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2016 Design Forecast LIVE: The Future of Cities

The city is the main arena of future change, Andy Cohen told participants in Design Forecast LIVE event on June 25th. The Gensler Co-CEO made his case by citing the world’s growing urbanization—6.3 billion city dwellers by 2050, up 62% from today. A range of factors challenge the human community, he added, and cities will have a huge influence on our ability to resolve pressing issues like urbanization and climate change. They also serve as innovation engines, attracting and supporting talent and invention. Gensler’s Bill Hooper noted that these issues often have to be solved at a mega-scale. The challenge, he added, is to maintain the human scale that community requires.

Digital Impact

Sidewalk Labs/Intersection’s Dan Doctoroff suggested rethinking cities “from the Internet up.” A set of digital innovations—like universal, data-driven connectivity—will alter city form and function in the same way that steel-frame construction, the elevator, and the subway recast them in the early 20th century. Harnessing this digital revolution, he predicted, will dramatically improve the quality of urban life.

Cornell’s Kent Kleinman also weighed in on urban innovation, noting how institutions are turning to new models—like the studios of artists and designers—to introduce an element of serious play in their creative process and break down silos and separations. At the new Cornell Tech campus in New York City, he noted, there are no departments or deans—the emphasis is on open-ended collaboration. That applies to high schools, added Dwight-Englewood School’s Rodney De Jarnett. “We’re the first generation of educators teaching students for a future that we have no idea what it looks like.”

Image © Gensler

Being There

In pointing to the studio, Kleinman also argued for the importance of “rubbing shoulders.” In his view, digital connectivity falls short in this respect. Hyperloop One’s Colin Rhys agreed: true high-speed transportation could detach travel from rigid schedules and give people access to distant towns at a fraction of the time needed by car or train. This will define “metropolitan,” giving people new options where they can live and work—a “physical revolution,” Rhys called it, to complement the digital one.

ClickMedix’s Ting Shih echoed Kleinman on the need often for a human interface. In many of the world’s cities, a chronic shortage of doctors makes digital access to care a necessity. “A digital visit is as good as real one if people see they’re getting better,” she said, but a benefit of digital connectivity is that brings information and training to local healthcare workers, steadily building their skills as the first line of intervention. Mexican clinics that do smart phone-supported screening found that 57% of their patients have an undiagnosed disease. Chronic disease clinics now use interactive apps to enable medical teams to diagnose patients faster and manage their treatment more effectively.

“It’s never just about the technology,” Doctoroff summed up. “What it’s really about is improving people’s lives. That’s what the great opportunity really is.”