Dear Mayors of the World,
First off, I’m sorry to say that you have a tough job. Your cities are growing incredibly fast, with 2 billion people collectively coming your way by 2050. This is going to put some serious pressure on health care, education, and housing. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but here’s my thoughts on a few things:
The Grey Tidal Wave
There’s going to be an enormous stream of retiring, aging baby boomers who will make up a massive percentage of our urban population- some estimate as high as 1 in 4 citizens. This group has wisdom, money, and a desire for purpose.
If you want to get something done, just get the baby boomers excited about it. They know how to get what they want.
But ironically the suburbs were their big idea, and now it’s going to shoot them in the foot the day they lose their license to drive their beloved automobile, and must suddenly depend on other methods to get around. More on this later.
Figure out how to keep the baby boomers central, and still involved in their communities. This will pay off big time down the road.
Reward People for Living in Density
Resilience comes from density. The elderly can age in place where there are mixed modes of transportation. Young families can have more disposable income if they can avoid car ownership. And central density brings added property tax without the need to construct far-flung roads and utilities.
And yet we see brand new recreation centers being built on the outskirts of the city while inner-city facilities suffer from chronic disrepair.
“A city with one primary mode of transportation will never be sustainable”-Gil Penalosa of 880 Cities
The problem with creating more roads is: ‘if you build it, they will come.’ If you make it easier for me to drive than to ride my bike, I’ll likely drive. Building more roads doesn’t relieve congestion, it just creates more that didn’t exist before.
Create plenty of mobility and access. If your citizens can walk and bus more, the money that was being sent to Japan to buy more Toyotas will instead go in to local businesses, and will be continually fed back in to local infrastructure.
Make Transit Cool
“A truly great city doesn’t have every poor person owning a car, it has rich people taking transit,” says Gil Penalosa of 880 Cities. Make buses sexy. Eliminate the perception that buses are for those who can’t afford a car. Turn bus stops in to enjoyable, safe places. Stop plowing snow off the streets and onto the bus stops. Make it easy to take the bus. Free Wi-Fi on all transit? Absolutely.
Millennials don’t want cars, we want mobility.
Create Safe Walking Environments
Why are children only ‘safe’ in front of schools and not everywhere? Kids don’t play only at playgrounds. The fatality rate in car crashes and pedestrians goes from 5% to 40% when the car speed increases from 30 km/hr to 70 km/hr. Consider more car-free areas, and ways to calm the car, there’s absolutely no reason to go any faster than 30 km/hr in any residential neighborhood.
I love cities, they’re full of excitement and opportunity and energy. And the most exciting part is that we have this upcoming growth: cities are going to expand to be upwards of twice their size in my lifetime. And we have the knowledge of what makes a great city. So there’s this massive potential to build something sustainable, healthy and safe for all. Places that are so fantastic to live.