Friday, March 9, 2018

First Annual Urbanism Next Conference Comes to Portland

The University of Oregon's Urbanism Next Initiative held its first annual conference in Portland March 5th through 7th. The conference convened experts and professionals from the public and private sectors as well as academia to focus on the potential primary and secondary effects of new and emerging technology on cities and the people who live there. The three-day event featured speakers from the Portland area and beyond, who focused on what public and private sector leaders in cities can do to prioritize equity and accessibility while embracing new technologies, and how these advances will impact where and how people want to live.

The two disruptive advancements at the forefront of most conversations at the conference were automated vehicles (AVs) and the rise of e-commerce and drone delivery. Robin Chase, a co-founder of ZipCar, painted a picture of two possible outcomes of AV adoption: a utopian city with increased ride sharing where car ownership is not a requirement and multi-modal travel is quick and easy; and a dystopian city where streets are always congested and mobility is only possible for higher-income residents in the city core. Both she and others emphasized that planners, developers, and politicians should work together to come up with a vision of what they want their city to look like, and put regulations and incentives in place that foster the desired outcome. Portland Bureau of Transportation director Leah Treat emphasized that while Portland would like to see AVs introduced by the end of the year, the city has also put forward goal-based conditions to help ensure that vehicles would be shared, would meet environmental goals, and would be available and accessible to all residents in the city.

Developers and architects at the conference discussed how they are working to make sure that space allocated for parking and retail is flexible. If most city residents transition away from privately held cars within the next ten or fifteen years, parking lots in newer developments could be wasted space. In a panel titled "Reshaping Cities in a Post-Parking World," local developers discussed the ways they are trying to accommodate the expectations of lenders and investors while "future-proofing" their developments by building parking that could later be converted to storage or other uses. In addition, both AVs and the rise of e-commerce have made the concept of the curb a point of contention, which could impact how streets are designed and developments are built. AVs will need pick-up and drop-off points near where people want to go, while trucks or drones will be delivering packages and food to people's doors. City planners, residents, and developers will likely face questions in the near future of who owns curb space.

The University of Oregon plans to make this an annual conference, after drawing 500 attendees to the city in its first year. There was agreement among panelists that in order to build a framework to move forward, crucial voices including labor unions, people with disabilities, and underrepresented minority groups must be brought into the conversation.

Read more: Urbanism Next Research Briefs