Urban Transformation

What global cities can learn from Melbourne

Sailboats and yachts are seen in front of the Melbourne skyline June 23, 2010. It should be Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's recipe for re-election: economic growth for 16 years, unemployment about half that of Europe and the United States, a strong housing market and manageable mortgage rates. To match Analysis AUSTRALIA-ELECTION/ REUTERS/Mick Tsikas (AUSTRALIA - Tags: SPORT YACHTING CITYSCAPE POLITICS ELECTIONS) - GM1E66N1CV901

At the moment, cities typically designate a single purpose for a piece of land. Image: REUTERS/Mick Tsikas

Gregory Scruggs
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Cities will have to embrace "agility" to adapt land use to the flexible needs that new technological innovations will require, the World Economic Forum said in a report released on Wednesday.

Image: World Economic Forum Agile Cities: Preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Report 2018

At the moment cities typically designate a single purpose for a piece of land - such as a public road or a lot for building a house. An agile approach would allow that land to be used in different ways as the need arose, the report said.

The Australian city of Melbourne has seized on this opportunity, it said, turning more than 90 hectares of pavement into parks and pedestrian plazas in the last 30 years.

"It is crucial for cities to be agile to promptly respond to the new scenarios," said architect Carlos Ratti, co-chair of the World Economic Forum Council on Cities and Urbanization, which produced the report.

"Soon, we might imagine the case of a street for autonomous vehicles that creates an extra car lane during rush hour, but then turns it into a pedestrian-only plaza in the evening," Ratti told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by e-mail.

Roads make up 80 percent of the average city's public space, he said, making them ripe for multi-use.

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The report cited Singapore as another city on the leading edge of "agile" planning.

Its new Punggol North district, a burgeoning commercial hub for Singapore's tech industry, has a district-level zoning plan to guide overall development, but the developer has the freedom to alter the use of individual parcels of land.

Ratti said the new approach was necessary because technology would continue to bring disruptions to cities.

He cited the software behind ride hailing app Uber, which has changed how people move around cities and forced authorities to respond by introducing new regulations.

The report said cities would have to be agile in many areas, including IT and governance.

But Ratti said a flexible approach to land use was key, as technological advances allowed even greater levels of automation, transforming the global economy in profound ways.

"Land use is possibly the underlying element that allows most of the other phenomena to unfold," he said.

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