Urbanism Next: Navigating the future of our Cities
Ahead of Urbanism Next Europe, the European Chapter of the successful Urbanism Next Conference in the US city of Portland, Alessia Giorgiutti talked to Program Director Becky Steckler to better understand how and why Urbanism Next came to be, its relation to the European experience and its vision for the future
“We should be building a transportation system for people”, says Becky Steckler , © Jacek Dylag via Unsplash
The Urbanism Next Center is a University of Oregon research initiative focused on understanding how new technologies, such as autonomous vehicles, e-commerce, and the sharing economy affect land use, street design, land value, pressures on sprawl and, in turn, examining how these issues influence equity, economy, and governance in communities.
Through research, convening, and outreach, Urbanism Next's multi-disciplinary team has been developing policy frameworks and strategies for decision-makers, researchers, and communities to harness emerging technologies in ways that achieve community goals.
It does not come as a surprise then, that after having organised a successful live conference in the US two years in a row, the Center wanted to get in touch with European realities to realise a European Chapter of the event – Urbanism Next Europe. After a year of re-elaborating its Programme to a virtual format, the time has come for the Center, POLIS Network, TNO and the New Urban Mobility Alliance to reap the fruits of their labour: ahead of Urbanism Next Europe, Thinking Cities spoke with Becky Steckler, Program Director for the Urbanism Next Center at the University of Oregon in the United States, to better understand the concept of “Urbanism Next” and how it encompasses both the north American and European experience.
Becky Steckler, Program Director for the Urbanism Next Center at the University of Oregon in the United States
Thinking Cities (TC): What is the mission of “Urbanism Next” and the “Urbanism Next Conference”?
Becky Steckler (BS): Our digital devices, our smartphones, and computers, are fundamentally changing how people and goods move. I can rent a bike or a scooter, track my bus and know exactly when it is going to arrive – I can order an Uber or a Lyft ride, too. If I do not want to go out, I can go shopping online, order groceries or dinner from a restaurant, and never leave my house. These were things I barely did five years ago that now are common – or at least, have become so, especially during the pandemic lockdowns. The Urbanism Next Center at the University of Oregon is working with researchers and experts from around the world to understand what these changes mean for city form and development. What does it mean for land use, transportation, urban and building design, and real estate markets? And what are the implications of these changes for equity and equitable outcomes, health and safety, the economy, and the environment? That is what we and the people we work with are trying to find out.
TC: What is really special about the original Urbanism Next Conference that you wish the European Chapter could replicate?
BS: One of the best things about the US Conference is the diversity of people, organizations, and topics we explore at our events. It is not common to have architects, developers, land use planners, and transportation engineers all at the same conference. But it is great to have architects and transportation experts talking to each other so that they can understand how our use of city streets and sidewalks are changing and how buildings and cities need to adapt.
It is not common to have architects, developers, land use planners, and transportation engineers all at the same conference
TC: How can the European perspective influence the dialogue on urban transport and development in the United States?
BS: I really hope to hear so much more about how we can shape deployment to reduce carbon emissions. I believe that European communities’ much higher use of transit as well as walking and biking provides some excellent lessons for car-dependent cities in the US.
TC: What is the main lesson you have learned from looking at our cities during the pandemic and wished you had known a year ago?
BS: The pandemic really highlighted the challenges of essential workers moving around our cities - how existing transportation systems often created barriers to access and mobility, and we can all do a lot more to ensure everyone can get where they need to go. I am really concerned about the ability of transit to bounce back when communities open back up, especially in the US.
In the US, we do not always prioritize the movement of people and we could be doing a much better job
A view of Porland, Oregon © Sean O. via Unsplash
TC: Which urbanistic concepts should we leave in the past and which ones should we take with us, in the future?
BS: That we should be building roads for cars, instead of building a transportation system for people. In the US, we do not always prioritize the movement of people and we could be doing a much better job. We should be prioritizing transportation options that are more efficient, healthier, and reduce carbon emissions. That means getting the fundamentals right and prioritizing walking, biking, and public transit. I never thought I would see communities convert so many parking spaces to dining, retail, and recreation. There have been multiple examples of how our communities could be different, and I am hoping that some of these changes stick and we continue them into the future.
What is “Urbanism Next”
Watch the following video by the Sustainable Cities Institute to get an overview of the research Urbanism Next is doing to help cities prepare for advances in technology such as the advent of autonomous vehicles (AV’s), the rise of e-commerce, and the proliferation of the sharing economy
Read next article