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Imagining urban transportation in 2030

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  December 3, 2013 01:56 PM

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When we think of the cities of the future, we inevitably think about transportation: glistening monorails, flying cars, chutes and pods that whisk us right where we want to go.

Tomorrow, a new exhibition opens at BSA Space that considers what urban transportation might look like in the future. “Rights of Way: Mobility and the City,” is full of eye-popping images. The exhibition is curated by James Graham and Meredith Miller of the architecture firm Milligram-office, and it includes plans that anticipate what transportation could look like in three “megaregions” in the year 2030: the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong Province, China, Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the Boston-Washington, DC corridor.

These plans feature some of the futuristic vehicles and dramatic infrastructure overhauls you’d expect in such forward-looking plans. But, Miller explains, real progress in transportation might be subtler than that.

“We can’t just be thinking of infrastructure,” she says. “There has to be more fluidity and connection between larger scale systems and smaller networks of mobility that fill in certain gaps.” She cites networks of microbuses in present-day Sao Paulo as one example.

One trouble with pegging transportation improvements to massive construction projects is that it makes individuals feel powerless. After all, there’s little you or I can do to install high-speed rail or build skywalks through the city.

Graham explains, though, that in addition to the plans for 2030, “Rights of Way” will also feature examples of how people are changing transportation systems on their own, today.

“It happens in a whole lot of different ways,” he says. “We can adapt these spaces for different ends than they were necessarily designed for. There’s the ‘parking day’ ethos where people take over parking lots, and LED devices that allow you to mark out your own bike lane.”

It’s appealing to image that you could solve your own commuting problems, and also interesting to think about why transportation figures so large in the way we imagine urban progress. Surely, if cities are to improve in any meaningful way, it has to begin with the unpleasantness of a crowded bus in stop-and-go traffic.

Rights of Way: Mobility and the City” runs at BSA Space, 290 Congress Street, from December 5 to May 26, 2014.

An adaptable ground plane that changes its function depending on the needs of various users. Courtesy of Höweler+Yoon Architecture.
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LightLane, a product that claims space on the street for safe biking. Courtesy of LightLane.
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A new cable car bridges physical and socioeconomic gaps by connecting a removed neighborhood with other mobility networks. Image courtesy of Urban-Think Tank.
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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

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Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.

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