Members of the environments design team at IDEO are constantly thinking about the ways we shape cities, and the ways cities shape us. Innovating around established and out-of-date spaces, new forms of retail, the future of living, and mobility is part of our daily lives—and something we don’t turn off when we head home for the day, or even when we go on vacation. In our practice, we believe that cities are catalysts for innovation—every citizen and developer shares responsibility for the city in which they live, and equally shares the potential to bring positive change to that place. Here are six things we can’t stop thinking about redesigning, from the humble sidewalk, to the decentralized workplace, to the way we build our neighborhoods.
My smartphone upstaged my city. I no longer need to walk to the bank, stand in lines, wander through stores—I can do it all faster online. The majority of physical spaces we used to rely on have lost their initial purpose, become underutilized, abandoned and some—like the mall and big box stores—out of business. What should be located in these spaces? How should banks represent themselves in a physical world? What is the future of the service-based businesses?
I’d like to discover a way to reconnect physical and digital innovations, and make these obsolete spaces useful again with shared ownership models and disruptive technologies. I’d love to see more sustainable and flexible business models around “micro-leases,” square footage-based ownership, and so on. The digital era has opened a fantastic opportunity to reshape our relationship with physical spaces, collaborate more, and integrate the architectural world into the discourse around innovation.
— Kateryna Romanova
The more cities I visit, the more I realize how similar most of them are—and not in a good way. As an architect, I always find the lack of variety disappointing. The problem begins with the way we construct buildings. Automation has been taking over the construction process, and although there are positive features of this new approach, it leaves out the nuance of human input, which is key to diversity and uniqueness in the built environment. As construction technology marches ahead, I would love to find a way to amplify the voices of the people who will eventually use those buildings, documenting their opinions and needs during the design process. If we can connect the two, then the resulting buildings will be as varied as the people they house.
— Matt Avallone
Sidewalks are our doorstep to the city. They are a meeting ground for the public—they provide space for eating, exercise, and rest; they house wildlife, foliage, and even micro-businesses. As our cities evolve to be less car-centric and more people-oriented, I would like to envision a continually active role for this diverse strip of land we call the “sidewalk.” In the face of climate change, sidewalks could become permeable strips of land that enable more resilient flood response. They could become extensions of our cultural institutions and art museums, drawing them out of their building envelopes. Sidewalks turned into green belts could convert concrete jungles into urban oases and productive farms. Sidewalks are two-dimensional strips of democracy, and because of their scale, they can serve as a key variable in how we prototype our urban life.
— Nicholas Pajerski
Despite the emergence of fast-moving technology that constantly challenges and changes the way we live in our environment, we still mostly design and build in the same old ways. We can dream up all the amazing spaces and experiences in the world, but if we don’t evolve how they truly come to life, we are bound to fail, and our designs will always be stuck in the “future.” If we could find a better way to close the gap between the conceptual ideas of designers and the reality of the user, we’d have a better chance of transforming the lived experience of urban environments.
— Haemi Chang
Play! In the last year, I have started chasing and capturing playful moments in the streets— from graffiti, to a group of kids playing in the water from a broken pipe, to lovers dancing on a street corner. This journey of capturing playfulness in the streets made me more aware and even obsessed with the idea of how we can design the right conditions for playfulness in the city. Why playfulness? Because playing means engaging, engagement brings care. If we are more caring and careful about the streets of the cities we live in, we might build stronger connections for healthier communities. Being playful on the streets requires courage, builds trust, allows for discovery, create communities. Playfulness is fundamental to our social nature, so it’s a useful framework for thinking through how we can build stronger cities and communities.
— Nazlican Goksu
Cities are becoming denser than ever, yet while density forms the perfect conditions for alternative transport, cities are still designed primarily with automobiles as the top consideration. If we were to design first for walkability and safer cycling experiences, we could inspire and incentivize individuals to choose car-free options for getting around.
Designing walkable cities is not limited to creating more sidewalks—a paradigm that still puts drivers first. Walkability requires a serious reconsideration of an entire transportation and urban infrastructure, putting people first and cars second. We need to consider infrastructural changes at multiple scales and from multiple perspectives: creating denser, more mixed-use walkable neighborhoods; optimizing for green public spaces for gathering over sprawling parking lots; better integrating bike storage and building protected bicycle lanes; dispersing art and street lighting throughout major walkways to encourage people to walk more; and lowering speed limits in pedestrian-dense areas to ensure safer, more enjoyable walking and cycling experiences.
— Courtney Song