Audi Urban Future Initiative: The City as a Test Laboratory for Future Urban Mobility

The Extreme Cities Project of the Audi Urban Future Initiative focuses on megacities in the year 2050, when there will be as many people living in cities worldwide as live in nations today. The research project draws attention to opportunities and makes a plea for the city of the future to be regarded as a resource. Five hypotheses, which Columbia University has developed in cooperation with Audi, show in concrete terms where the innovative urban potential of the future lies.  The remarkable feature of this cooperation: a global leader in industry and one of the world’s leading sources of ideas, which has brought forth more than 70 Nobel Prize laureates, reflect together on the most urgent issues for the future.

The aim of the hypotheses is to take the conditions of urban life to extremes and thus to break up conventional patterns of thought and behavior. “We have identified five main factors for  cities, which we analyze and  take to the limits. We regard these factors as the most essential principles of urban density, as catalysts that are generated by cities and evolve further“, states Mark Wigley, Dean of the Columbia Graduate School of Architecture and director of the Extreme Cities Project. “Taken together they explain why the city is such a remarkable human invention.“

The five hypotheses “Transgenerational Capacity”, “Asymmetric Mobility”, “Complexity”, “Migration” and “Generosity”, are presented publicly for the first time by Luca de Meo, Member of the  Board of AUDI AG for Sales and Marketing.

“The project is a kind of long-term radar for us. The hypotheses show us the  forces that are driving cities of the future. From this Audi can derive impulses for developing future products and services ,“ emphasizes Luca de Meo. “In this way the joint work with Columbia University makes an important contribution on our path to sustainable mobility.“

In addition to taking a strategic look at the megacities of tomorrow, Audi is also paying attention to the specific outlook for sustainable mobility concepts in cities: in order to make more concrete the results of the Audi Urban Future Award, which was presented in 2012 for the second time, the car maker is getting the winners, Höweler + Yoon Architecture, and decision-makers from the Boston/Washington region as well as Audi experts together round one table. They will jointly discuss the present state of the Boston City Dossier – a detailed social, spatial and technical analysis of the city and metropolitan area of Boston focusing on mobility.

The resulting insights will be fed directly into approaches for a possible mobility test laboratory  in Boston. Audi experts from various divisions of the company, including Technical Development and Product Strategy, will do an analysis of which innovations and know-how can flow from the automobile maker into a concept designed for Boston. “We are investigating where there are specific opportunities with the potential to close gaps in the mobility chain,” says Luca de Meo.

Both events are taking place in parallel with this year’s Ideas City Festival organized by the New Museum in New York, which Audi has supported as main sponsor since 2011. Exciting debates between various stakeholders from the fields of art, culture, education, urban planning and architecture are intended to inspire the work of urban planners and architects and to move public discourse forward.

The Extreme Cities Project

Five hypotheses for cities in 2050

 “Getting from A to B” used to mean taking a clear decision. Does it make more sense to go by train or by car to an evening event – or is it better to call it off and spend the evening at home, because getting into the city simply takes too much time. Today it can already be observed that asymmetric patterns of mobility are continually on the increase, which means it is no longer necessary to take decisions. People use various means of transport to get around day by day and also to carry out the tasks of their daily lives. While sitting in a train they can attend to their emails by smartphone or take part in a video conference linked to the other side of the world using a headset and camera.  The asymmetric mobility hypothesis  underlines the fact that mobility will be much more flexible in the year 2050. Changing between different modes of transport could be made much simpler and more efficient, and be more of an experience, in the future.

Cities are places where different classes, ethnic groups and multicultural ideas meet. They are all connected to each other through the city and use common infrastructure and technologies. The premise of the complexity hypothesis is that this will produce an enormous concentration of knowledge in the urban environment. For example, if the ideas and data that are present today in the rush hour in the center of large cities were to come together and be exchanged, a high degree of creativity could result. In tomorrow’s megacities even more people will live together in a restricted space. The inevitable consequence of this is increased exchanges and potential for innovation.

Cities are the product of migration. Their identity is continuously reshaped by the flow of immigrants. In 40 years migration will no longer be a one-off event in a person’s life, but the norm. In future people will move frequently between global cities. Today, for example, we live in Berlin and from there work for a company based in the USA. In 2015 a job offer comes in from New York, in 2020 it’s London, and in 2030 our children move to Asia and we go with them. The clear distinction between home and abroad is becoming blurred. Movements between cities and movements within cities will take on a similar level of complexity.

The efficiency and productivity of large cities is based on, amongst other things, “generosity”. The urban space promotes collaboration. It is easier to make contacts and take up spontaneous offers.  This in turn can improve the city itself. The coincidental nature of contacts between people provides new impulses and new ideas. “Extreme cities” gain generosity by promoting new forms of collaboration: where today small community gardens are planted cooperatively, tomorrow there could be a place where the harvested products supply the neighborhood.

Medical progress and preventive healthcare have helped to increase life expectation globally and to broaden the age range in cities. In the year 2050, two billion city dwellers worldwide will be above the age of 60 – something that offers undreamed-of opportunities. Today the active participation of older people in urban life is already part of the city scene. Thanks to flexible social and technical structures such as unrestricted access to healthcare, cultural networks and the transfer of knowledge from one generation to the next, the quality of life for all generations will be improved. The city will be enhanced as a place to dwell and live life. In cities there is open access  to diverse initiatives: education, the healthcare system, cultural institutions and new fields of activity. Life in the city has something to offer for all age groups. This sets free creative energy and moves innovations in cities forward.

The five hypotheses in the original version of Columbia University can be seen at:

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