of carbon pollution annually by 2060. Meanwhile, the city is developing its next environmental plan, which calls for accelerating and expanding its nearer term decarbonization targets. By 2030:

  • 90 percent of Vancouver residents will live within an easy walk of their daily needs
  • Two-thirds of trips will be by active transportation and transit
  • 50 percent of kilometers driven on Vancouver’s roads will be by zero emissions vehicles
  • Embodied emissions in new buildings and construction projects will be reduced by 40 percent
  • By 2025, all new and replacement heating and hot water systems will be zero emissions

All of this work to create a new kind of 21st century city must be done with a strong lens on equity to ensure that everyone, especially low-income people and neighborhoods, benefits from these changes.

My involvement in shifting Vancouver’s thinking about its future as a city has taught me that, as Life After Carbon puts it, “transformational ideas are becoming a new standard for cities—not just a toolbox of innovations but a radically different way of thinking about, a model for, city development and urban achievement around the world.”

The framework of ideas that Plastrik and Cleveland found in urban climate innovations reveals a common ground among cities; a simplified understanding of what they share. It’s useful in several ways. Most importantly, the framework’s key ideas allow us to recognize that the real and urgent work of city leaders in the age of climate change is to fashion better cities. Better cities are economic innovation motors, ultra-efficient in all regards, fully reconnected to nature, and having the social capacity to turn climate disaster into opportunity for the entire community. Few cities have put all of these pieces together.

The framework also helps city leaders recognize that other players: businesses, professionals, community organizations, and other levels of government, are not only critical to success but are embracing these new ideas and implementing them in their own spheres. Life After Carbon emphasizes this point in its final chapters, describing the substantial range of related activities undertaken globally by non-governmental entities.

Life After Carbon presents an inspiring account of actual urban change that could not have been written just 10 years ago; there simply wasn’t enough going on then. But today, the story of cities’ transformative journeys makes compelling reading for local government leaders everywhere. As we know in Vancouver, and as other cities are showing, Life After Carbon is prescient in declaring that “the successor to the modern city is busy being born.”

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CityLab Daily: A Powerful Tool for Urban Redevelopment

Keep up with the most pressing, interesting, and important city stories of the day. Sign up for the CityLab Daily newsletter

(Madison Johnson)

By creating special tax districts around targeted redevelopment areas, TIFs can help steer investment to neighborhoods where it otherwise might not happen, but they also divert tax revenue away from other community services. TIF has played a role in megaprojects such as Chicago’s Lincoln Yards and Amazon’s HQ2 in Arlington, Virginia, but also in smaller-scale neighborhood improvements, affordable housing, and transit projects. Benjamin Schneider explains all in the latest edition of CityLab University: Tax Increment Financing

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Andrew Small

What We’re Reading

A design playscape is slated to come to Boston’s City Hall (Next City)

Study: 60 percent of Uber riders don’t tip their driver at all (Slate)

Underground lives: The sunless apartments of immigrants in Queens (New York Times)

London says air pollution fell by a third after new emissions rules (NPR)

Seattle doles out funds for residents to contribute to political campaigns. Can it withstand Citizens United? (Mother Jones)

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How Gen Z Impacts Urban Mobility

A short time ago, the auto industry viewed millennials as the lost generation. Automakers expected car sales to plummet and prepared for change. But that didn’t happen. Instead, millennials delayed their adoption of cars until they started getting married, having children and discovering the suburbs.

Simultaneously, the growth of the smart mobility movement with the introduction of rideshare, car share, e-bikes, high-speed rail, scooters and automaker-backed subscription models have transformed how we define transportation. This dramatic change has birthed a mobility culture. The “me” foundation of car culture – where a car takes “me,” how it makes “me” feel about myself and how it represents my values – has been replaced by a “we” perspective.

Allison+Partners’ latest U.S. study called “The Birth of Mobility Culture,” found Generation Z (those under the age of 24) will drive this new culture forward in part due to an inherent comfort with connected technology. Gen Z has grown up hand-in-hand with new technology: it is not scary or intimidating to them and they welcome rapid change as the norm.

The tipping point for mobility innovation won’t be determined by how quickly the technology arrives. The true tipping point will be when Gen Z arrives at a life stage when their consumer spending behaviors (and ability to spend) match values synonymous with mobility culture.

The Allison+Partners study revealed Gen Z consumers view cars more like appliances and nearly 56% agree a car represents essentially no more than a means of transportation. Some 70% of Gen Z consumers do not have their driver’s licenses and 30% of this group has no intention or desire to get one. In fact, Gen Z survey respondents actually ranked alternate reality, VR and smart homes higher in interest than autonomous vehicles.

However, those who make up Gen Z do see autonomous vehicles as an eventual reality. Some 60% of those we surveyed believe they will use autonomous vehicles by 2029.

The implications of these insights are far reaching. We need to immediately rethink how we excite Gen Z consumers about transportation options. Automakers should complement or replace attributes of car coolness, such as horsepower, tow capacity and even fuel economy, with new features such as productivity, shared time, or total experience.

Gen Z has shown an early willingness to invest money and loyalty in brands that demonstrate an ability to align marketing with these new values synonymous with mobility culture. The latest example is in Madrid, with more than 5,000 electric scooters – the largest fleet globally – available for on-demand use as a means to cut down on traffic, noise, emissions pollution, and parking issues. Younger Spaniards flock to these options, with companies increasing the size of the fleet more than fivefold in the past year.

Inverse to this lack of interest in driving comes the acceptance of autonomous technologies. With its high trust level of technology, Gen Z will fuel the adoption of autonomous vehicles.

The combination of autonomous transportation with “we” values core to mobility culture suggests a reimagined way to use time while on the road. In fact, data from Allison+Partners’ The Birth of Mobility Culture report shows nearly half of Gen Z consumers (45.5%) are comfortable with shared ride experiences in an autonomous vehicle.

This new mobility culture also calls into question the commute and opens new options for city planning and commute patterns. Our study found almost two-thirds of Gen Z consumers would be willing to accept a longer commute in a self-driving vehicle. While the single driver commuter experience is generally perceived as bad, unhealthy, and stressful, the “we” commute of mobility culture could be a positive and healthy experience similar to today’s train commutes.

This is where it gets really exciting. The combination of being open to longer commutes and shared experiences allows us to reimagine the urban-to-suburban relationship, broaden access to affordable housing, offer solutions for a work-life balance, and improve relationships with each other.

Case in point: researchers at the UK’s University of East Anglia found British workers who commute to work by bus, train or bicycle were happier compared with those who drive their personal car each day. So, if those who make up Gen Z view cars as little more than appliances, treating a self-driving vehicle experience as a form of alternative transportation might have the same effect.

A new forecast released in June 2019 from the International Data Corporation (IDC) indicated that global spending on smart cities initiatives will reach roughly $190 billion over the next four years.

Three of the top five areas that will experience the most spending by 2023 will include smart grid (given the rise of electric vehicles), advanced public transportation systems, and intelligent traffic management.

The output of these investments made by forward-thinking city planners – cleaner forms of personal vehicle transportation, improved transportation usage and reduced traffic congestion – directly addresses “we” values expressed by emerging mobility consumers.

It may also be easy to forget that less than a decade ago, ridesharing did not even exist. In 2019, Lyft went public with more than $25 billion in market cap, as has Uber with a market cap of just under $80 billion. All despite historically disappointing earnings reports.

Our study found one-third of American consumers report regular use of rideshare services (31%) as an alternative to using their own vehicle – an astounding market penetration for such a relatively young service within the marketplace. And Gen Z is only a relatively small portion of the rideshare market. As they age and enter new life stages, the potential for rideshare service growth is massive. The same is true for all new mobility technologies, which are expected to change massively as autonomous options begin to come to market.

If the dramatic and rapid growth of ridesharing is an indicator, mobility culture will accelerate the transition of how cities and denser suburban areas get designed, particularly space allocated for traditional vehicle parking.

Commercial real estate and larger residential housing are expected to convert existing parking spaces to pick up and drop off areas, solar facilities (to enhance vehicle charging options), or even micro green spaces for local communities which could decrease urban heat-island effects in densely populated areas. Similarly, new construction developments will take these smaller footprint opportunities into consideration.

While streets will continue to play a critical role advancing most mobility options, there will be opportunities to narrow them. A decrease in personal transportation won’t require the wide boulevards seen in many cities today, and those that exist can be converted to accommodate cars, micro-mobility solutions, charging infrastructure, pedestrians, and safer dedicated bikeways.

Developers and city planners will see opportunities to convert larger parking structures into infrastructure that can positively impact urban areas. This will include housing options (condos) to address reported shortages or even indoor growing facilities – with the growth of vertical, indoor growing methods – to bring fresh, affordable produce and healthy food options to communities.

The birth of mobility culture and the rise of “we” values suggest future journeys will not be quiet and alone, but ambient rides that are shared with others.

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Consider Anthropology in Your Next Urban Design Project

When applied to today’s cities in a non-academic context, urban anthropology provides a kind of “outsider’s perspective” to the dominant fields of urban planning and design. An anthropologist’s brain is one that views the current age through the long arc of humanity; they see the comparison between the best and worst of the human condition, and can balance human needs with human desire accordingly. This leads to an acceptance (and appreciation) of cultural contexts, with communication and co-creation at its core.