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Work in the City: The Transportation Issue

Image © Gensler

Work in the City is a yearlong initiative directed at key drivers redefining how the rapidly changing landscape of work is influencing a new urban paradigm. It combines research, design thinking and unbridled creativity, and encapsulates Gensler’s ongoing commitment to ensuring global cities are vibrant, livable and sustainable platforms of economic growth and human interaction.

Over the past century, transportation arose as the enabler of work in the city, initially connecting agrarian homesteads with urban manufacturing and later the suburbs with central business districts. Transportation networks catalyze and guide urban development, spurring expansion and economic growth. Yet we now find these networks coming to the end of their initial lifespan and only serving legacy needs. This opens up the opportunity to consider alternative approaches to urban transit. To spur the next wave of smart, interconnected urban growth, we must ensure transportation systems are not just efficient and cost effective, but tailored to the way contemporary lifestyles blur the distinction between life and work.

To consider how best to reshape urban transportation systems to accommodate 21st century work and lifestyles, we must keep in mind that as people gain more freedom to choose how they work (and opt to exercise that choice) the trend of working and living in physically distinct locations will further erode. This macro trend of urban work and life convergence is well underway. It will shape our cities in new ways and prompt the need for systems that allow convenient, flexible and productive movement from both short and long distances. Thanks to increasing levels of workplace mobility, more and more work in the city will inevitably happen while people are in motion. As walking is our most basic form of movement, the walkability of a place will increasingly factor into a city’s livability and the protection of the human scale will be prioritized. Transportation systems, regardless of type, must respect and support this.

In parallel to an increased focus on walkability and non-vehicular transit, the nature of the city itself is changing. Cities are growing denser and more compact, but also more relevant and lived-in, as transit lines bind a city’s decentralized parts. The utilization of these systems is vital and the long term environmental responsibility of operating them crucial. In a global society that is reviving community focus, we are prioritizing public space and asking what kinds of neighborhoods we want to live and work in. City dwellers are shifting away from petroleum dependence and individual car-ownership, and embracing shared forms of transit. Public transportation lessens pressure on personal resources; while clearing up space on the street level to be reclaimed for activities that better serve people and communities. The result is a marked gain in livability.

With highly mobile and dispersed populations, the cities of the future will rely on augmenting existing infrastructure and investing in systems that support the effective movement of people both locally and regionally, as they participate in a marketplace that is at once global and local, and constantly evolving. Given these variables and unknowns, how do we design the future of urban transportation to support contemporary work and urban vitality? The Work in the City initiative and the transportation proposals below address what we consider to be a vast opportunity to connect people to each other, the environment and the cities in which we live and work through thoughtful transport design.

Pittsburgh: Reconnecting the City

Video © Gensler

Pittsburgh has always been divided by the three rivers that run through it. More recently, though, it has been divided by roads. To one extreme of the city is the neighborhood of Oakland, a culturally rich cradle of education and start-ups; on the other is the Central Business District. In between is the Hill district, a collection of neighborhoods neglected since the highway construction in the early 1970s severed it internally and from the rest of the city.

To mend the city’s legacy of separation, Gensler’s Pittsburgh office proposed the construction of a new transit line to link the entire city. The line would run through the Hill’s main corridor, providing the community with access to basic resources, inviting Investment, and creating a tie between the city’s economic and cultural strongholds. As it forges connections across historic boundaries, the new transit line becomes as a pathway for people, ideas, goods, and services, setting the stage for Pittsburgh’s future as an inclusive and innovative city.

Learn more about Gensler Pittsburgh's Work in the City proposal by clicking here.

Costa Rica: Transit as urban generator

Video © Gensler

San José, Costa Rica was once a pedestrian-oriented city. Today, by contrast, it is a city dominated by traffic. While the peripheral areas of San José have developed and drawn investment, the city’s historic center has fallen into disrepair. Beyond this picture of a congested city, Costa Rica is a pioneer of environmental protection, with plans to become the first carbon-neutral country by 2021.

In order to achieve this goal of carbon neutrality and revive the life of San José's streets, Gensler’s Costa Rica office has proposed the construction of a new tram line in San José. The proposed connector system re-introduces the opportunity for “complete streets,” while accommodating light vehicular traffic, bicycles, and pedestrians. As new office and residential developments cluster around transportation lines, minimizing the footprint between home and office, they will become anchors of urban life and entice investment. And while the tram line frees the street from traffic and opens it up to pedestrians, its roof can be turned into a linear park in concert with adjacent rooftops and windows. Extending from ground to roof and core to peripheral areas, a multi-layered city will unfold vertically and horizontally, enabling enterprise to take root in San José and opening the streets to people again.

Learn more about Gensler San Jose's Work in the City proposal by clicking here.

Abu-Dhabi: Where work and transit meet

Video © Gensler

For our Abu Dhabi office, the future of work in the city is in transit. The Inner-city rail and business network they propose is a multi-faceted and sustainable transportation network that tapers reliance on cars and petroleum for good and aligns the city’s transit need with its ecology and the needs of its residents. Elevated high-speed public rails will parallel main routes in the region, while preserving the openness of the ground plane. The rail creates spatial fluidity across the city and region, but also—and importantly for this business capital—between transit and work. Lines will include easily-accessed mobile business hubs, allowing people to stop, work, and have face-to-face meetings at any point along their journey. Transportation no longer serves as merely a culturally-neutral connector, but as a fluid array of physically connected places, where work and the city merge, in motion

Learn more about Gensler Abu Dhabi's Work in the City proposal by clicking here.

Shawn Gehle is a Design Principal and Studio Director of a cross-disciplinary studio in Gensler's Los Angeles office. In late 2013, Shawn was designated the Global Curator for Gensler’s Reimagining Cities: Work in the City effort. As the curator for this effort, Shawn is organizing and synthesizing a body of work produced by industry experts and designers across the firm regarding how they see a rapidly changing set of workplace values impacting our cities and their residents in the future. Follow him on Twitter at @shawngehle.

Reader Comments (1)

I have always found transportation within cities very interesting, especially in how it causes people to interact with each other. Whether the interaction is passive aggresive as we drive down the freeway, or it becomes full on conversation with a stranger at the bus stop. These interactions are various and cause a full range of emotions. Often times our physcial surroundings can help regulate those emotions which is something that as designer we can help control. I am super excited for this Transportation series and cant wait to learn how this awsome firm is addressing transportation issues throughought the world.
09.2.2014 | Unregistered CommenterJacob Rivard

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