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The Cities Of Tomorrow: Kent Larson On Adapting To An Expanding Population
Cities | April 11, 2013

The Cities Of Tomorrow: Kent Larson On Adapting To An Expanding Population

"Even if you live in the suburbs, what happens in cities will have an impact on you," says cities speaker Kent Larson. One of the newest exclusive speakers on the Lavin roster, Larson is the Director of MIT Media Lab's Changing Places Group. He researches new and exciting ways for people to live, work, and play in cities. His work focuses on the exploration of the practical applications of responsive urban housing, ubiquitous technologies, and investigating the creation of new urban vehicles. In a new interivew with Smart Planet, he explains why we need to start designing out cities differently. Our cities are growing exponentially, and with that comes many challenges such as increased traffic and pollution, disease, crime, and many other challenges. Larson, however is trying to find "combinations of public policy and good design and good technology that allow you to have the good things [that come with increased density] without the bad things."

One of the biggest challenges associated with densely populated city centers is efficient transportation. Larson has argued in favor of designing the streets to be more people-friendly, and has suggested using other means of commuting than the private automobile. The shared-use vehicle system is one such alternative. "If we can create pathways or streets designed for multiple modes, then alternatives to the private car can be used by more people," he argues in the article. "We need to have a whole ecosystem of shared vehicles ranging from conventional bicycles to three-wheel electric bike lane vehicles that expands the demographics of people who can use them to efficient two-passenger cars like our CityCar." If we design our streets and transportation systems to focus on other transportation modes than the car, maneuvering through downtown can be much more efficient. And, he says, more fun.

Transportation isn't the only infrastructure concern Larson researches. As he told Lavin in a phone interview, higher populations create rising housing prices—making it exceedingly difficult for the young, creative class to afford to live downtown. Or, if they can, they are often residing in teeny tiny apartments with little functionality. He has been researching how to turn small apartments (250- to 300-square-feet) into functional, affordable, and comfortable dwellings. "We're doing a 300-square-foot apartment with a king size bed, dining table for eight, fully-equipped kitchen, handicap accessible bathroom and party space that would accommodate about 10 people." he says. While you can't do all of these things at once, Larson is devising furniture and amenities that shift up and down and operate on a one-by-one basis. In his forward-thinking keynotes (check out his TED Talk, embedded above), Larson envisions a new type of city—one where we can recapture an intimate relationship with the places we live without feeling crowded or overwhelmed by all the people around us.
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