Cities of the future

February 21, 2014

Kent Larson, director of the MIT Media Lab’s Changing Places group, will be in Australia to discuss how his team is finding better ways for people to live in the ever-expanding cities around the world.

Kent Larson, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab’s Changing Places group, will be in Australia in March to share how his team is breaking the mould to find better ways for people to live, work, learn and play in the ever-expanding cities around the world.

From stackable, electric cars to tiny, TARDIS-like apartments, Larson’s innovations seem futuristic, but may be just around the corner.

With most of the world’s population growth over the next few decades occurring in our cities, how we manage this growth presents both our greatest challenges and our greatest opportunities, Larson says.

“Almost all of the wealth will be created in cities,” he says. “That’s where companies will be formed. That’s where people will find opportunities, so there’s powerful pressure for them to move to cities. Cities are where a huge percentage of energy and water will be consumed.”

Eighty percent of Australians live in cities, and this figure is expected to rise to 85 percent by mid-century. Australian cities are also our nation’s powerhouses of productivity, generating four-fifths of employment and gross domestic product.

An architect for more than 15 years, Larson is working with his team on technologies that can help future cities function like the small village of the past. Take the CityCar, for instance, which features a folding chassis to occupy a small footprint when parked, or the GreenWheel – an electric motor that can be adapted to any bicycle and enable older people, or those with physical disabilities, to vary the amount of energy they expend while cycling.

Larson’s team is also looking at tiny apartments that can accommodate both a king-sized bed and a dinner party. The apartments include a fully-equipped kitchen, an accessible bathroom with movable fixtures, large displays integrated into sliding doors, pop-up side tables and party space perfect for 10 people. This discussion builds on previous Green Cities conversations about collaborative consumption and how we help people engage with issues around climate change.

As Larson says, “Cities are places for people. There is no reason why we can’t dramatically improve the livability and creativity of our cities while also dramatically reducing our emissions and energy usage.”

Kent Larson will be keynote speaker at Green Cities 2014 in Melbourne from 18 to 19 March.

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