Autonomous self-driving cars on a metro city road.

Land Matters Podcast

Episode 7: Designing the Future City
By Anthony Flint, November 20, 2019


Cities around the world are hard at work on traffic congestion. Boston is designing streets for a mix of bikes, pedestrians, buses, scooters, and cars, and creating special drop-off zones for Uber and Lyft in high-volume areas, such as around Fenway Park. But the task is about to get more complex, with the advent of driverless vehicles, delivery robots, and AI-enabled trackless trams—all of which will require a more wholesale physical transformation of the cityscape.

With shared autonomous mobility, travel lanes can be narrower, because vehicles can essentially tailgate each other. There will also almost certainly be less need for parking in downtowns, as self-driving cars will pick up and drop off and head to the next ride. Intersections will be reconfigured as traffic signals are guided by artificial intelligence.

It’s a big task with a lot of complexity—and no little uncertainty about what, exactly, will be needed in the years ahead. That’s where the emerging practice of scenario planning comes in, says Heather Hannon, who manages the scenario planning initiative at the Lincoln Institute. In this cutting-edge approach to urban planning, communities or regions construct and analyze multiple versions of the future, leaving ample room to change course as unexpected wrinkles arise.

In the past, cities have approached challenges in a more linear fashion. The solution to more cars and trucks, for example, might be a new freeway. Scenario planning allows for much more flexibility, as conditions warrant—without relying on interventions that are hard to alter. The approach also benefits from robust public participation in the planning process, Hannon says. Community input is critical to judge the merits of any major infrastructure scheme.

Scenario planning is being used not only in the design of future streetscapes, but in many other areas as well—importantly, in planning for climate change, where unknowns and uncertainty abound.

The Consortium for Scenario Planning offers a community of practice for planners, community leaders, and stakeholders of all kinds, including access to technical assistance, educational resources, and a network of fellow innovators. It recently held its annual conference in Hartford, Connecticut, and will hold a workshop in Vancouver, British Columbia.

You can listen to the show and subscribe to Land Matters on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Learn More

We’re Redesigning Our Streetscape – but What If We’re Getting It All Wrong? (The Boston Globe)

Driverless Ed (Land Lines)

Scenario Planning: Embracing Uncertainty to Make Better Decisions (Policy Brief)

Thinking About the Unthinkable (TED Talk)



Photograph Credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus – JIRAROJ PRADITCHAROENKUL