What do we expect from the city? We expect the city to be a space where any obstacle to movement, general mobility, exchange, is reduced to its minimum, or we expect it to be a symbolic space that takes attention to leisure?Massimo Cacciari – La Città
The first villages were founded in the Neolithic, when the human being noticed that by gathering some huts together, their agricultural tasks could be optimized, and by living in community, become organized and gain security. Later, this villages became the first cities, growing in number of inhabitants, providing public urban infrastructure and developing the sense of civitas, citizen soul. Since its very begging, the city does not only have a practical objective, but it also intends to answer to symbolic and social needs. As Massimo Cacciari explains in his essay “La Città” , the city is defined as the combination of two fundamental ideas, the maquina, the instrumental side of the city that ensures the possibility to move around and the development of daily tasks, and the agora, the place of free expression, multicultural and symbolic.
Cities and mobility infrastructure
With the arrival of the industrialized urban economy in the last part of the 18th century, an increasement of the urban population, and a great transformation of cities takes place. Factories occupy central parts of the industrial urban pattern, and the transportation of goods becomes a key element for the economic development. With the invention of the railway in the 19 th century, and later the car in the 20th century, new infrastructures were required. Mobility infrastructure was able to connect with the city centers, parts of the territory that were previously very difficult to reach, but at the same time it was also the cause of divisions along the neighborhoods where this infrastructure was passing by. In the seventies, cities such as Madrid had undertaken that parts of its public space were occupied by overpasses and railway divisions. Priority was given to the performance of the city as a maquina over the idea of agora. In other cases, such as Rome or Madrid some years later, circulation was rearranged in peripheric rings, with the objective of releasing the urban centers from the traffic. These rings are a barrier that divides the main city, where the agora develops, and the periphery, relegated to be the maquina that serves the center.
With the raise of e-commerce, last mile deliveries are increasing in cities. This presents new urban challenges, as it may cause traffic and environmental problems. Many European capitals are already regulating the use of the car in the city centers in order to meet with the agenda to fight climate change. As a result of the latest technological advances (electric vehicles, mobile app, IoT…) and the creation of new models of mobility services (carsharing, motosharing, ridesharing, bikes, electric scooters…) we are facing a radical change in the tendencies of mobility. This change of paradigm in urban centers may make us wonder what model of city we want for our future. If, as it looks like, we will be transporting thousands of packages per day, and if it is also possible that this packages are transported through the air (not to mention that very likely, we will also be traveling on a drone to visit our relative that lives in the periphery), if the city is going to face a greater volume of transfers, be more like a maquina, then it is very important to ensure that this future city will have open spaces where social exchange is possible. Let’s make sure that the agora is not reduced to a small island we call “downtown”, but it can actually be found along the whole territory. For that it is very important that the infrastructure of mobility stops being designed with the only intention of having an efficient traffic system, and begins to be seen as a part of a whole system, where the final objective should be to provide social benefic.
Proposal for a future city
To illustrate how to design infrastructure for a future city that could potentially combine the agora and the maquina, I introduce some actions that take shape in my Master Thesis in architecture and urban design. The project is set over the railway infrastructure of Chamartin Station in Madrid. As a starting point the existing railway infrastructure and new air mobility infrastructure are used to create a new part of the city over the tracks.
The agora of Chamartín
The agora should have a plural and active public space occupied by different social groups, elderly, youth, foreigners, workers…This project explores the possibilities of including the users of the transportation network as another social group integrated in the public space. Traditionally, the users of Chamartin Station waited for their train in a lobby without the possibility to stablish any contact with the local community or the urban background. The transport network for this future city proposal consists on a railway system in the lower level of the project, and an air transport system in the higher part. There is a triple strategy to make users contribute to the activation of public space:
- Avoid isolating transport users in a main lobby and place the waiting spaces directly in the street or in nearby establishments. –
- For this to happen, streets are directly connected with the train platforms through ramps. New technologies will reduce the ease the procedure to access the trains, eliminating the physical access control and ticketing.
- Separate the different modes of transportation (aerial, railway), making it necessary to pass through the street for some meters.
- With this action, the transportation user may experience and acknowledge the local reality where the transportation exchange takes place.
- Analise the profile of the different transport users, in order to understand who could contribute in which way to the activation of the local public space.
- As the local train users do usually a similar trip every day, their modal connection will be more direct. On the contrary, long distance railway users play a major role on the activation of public space as they have wider waiting range.
The maquina of Chamartín
The design of the maquina, is based in two key points, give answer to last mile delivery challenges in the city of Madrid through delivery drones, and improve the connection between the center of the city of the periphery through a drone on-demand transportation service.
The design logics for ensuring that these infrastructures could provide social benefit do not necessarily need to be against the design logics of transportation. They constitute another variable that intends to ensure the success of the city, rather than only the success of the infrastructural system in its own.
The urban section
The formal result is an urban section where the agora, the most inhabited part of the proposal, is placed in the streets, with direct access to the train platforms and surrounded by mixed use buildings. The project turns more into a maquina, meaning it loses social character as it gains an infrastructural one, as it moves away from the agora, towards the lower levels, with the railway infrastructure, and to the upper ones with office space, air delivery logistic space and air mobility boarding areas. This new urban section integrates in the same place uses that until now were relegated to different locations in the map of cities. Reducing in this way, the differences between the center of the cities and its periphery. The city should always be a symbolic place for human relations, but it should also allow us to move and carry out our daily tasks easily. The city as an agora and as a maquina.
This Master Thesis was presented in July 2019 in the Polytechnic university of Madrid (ETSAM)