Kent Larson: Brilliant designs to fit more people in every city

Kent Larson: Brilliant designs to fit more people in every city


Translator: Joseph Geni
Reviewer: Morton Bast I thought I would start
with a very brief history of cities. Settlements typically began
with people clustered around a well, and the size of that settlement
was roughly the distance you could walk with a pot of water on your head. In fact, if you fly
over Germany, for example, and you look down and you see
these hundreds of little villages, they’re all about a mile apart. You needed easy access to the fields. And for hundreds, even thousands of years, the home was really the center of life. Life was very small for most people. It was a center of entertainment,
of energy production, of work, a center of health care. That’s where babies were born
and people died. Then, with industrialization,
everything started to become centralized. You had dirty factories that were moved
to the outskirts of cities. Production was centralized
in assembly plants. You had centralized energy production. Learning took place in schools. Health care took place in hospitals. And then you had networks that developed. You had water, sewer networks that allowed for this
kind of unchecked expansion. You had separated functions, increasingly. You had rail networks that connected residential,
industrial, commercial areas. You had auto networks. In fact, the model was really,
give everybody a car, build roads to everything, and give people a place to park
when they get there. It was not a very functional model. And we still live in that world, and this is what we end up with. So you have the sprawl of LA, the sprawl of Mexico City. You have these unbelievable
new cities in China, which you might call tower sprawl. They’re all building cities on the model that we invented
in the ’50s and ’60s, which is really obsolete, I would argue, and there are hundreds
and hundreds of new cities that are being planned all over the world. In China alone, 300 million people,
some say 400 million people, will move to the city
over the next 15 years. That means building the equivalent of the entire built infrastructure
of the US in 15 years. Imagine that. And we should all care about this
whether you live in cities or not. Cities will account for 90 percent
of the population growth, 80 percent of the global CO2,
75 percent of energy use, but at the same time
it’s where people want to be, increasingly. More than half the people
now in the world live in cities, and that will just continue to escalate. Cities are places of celebration,
personal expression. You have the flash mobs
of pillow fights that — I’ve been to a couple. They’re quite fun. You have — (Laughter) Cities are where most
of the wealth is created, and particularly in the developing world,
it’s where women find opportunities. That’s a lot of the reason
why cities are growing very quickly. Now there’s some trends
that will impact cities. First of all, work is becoming
distributed and mobile. The office building is basically obsolete
for doing private work. The home, once again,
because of distributed computation — Communication is becoming
a center of life, so it’s a center of production
and learning and shopping and health care and all of these things
that we used to think of as taking place outside of the home. And increasingly,
everything that people buy, every consumer product, in one way or another,
can be personalized. And that’s a very important
trend to think about. So this is my image
of the city of the future. (Laughter) In that it’s a place for people, you know. Maybe not the way people dress, but — You know, the question now is, how can we have all the good things
that we identify with cities without all the bad things? This is Bangalore. It took me a couple of hours
to get a few miles in Bangalore last year. So with cities, you also have
congestion and pollution and disease and all these negative things. How can we have the good stuff
without the bad? So we went back and started looking
at the great cities that evolved before the cars. Paris was a series of these
little villages that came together, and you still see that structure today. The 20 arrondissements of Paris
are these little neighborhoods. Most of what people need in life
can be within a five- or 10-minute walk. And if you look at the data,
when you have that kind of a structure, you get a very even distribution of the shops and the physicians
and the pharmacies and the cafes in Paris. And then you look at cities
that evolved after the automobile, and it’s not that kind of a pattern. There’s very little
that’s within a five-minute walk of most areas of places like Pittsburgh. Not to pick on Pittsburgh, but most American cities
really have evolved this way. So we said, well,
let’s look at new cities, and we’re involved in a couple
of new city projects in China. So we said, let’s start
with that neighborhood cell. We think of it as a compact urban cell. So provide most of what most people want
within that 20-minute walk. This can also be
a resilient electrical microgrid, community heating, power,
communication networks, etc. can be concentrated there. Stewart Brand would put
a micronuclear reactor right in the center, probably. And he might be right. And then we can form,
in effect, a mesh network. It’s something of an Internet
typology pattern, so you can have a series
of these neighborhoods. You can dial up the density — about 20,000 people per cell,
if it’s Cambridge. Go up to 50,000 if it’s Manhattan density. You connect everything with mass transit and you provide most of what most people
need within that neighborhood. You can begin to develop
a whole typology of streetscapes and the vehicles that can go on them. I won’t go through all of them.
I’ll just show one. This is Boulder. It’s a great example
of kind of a mobility parkway, a superhighway for joggers and bicyclists, where you can go from one end
of the city to the other without crossing the street, and they also have bike-sharing,
which I’ll get into in a minute. This is even a more interesting solution in Seoul, Korea. They took the elevated highway,
they got rid of it, they reclaimed the street,
the river down below, below the street, and you can go from one end
of Seoul to the other without crossing a pathway for cars. The High Line in Manhattan
is very similar. You have these rapidly emerging
bike lanes all over the world. I lived in Manhattan for 15 years. I went back a couple of weekends ago, took this photograph of these fabulous
new bike lanes that they have installed. They’re still not to where Copenhagen is, where something like 42 percent
of the trips within the city are by bicycle. It’s mostly just because they have
fantastic infrastructure there. We actually did exactly
the wrong thing in Boston. The Big Dig — (Laughter) So we got rid of the highway
but we created a traffic island, and it’s certainly not a mobility pathway
for anything other than cars. Mobility on demand is something
we’ve been thinking about, so we think we need an ecosystem
of these shared-use vehicles connected to mass transit. These are some of the vehicles
that we’ve been working on. But shared use is really key. If you share a vehicle, you can have
at least four people use one vehicle, as opposed to one. We have Hubway here in Boston,
the Vélib’ system in Paris. We’ve been developing,
at the Media Lab, this little city car that is optimized
for shared use in cities. We got rid of all the useless things
like engines and transmissions. We moved everything to the wheels, so you have the drive motor, the steering motor, the breaking —
all in the wheel. That left the chassis unencumbered,
so you can do things like fold, so you can fold this little vehicle up
to occupy a tiny little footprint. This was a video that was
on European television last week showing the Spanish Minister of Industry
driving this little vehicle, and when it’s folded, it can spin. You don’t need reverse.
You don’t need parallel parking. You just spin and go directly in. (Laughter) So we’ve been working
with a company to commercialize this. My PhD student Ryan Chin
presented these early ideas two years ago at a TEDx conference. So what’s interesting is, then if you begin to add
new things to it, like autonomy, you get out of the car,
you park at your destination, you pat it on the butt, it goes
and it parks itself, it charges itself, and you can get something
like seven times as many vehicles in a given area as conventional cars, and we think this is the future. Actually, we could do this today.
It’s not really a problem. We can combine shared use
and folding and autonomy and we get something
like 28 times the land utilization with that kind of strategy. One of our graduate students then says, well, how does a driverless car
communicate with pedestrians? You have nobody to make eye contact with. You don’t know
if it’s going to run you over. So he’s developing strategies so the vehicle can communicate
with pedestrians, so — (Laughter) So the headlights are eyeballs,
the pupils can dilate, we have directional audio,
we can throw sound directly at people. What I love about this project is he solved a problem
that doesn’t exist yet, so — (Laughter) We also think that we can
democratize access to bike lanes. You know, bike lanes are mostly used
by young guys in stretchy pants. So — (Laughter) We think we can develop a vehicle
that operates on bike lanes, accessible to elderly and disabled,
women in skirts, businesspeople, and address the issues
of energy congestion, mobility, aging and obesity simultaneously. That’s our challenge. This is an early design
for this little three-wheel. It’s an electronic bike. You have to pedal
to operate it in a bike lane, but if you’re an older person,
that’s a switch. If you’re a healthy person, you might
have to work really hard to go fast. You can dial in 40 calories
going into work and 500 going home,
when you can take a shower. We hope to have that built this fall. Housing is another area
where we can really improve. Mayor Menino in Boston says lack of affordable housing
for young people is one of the biggest
problems the city faces. Developers say, OK,
we’ll build little teeny apartments. People say, we don’t really want to live
in a little teeny conventional apartment. So we’re saying, let’s build
a standardized chassis, much like our car. Let’s bring advanced technology
into the apartment, technology-enabled infill, give people the tools
within this open-loft chassis to go through a process of defining what their needs
and values and activities are, and then a matching algorithm
will match a unique assembly of integrated infill components, furniture, and cabinetry,
that are personalized to that individual, and they give them the tools to go through the process
and to refine it, and it’s something like working
with an architect, where the dialogue starts when you give an alternative
to a person to react to. Now, the most interesting
implementation of that for us is when you can begin
to have robotic walls, so your space can convert
from exercise to a workplace, if you run a virtual company. You have guests over, you have two guest rooms
that are developed. You have a conventional
one-bedroom arrangement when you need it. Maybe that’s most of the time. You have a dinner party. The table folds out to fit 16 people
in otherwise a conventional one-bedroom, or maybe you want a dance studio. I mean, architects have been thinking
about these ideas for a long time. What we need to do now, develop things that can scale
to those 300 million Chinese people that would like to live in the city,
and very comfortably. We think we can make
a very small apartment that functions as if it’s twice as big
by utilizing these strategies. I don’t believe in smart homes.
That’s sort of a bogus concept. I think you have to build dumb homes
and put smart stuff in it. (Laughter) And so we’ve been working
on a chassis of the wall itself. You know, standardized platform with the motors and the battery
when it operates, little solenoids that will lock it
in place and get low-voltage power. We think this can all be standardized, and then people can personalize the stuff
that goes into that wall, and like the car, we can integrate
all kinds of sensing to be aware of human activity, so if there’s a baby
or a puppy in the way, you won’t have a problem. (Laughter) So the developers say,
well, this is great. OK, so if we have a conventional building,
we have a fixed envelope, maybe we can put in 14 units. If they function
as if they’re twice as big, we can get 28 units in. That means twice as much parking, though. Parking’s really expensive. It’s about 70,000 dollars per space to build a conventional parking spot
inside a building. So if you can have folding and autonomy, you can do that
in one-seventh of the space. That goes down to 10,000 dollars per car, just for the cost of the parking. You add shared use,
and you can even go further. We can also integrate
all kinds of advanced technology through this process. There’s a path to market
for innovative companies to bring technology into the home. In this case, a project
we’re doing with Siemens. We have sensors on all
the furniture, all the infill, that understands where people are
and what they’re doing. Blue light is very efficient, so we have these tunable
24-bit LED lighting fixtures. It recognizes where the person is,
what they’re doing, fills out the light when necessary
to full spectrum white light, and saves maybe 30, 40 percent
in energy consumption, we think, over even conventional
state-of-the-art lighting systems. This just shows you the data
that comes from the sensors that are embedded in the furniture. We don’t really believe in cameras
to do things in homes. We think these little wireless sensors
are more effective. We think we can also personalize sunlight. That’s sort of the ultimate
personalization in some ways. So we’ve looked at articulating
mirrors of the facade that can throw shafts of sunlight
anywhere into the space, therefore allowing you
to shade most of the glass on a hot day like today. In this case, she picks up her phone, she can map food preparation
at the kitchen island to a particular location of sunlight. An algorithm will keep it in that location
as long as she’s engaged in that activity. This can be combined
with LED lighting as well. We think workplaces should be shared. I mean, this is really
the workplace of the future, I think. This is Starbucks, you know. Maybe a third — And you see everybody
has their back to the wall and they have food and coffee down the way and they’re in their own
little personal bubble. We need shared spaces
for interaction and collaboration. We’re not doing a very good job with that. At the Cambridge Innovation Center,
you can have shared desks. I’ve spent a lot of time in Finland
at the design factory of Aalto University, where the they have a shared shop
and shared fab lab, shared quiet spaces, electronics spaces, recreation places. We think ultimately,
all of this stuff can come together, a new model for mobility,
a new model for housing, a new model for how we live and work, a path to market
for advanced technologies. But in the end, the main thing
we need to focus on are people. Cities are all about people. They’re places for people. There’s no reason
why we can’t dramatically improve the livability and creativity of cities like they’ve done in Melbourne
with the laneways while at the same time
dramatically reducing CO2 and energy. It’s a global imperative.
We have to get this right. Thank you. (Applause)


100 thoughts on “Kent Larson: Brilliant designs to fit more people in every city

  1. Except that you won't, and I won't. You're just insane, and I'm enjoying demonstrating this to everyone who reads your comments.

  2. You've given me Pascal's Wager and basically said that you're right because your belief is popular. Then you begged the question in your favour.

    I gave you back a Pascal's Wager and you didn't take it (because Pascal's Wager is idiotic).

    There is no explanation for how you could possibly think that you're correct except to simply conclude that you're insane.

  3. Like you said:"Great and useful cities evolve….just as old Paris did."
    But we do not live a thousand years ago. So cities evolve as ugly as they do. See the u.s.
    Sure there is nothing nicer for any planner, scientist, film maker, artist, architect or other than to get a blanco check for your program. It is the utopia for creativy.

  4. 100% man. It's crazy but true. My mom said the exact same thing as you ;D I just enjoy winding them up lol ;D it is very sad but at least there isn't as many of them now. They will slowly die out, with a little bit of faith.(y)

  5. Um… you might want to check out religion in China before you start claiming that people of faith are dying out. Not wanting to get in the middle of your self-congratulatory posting, but wanted to make you aware that the statistics are against you.

  6. All of these things seem designed for single people or people with only one child. Is this based on the idea that we will have few children in the future? I'm married and have 2 kids and it doesn't seem like any of these solutions are geared to my situation. 2 seat car? Doesn't work. Bike share? Nope. And the houses don't seem to address the needs of growing children. Hopefully they'll take situations like mine into account as they design these things.

  7. It's so brilliant that you won't take it. All you have to do is send me $10 for infinite gain, and avoid infinite loss. Why would you risk so much for such a small amount?

    See my point?

  8. Wow a religious argument on a Youtube video that has nothing to do with religion. Shocking. I'll jump in…IF there truly is an all knowing, all wise, and forgiving god he should only judge us by what we DO not what we believe. So stop trying to change other people's beliefs and just watch the damn video.

  9. I love the wonderful circularity of your argument. It has a certain beauty about it.

    There was a time that I didn't banter with theists about religion. I thought everybody paid at least some pittance of concern to the inner logic of their arguments before they brought them forward. And here the internet is, teaching me a lesson yet again.

    Also, I find it hilarious that, if I were popular, that would be sufficient for you to send me $10. Keep digging yourself a hole.

  10. All i have to say is this commodities will not come cheap…i bet the people that build this in mass at factories wont be able to afford one of this homes or cars…every couple of years is the same thing minimum wage goes up but so does the standard of living…i cant believe that people don't notice…is the same thing again and again…

  11. My ideal society would be where all the hard work is done by robots. My solution for your concerns (they are my concerns too) is a good welfare state that helps the unemployed and strong trade unions.

  12. Cool ideas! But I am not an ant who shares every inch with other ants. And CO2 is no point: there is no global warming (remember the liars of CRU and the IPCC?). But I am impressed about several solutions! GREAT!

  13. Why are we going to need to share cars? It's not because of overpopulation, it's because of the fucking bankers and the price of fuel that they DOMINATE in the future. None of these profiterring moneychangers will ever go for any of this because they want to fund automobile manufacturers making shitty cars that break down and guzzle fuel by the gallons. Sharing cars wont be because there are too many people..NO ONE will be able to afford them!

  14. only if we keep the entire economic system as it is
    if we want to get humanity out of it's current misery little steps just aren't enough
    there is no other way than abandoning consumer fetishism, capitalism and obsession with possession
    the problem is not that we couldn't feed the world (even with way fewer workers that would be possible) the problem is that we waste our energy and resouces

  15. i'm glad you strongly reject the idea. hopefully more ppl do. but what you're saying is completely contradictory to what is actually happening. there's still individual choice but it's not much of a choice when it's the only one. ie forced health insurance. what's happening is fed govt is creating a people dependent on them. when it's supposed to work the other way. i wouldn't call it totalitarianism. it would be recognized too quickly. what our govt is evolving into is similar but more cunning

  16. I'm worried he's not thinking through the house with robotic walls. There's airflow and chemical smells in the air, your food preparation air space would essentially be the same air as your bedroom, insects could get trapped in machinery and mount up, electrical maintenance would be needed more often, having your stuff on shelves that auto-fold away would be a pain to move. There's lots more variables to think about.

  17. I think this is dumb! Everyone has to have the same size and shape apartment, the same boring folding car. What happens to individual freedom and creativity? I couldn't even have a unique bike. I'd have to share the same boring model car and bike everyone else uses. Maybe this will work in countries when they have little individual freedom, but hot here in the good old USA where we like to be different from from each other. No sir, I'd never want to live in a place like this, never.

  18. I don't know about where you live be there are no two cars alike on my block. There are big and small SUV's, vans mini and full sized, pick-ups, mid-size cars, and my neighbors tiny fiat. And there is also a motorhome in one driveway.

  19. @reveaglestar As opposed to the 20+ floor towers of identical apartments we have now? And the small cars would he just as costomizable as the current cars. The renderings just used the same one to make it easier. And please don't act like a stereotypical ignorant American. "good old USA" isn't nearly as good as you are lead to believe.

  20. the options are:
    1 -> finding new ways to live comfortably with a high population density (video)
    2 -> forced population reduction (like China's One child policy)
    3 -> natural population reduction (war, oppression, plagues…)
    Everybody wants a good spot & lots of space/recourses,
    the reality is there are far more people than good spots.
    the question is how do we deal with that problem.
    Criticizing ideas is easy, finding better ones not so much.

  21. people should start to give value to farms again, we shouldn't worship big metropoles, it's a mistake and a cultural mislead.

  22. I went to a pillow fight, I was released from prison just now. Apparently suffocation was "not the intended method of pillow fighting." I scored 18 kills though, so I won at least. :/

  23. That was terrifying, the more computers do for us as humans, the less we are put in situations where we have to think. Through this process of dumbing I believe we as humans will lose our independence

  24. Although I strongly support decentralization, this is a great idea to start working with a cell structure, to make a big blob many minor districts within an area, it seems to take away several of the negative aspects related to living in crowded cities.

    It seems some misunderstand what it told here, they work on a solution to handle overcrowded cities where more people try to get in an already full area, by using the areas better we can remove the feeling of living as fish in a barrel.

  25. i dont like this crappy lookin future. do what the chinese have been doin, have 1 or 2 kids and no more, shut up. over cramping sucks, except 4 the ppl who profit from it, which r few and r cunts

  26. A vehicle useable on bike lanes, accesible to buisinessmen, women in skirts and the elderly, already exists; it's called, 'the bicycle'.

  27. Consider that there will be other cars/bikes/apartments using the same technology. If everybody had the same car how would you find yours if you left it in front of the supermarket?

  28. Much more optimal than his suggestion in my opinion. Disabled people might not be able to ride bicycles, so I would suggest they buy one of his contraptions. All non-disabled people (a minority, I'm sure) could ride the bike.

  29. they could simply add a system of number plates or even just a thumb scanner and you register the vehicle as yours for a select amount of time..

  30. I disagree. With transportation, there's no need for personalization; driving from place to place will be thought of in the same way taking the subway, bus, or taxi will. And sure all of the homes are the same shape on the surface, but with a snap of your fingers you can arrange it into any way you can think of, perhaps in ways no one has thought of yet.

  31. he states that most of the tech is available today. its only a matter of the city developers and planners to utilize them. some ARE applied these days just not in the multitude he is suggesting.

  32. Wow, who is this guy. Who pays him and his team to figure all this out. And a lot of people believe there is no central control or direction in our society? The world just randomly bumps along into the future?

  33. Hmm, not so much for the elderly though. Yes, perhaps those who are healthy, but what about those who have mobility issues such as arthritis or back problems but still seek some independence and freedom? Also – women in skirts. Yes, perhaps long skirts but have you ever tried cycling in a pencil skirt or mini skirt or short dress? Or how about high heels? Or even pregnant women…? All these people require urban mobility and all their problems need to be addressed through innovative design.

  34. All the people you describe use bikes on a daily basis in bicycle friendly cities around the world. I happen to live in Amsterdam, and there's ladies in pencil skirts riding bikes (although yes, pencil skirts are less popular because of the biking; but changing a cities infrastructure to allow women to wear pencil skirts is not good policy). My boss is pregnant and she bikes to work. All my ladyfriends bike with high-heels. Elderly who are not fit have an electric wheelchair for bike lanes.

  35. In short; don't think so much of bicycling; you can be old, pregnant and/or sexy even while cycling. It's a great lifestyle if there's well connected and safe infrastructure.

  36. Stop your "everything small, independent, self-reliance, self-transport and everhthing on the first ground floor" bullshit. Fuck the bycicles. Build vertical (i.e. multifloor) buildings. THis is how you fit a lot of people into small volume. This is how you shrink distances 10-100 times and eliminate the need to transport a lot (and all other wastes also reduced 10-100 times in socialist, multifloor cities). You cannot have everything closely when you distribute all people in the first floor. You are idiots if you think so. If you do so you waste everything, starting from the lands. He manipulates us. If he was serious he would struggle for dense populations, which enable the public transport, the tramm in place of bicycle. You cannot have a tram in the 1-floor village. Again we hear about personalized bullshit. You must share to have efficient economy and fit the ecological frootprint. He talks about personal transport: bycicles and shrinked cars inplace of public trasport. He is agent of evil. We are sold ecodisaster under ecological facade.

  37. The Paris- Pittsburgh comparison is totally bogus because he used two totally different heights, and he didn't have the city center in the middle for P-burgh!!!

    Additionally unlike Paris, Pittsburgh has huge elevation varieties!!

  38. Fantastic! I agree but this is not the final solution. There are many things to think……..Eng. Dabiruddin

  39. I do like much of what Kent Larson have to say however I strongly believe that congesting bike lanes with all sorts of autonomous electric vehicles does not solve obesity, congestion or energy issues. If anything ti can only move them to another dimension.

  40. Try using a bicycle anywhere that there's snow while technically you can do it I don't think Manny people would want to

  41. Why are we developing vehicles ? Change the mindset of people within a city surely? I am an architecture student and the last thing i want to see is those horrible looking 'cars' (car enthusiast), Develop Areas not the damn technology that caused this mess

  42. Great talk Kent. Have you heard about SkyTran? See Vancouvers Tramwaypods.ca video on top. Call me STeve 604-771-7177

  43. Well done! Isn't what he was proposing what china is already doing with city sprawl? There are different cities close together … We can't have small towns anymore because of the global population. We need solutions for sure but assuming that medieval Paris is a good model for our current population seems idealistic. It's about the people like you said, so we need to ask them what they want and go from there first not sci-fi books.

  44. You definitely can’t compare Pittsburgh, a city of almost nothing but hills, to Paris. The population is also very different. Our neighborhoods function fairly well separately from the others.

  45. Im not going to walk 20 minutes in 100degree weather to buy groceries….and thenhave to walk back 20 minutes before myfrozen stuff thaws…not to mention before insulin gets too hot to use and u need a place to put a car seat in the car and the groceries you just bought.

  46. instead of having motorized walls, why no modular walls that you drag across the space with your own hands… if they are on rail you don't really need to include mechanics and electronics in it (better for the people and the environment)

  47. I like some of the ideas but not all of them..some of these complex systems won’t work for all..energy efficiency and shared public spaces and vehicles r good initiatives and can be done easily anywhere♻️♻️

  48. YouTube: Agenda 21, And The Global Spiritual Awakening Of Humans 🌎 the farmers land?Gone and water 🚿

  49. It' such a pity that you are considering Wifi as a motivator, when Wifi is now being implicated in cancers, especially harmful for kids. See the documentaries: "Take Back Your Power" (2017) and "Generation Zapped" (2017).

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