Oct 5, 201309:00 AMPoint of View

Cities are the Innovative Labs for the Future

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Zappos headquarters, previously Las Vegas City Hall. Architect Daniel, Mann, Johnson, and Mendenhall (original) with KGA (addition)

Courtesy Frank Gruber

Sustainability is a primary focus area of cities with district- scale solutions that connect buildings and people to shared services and spaces, cutting distances, and minimizing wasteful duplication. In all of this, lively spaces, ideas, and energy are elevated when design serves as the key connector integrating urban assets and amenities into great places.

From district-scale solutions that build the relationship infrastructure to co-location options that help provide the infrastructure for people to create stronger relationships, designers are transforming places to foster connections in imaginative new ways.

City streets are re-imagined and temporary architecture is helping to revitalize dormant urban places; parklets and alleyways are creating new public gathering spaces. Across the country, architects are tearing down walls and reconfiguring our houses, offices, and infrastructure to create exciting new spaces—from robotic libraries to innovation hubs—that meet future needs and realities.

TechShop SF

Courtesy TechShop via Flickr

U.S. cities are also collaborating across borders and learning from cities worldwide. Leading cities everywhere are innovating on many fronts and Cities as a Lab highlights these global innovations, thus providing a framework for further examination by urban settlements across our 50 states.

Vancouver, Canada, is one such place. As EcoDistricts and 2030 Districts gain steam as transformative ways to focus on the built environment beyond the individual building, district-scale projects like the Vancouver Olympic Village and its Southeast False Creek Neighborhood Energy Utility (district energy system) are leading the way. This district is achieving a 55 percent greenhouse gas reduction over conventional HVAC systems by using excess sewage heat. The city is currently planning for a long-term move toward zero-carbon, zero-waste One Planet Living. In order to meet this ambitious endpoint they are putting in place strong planning tools now with the Greenest City 2020 Action Plan, which has already resulted in great strides toward the city’s goals. One of the most far-reaching parts of this plan is to require carbon-neutral operations for buildings built after 2020. If any city can meet this goal it is Vancouver, which already has the smallest carbon footprint per capita in North America.

Innovative cities globally scale at different levels with policy and design choices. But, everywhere, creativity is key to providing the intellectual resources for thriving communities. Architects with their unique ability to use design thinking are poised to continue collaborating with city leaders to seize the future.

District scale solutions are popping up throughout the country, taking hold in unlikely places like Las Vegas with the Downtown Project, in a downtown few outsiders knew existed. This effort is reimagining the Fremont East area with projects like Zappos, the shoe retailer, relocating its headquarters into the former Las Vegas City Hall. The company’s CEO Tony Hsieh started Downtown Project as an incubator and investment entity separate from Zappos; he’s investing $350 million of his own money in hopes to transform 1.5 square miles of the downtown, with increased density, collaborative environments, and cultural amenities.

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