Taking the City of Tomorrow from Fantasy to Reality — Together

By John Kwant, Vice President, Ford City Solutions

Reality is starting to impose its will on cities of the world.

Populations are steadily climbing, with the United Nations reporting the global urban population is expected to grow by 2.5 billion people by 2050, with most concentrated in already jam-packed cities. Moving from one place to another is getting more difficult. Aging transportation systems are failing. Solutions are needed to maintain people’s freedom to move — and these solutions cannot hinge on ideas that are still decades away, like flying cars and underground tunnels.

Ensuring cities of the future can deliver everything their residents need is a task too great for any one person or company to undertake. That is why we’re dedicated to working with cities and facilitating discussions between anyone and everyone who can help build the City of Tomorrow, from politicians to urban planners, utility companies, academics and citizens.

Our next step comes August 17, when we convene a conference in San Francisco — the City of Tomorrow Symposium — featuring many of these experts and enthusiasts discussing key issues facing cities — from modernizing our power grids to thinking about how goods can be more efficiently delivered — and solutions to bring the City of Tomorrow to life. We will have discussions that look beyond the recent, sexy headlines about specific technologies that have the potential to significantly improve our lives, but are only a part of the puzzle.

To truly understand what a city needs to do to move people more efficiently, we need to look at several aspects. Some of them include:

  • Infrastructure: City planners need to evaluate the condition of roads and bridges and make a determination whether the city’s power grid can accommodate an influx of electric vehicles, which can help reduce pollution but will demand better energy distribution methods. And that’s on top of the influx of people moving into cities, who will also consume even more energy. Increasingly, everyone — from federal and local governments, to private companies and non-governmental organizations — agree that preparing for the future requires more infrastructure investment.
  • Street Usage: We tend to think of public spaces as parks or green spaces, yet the largest public spaces in any city are actually the streets, many of which were built decades ago with one type of commuter in mind — the owner of a personal vehicle. How we use our streets is a reflection of our values and perspectives. So reevaluating how they’re designed will go a long way to ensure they serve a variety of people and uses effectively — whether they are personal or commercial vehicles, public transit users, cyclists or pedestrians.
  • Movement: How do people, goods and services move through a city? There are a number of new technologies that will affect how people move, including the deployment of autonomous vehicles. To make travel safer and more efficient, autonomous vehicles will need to communicate with all facets of an interconnected city ecosystem, but early iterations of autonomous vehicles are operating independently. Meanwhile, the sheer number of options commuters have to move is increasing — think subways, buses, bike-share services and more. Right now, these solutions generally function independently, but building the City of Tomorrow requires considering how they all interface with each other. To ensure seamless trips for travelers, whether they use one form of transit or multiple, cities will need to fuse these solutions into one cohesive network.
  • Data-Powered Services: Lastly, and most importantly, is the question of how we combine what we know about a city’s geography with how people, goods and services move throughout it. For example, how might we use data to help transit operators determine the best routes to run more efficiently and to help commuters get where they need to go in a more timely manner?

People and population growth aren’t the only factors. Urban freight, or the moving of goods and services, is expected to spike as much as 40 percent by mid-century. Cities will need to deploy new delivery models to support reliable service, while also reducing congestion and pollution. By optimizing solutions based on their own geography, cities can deliver new services that meet the needs of their citizens and businesses.

Because no one organization has the answer for every mobility issue in our cities of tomorrow, arriving at our desired state requires governments, cities, community members and the private sector to collaborate on a larger scale than ever before.

Reevaluating our infrastructure, rethinking how we move and creating new mobility solutions: These are huge challenges. We need our cities to become more efficient, safer and healthier to comfortably accommodate growing populations. But this is also a chance to create something more. Cities are beacons of opportunity. They offer us a wealth of experiences on a number of different levels, from culture and entertainment to personal growth and career advancement. By coming together to build the cities of tomorrow, we also can ensure that generations to come will have the dynamic, vibrant experiences that encourage continued innovation and progress.

That’s how we need to think about mobility — as a space of possibility. If we do, we can stop imagining the City of Tomorrow and come together to build it.

For more information on the City of Tomorrow Symposium, visit http://fordcityoftomorrow.com/.