Victory in Berlin: architect and city planner José Castillo was awarded by Rupert Stadler (CEO AUDI AG, in the picture left) with the Audi Urban Future Award for his “operating system for urban mobility” for Mexico City, in cooperation with Gabriella Gomez-Mont and Carlos Gershenson. Photo © Audi Urban Future Initiative
Will donate data. Save the city
by Ludwig Engel
Nov 13, 2014

Given the megatrends of “urbanization” and “digitalization”, together with Stylepark AUDI AG for the third time held its contest for innovative solutions for mobility. Under the banner of “the next leap in mobility”, four teams spent nine months researching and working with experts from the Audi Group to develop new solutions for mobility of today and tomorrow.

While the first edition of the Audi Urban Future Award back in 2010 was a competition for ideas for urban visions for the future (the winner: “A.Way” by Jürgen Mayer H.), in 2012 the second edition focused on large-scale agglomerates and metropolises: from the “BosWash” region running from Boston to Washington, through Mumbai, the Pearl River Delta and Istanbul to São Paulo, studying their future development potential (the winner: “Shareway” by Höweler+Yoon). This year, the task the teams were set was more down-to-earth and specific. The key issue was how “efficient mobility, sustainable urbanity and the quality of life should be structured,” as Audi CEO Rupert Stadler put it.

Instead of focusing on the big picture, the teams concentrated on the Santa Fe Business District in Mexico City, the Boston suburb Somerville, subsequent usage of the Berlin Tegel airport complex, and the in-district of Gangnam in Seoul, respectively, in order to explore what improvements the use of digital technologies would bring to urban mobility, not just in terms of the opportunities, but of actual results.

Team Mexico City

The winners from Mexico City aspired to turn “the auto from being the cause of the problems into the solution,” as Harvard lecturer and urban researcher José Castillo put it. In Mexico City each day nine million automobiles have a run-in with a completely inadequate infrastructure. The consequence are permanent gridlocks and long tailbacks. To master this chaos, the team devised a data platform on which a Smartphone App uses voluntarily gathered data from drivers to represent the traffic status in the city in real time. The idea is firstly to change the traffic situation in the megacity such that the city itself can expand its transportation infrastructure in line with actual needs. Secondly, drivers are enabled by the additional information to plan their own routes better: By changing the latter and selecting the right time to move, by carpooling and in general by gaining a better understanding of the situation they have themselves caused.

In order to achieve all this, José Castillo, IT expert Carlos Gershenson and the Head of the Mexico City Innovation Lab, Gabriella Gomez-Mont, are hoping that voluntary data contributions will help form a sense of community. Fully in line with Otto Neurath’s thinking: The Austrian set out with his legendary info-graphics to show that people do not deliberately act wrongly but do so owing to a lack of information. In the selfsame spirit of self-determined action, Team Mexico City developed an analysis tool that records not any old data, but above all relevant data from drivers on the road, their routes and their reasons for being on the road, thus enabling intelligent traffic control that by and large gets by without any massive investments in new transportation infrastructure. In short, they focus on optimizing existing traffic flow rather than revolutionizing mobility.

Team Boston

Team Boston, consisting of urban planners Philip Parsons and Janne Corneil, supported by mobility expert Federico Parolotto, developed a concept called “Multi Modal Mobility Market” (4M) to which end they launched an elaborate control software. By means of this “urban dashboard” they then analyzed Somerville, a Boston suburb fast undergoing change, factoring in a large volume of data. The software promises to simulate urban transformation such that plans for new builds can be laid or buildings that can be given a different use identified.

The Somerville proposal shows that high-tech planning can be surprisingly human: Somerville looks more or less as if it were based on Jane Jacobs’ theory of a livable city as regards its parking spaces and bland architecture. Jacobs’ mantra that functions, scale and social strata must be mixed is as good as omnipresent: The mesh of small alleys designed to emulate London mews spawns creative villages, well screened from the potentially optimally linked multimodal transport services that connect the suburb to the expansive urban agglomeration.

Team Berlin

Team Berlin took a different approach: Architect Max Schwitalla, elevator expert Paul Friedli and neuroscientist Arndt Pechstein drew on insights from elevator studies and biological mimicry to develop a new urban vehicle, the “Flywheel” as they called it. The circular vehicle can be combined in large groups, and makes symbiotic use of the existing transportation infrastructure of streets and tracks, thus in best sci-fi manner leaving the customary notion of individual automobility behind it. Team Berlin’s future vision results in an urban Arcadia free of parked cars or gridlocks, with plenty of public space and new acquaintances made on trips round town on the “Flywheel”.

Team Seoul

Korean Sung Gul Hwang, an ethnographer and experience strategist, urban planner Taig Youn Cho and product designer Yeongkyu Yoo presented their analysis of Seoul’s hipster Gangnam district. On the back of detailed stratification of inhabitants and users they created a vision in which the automobile morphs into a mobile capsule as if it had popped out of Archigram’s 1960s idea of a “Plug-in City”. The self-steering capsules not only provide a space to which you can withdraw for a variety of activities. They are also urban communicators and urban playgrounds, i.e., so closely interwoven with the urban fabric that the auto becomes part of the city. Korea’s highly digital society assumes an almost post-digital touch in Team Seoul’s plot. While everything is consistently embedded in communications networks, despite (or precisely because of) the technology, people return to human proportions.

Improving urban life on the ground

Do all the proposals devised as part of the Audi Urban Future Award 2014 reveal what sort of urban mobility we can expect in the future? Definitely not directly, they don’t. What becomes clear is how many different ways there are for sifting through the data fog that envelopes our cities and using the information concealed in it productively to improve urban living conditions in reality. At the same time, the diverse opportunities become clear that analyzing the digital skin offers urban research, urban usages, and mobility – and they invariably envelope and determine not only our cities but our everyday lives in them.

What insights will Audi absorb and put into practice? What proposals will be taken further, fleshed out, and implemented? What successes and what obstacles lie along the path from vision to realization? It’ll be exciting to see.

MORE on Stylepark:

The city is blind, deaf, and dumb - The Mexico City Team: If we regard Mexico City as an organism, then the metropolis will need eyes, ears and a brain in the future.
(18 August 2014)

System optimization, Team Mexico: Each day, commuters spend more than two hours in traffic jams. José Castillo, Carlos Gershenson and Gabriella Gomez-Mont are hunting for solutions to this problem.
(21 April 2014)

My colleague, the Robocar: Driving instructors are not worried that piloted driving might one day cost them their job?
(09 November 2014)

From “Slummerville” to “boom town”: Philip Parsons, head of Team Boston, explains the opportunities of a close collaboration between urban designers and traffic planners.
(19 October 2014)

Smart elevators as a model for autonomous transport: Elevators, that know the destination of passengers, are highly efficient. Could this principle work for cars, too? Martin Lewicki talked to Paul Friedli.
(05 October 2014)

Using the social status to help society: Team Seoul uses the car to promote social engagement as a status symbol in Korea.
(26 October 2014)

The winning team in the Audi Urban Future Award 2014 puts its faith in encouraging self-help by making commuters into data donors. Photo © Audi Urban Future Initiative
Commuters can share data on their own movements with other users through a website and an app. Photo © Audi Urban Future Initiative
As soon as enough real-time data for precise forecasts are available, people can adapt their behavior to the forecasts and thus influence the traffic themselves. Photo © Audi Urban Future Initiative
Team Boston: Federico Parolotto, Janne Corneil and Philip Parsons. Photo © Audi Urban Future Initiative
For Boston’s suburb Somerville, Team Boston created the technology “multi-modal mobility marketplace” (4M). Photo © Audi Urban Future Initiative
Team Berlin: elevator expert Paul Friedli, architect Max Schwitalla and neuroscientist Arndt Pechstein. Photo © Audi Urban Future Initiative
Team Berlin’s “Fly Wheels” can be used individually but also as a collective in existing subway and train Tunnels – for example to get to the airport Berlin-Tegel. Photo © Audi Urban Future Initiative
Team Seoul: product designer Yeongkyu Yoo, ethnographer Sung Gul Hwang and city planner Taig Youn Cho. Photo © Audi Urban Future Initiative
Thanks to the new capsule-vehicle “Moveable” from team Boston and its digital device systems, The next traffic hold-up will turn into a fun park. Photo © Audi Urban Future Initiative
Victory in Berlin: architect and city planner José Castillo was awarded by Rupert Stadler (CEO AUDI AG, in the picture left) with the Audi Urban Future Award for his “operating system for urban mobility” for Mexico City, in cooperation with Gabriella Gomez-Mont and Carlos Gershenson. Photo © Audi Urban Future Initiative1
Victory in Berlin: architect and city planner José Castillo was awarded by Rupert Stadler (CEO AUDI AG, in the picture left) with the Audi Urban Future Award for his “operating system for urban mobility” for Mexico City, in cooperation with Gabriella Gomez-Mont and Carlos Gershenson. Photo © Audi Urban Future Initiative2