Digital management of supply and demand: San Francisco Park

by Federico Parolotto and Francesco Maria Cerroni

The dawn of digital and wireless communication over the last 15 years has spawned a number of radically different scenarios for the future, some of which let some experts to predict a decrease in personal mobility by imagining that the potential for remote interaction would reduce the need to physically move from place to place.

However the opposite has happened: rather than decreasing out need to move, digital communications have increased our desire for face-to-face interaction.

In the near future, after a staggering growth in people to people communication a further growth in envisage in machine to machine communication, this new breed of communication will possibly open a new scenario of more integrated efficient way of managing our cities and transport.

Digital communication opens up very immediate ways of living the city differently.  Cities could be managed much more efficiently, providing the possibility of exploiting infrastructure and dynamically managing supply and demand.

San Francisco’s recently activated SFpark scheme is a prime example of how cities’ transport infrastructure, in this case on-street parking, can be addressed through technology, allowing optimisation of its use through real-time information management.

The system allows the charging of different rates based on time of day and location in the city, as well as using real-time information regarding supply to direct drivers to available parking spaces. This dramatically lowers the time spent searching for a car park, increasing the comfort of the user and reducing congestion on the road network.

SFpark constitutes a different way of using existing infrastructure –  in this case the city’s roads- to reduce volume of traffic and provide better service to residents through the use of technology.

We are living in a world of new opportunities – innovative technologies will allow a better understanding of traffic patterns, enabling more efficient movement of vehicles on the road network, allowing us to make the most of existing infrastructure. The increasing interconnectivity of objects moving within the urban fabric will allow better performance of transport systems in general.

SFpark Overview from SFpark on Vimeo.

Paul Mees interview

Paul Mees began his career as a lawyer, later becoming an academic. He has a BA and LLB (Hons) and qualified as a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Victoria.

Mees’s work is largely concerned with the planning of public transport in cities. He is a strong advocate of public transport, but less keen in urban cycling as a realistic mass transport solution. Current research is on planning decision support tools for multimodal urban transport systems, and improvements to urban public transport planning in Australia. His work provided the basis for the European Union’s 2005 HiTrans project on improving public transport in medium-sized cities and towns.

Mees has been a high-profile contributor to public debates on transport planning in Victoria, Australia over the last decade. Some of the most notable issues have been his legal actions attempting to prevent the construction of expensive transport projects contrary to his views on good public transport policy.

Flow[n] interviews Paul Mees from Flow[n] on Vimeo.

A dialogue with Federico Parolotto



Interview by Nicola Leonardi

from The Plan 063 – 12/2012

In a metropolitan context, architecture, town planning and mobility can be considered as inextricably linked. What development directions are the plans for future cities and metropolitan areas taking?


You have to make a distinction between the cities of mature Western economies and those in areas of strong economic expansion, as well as between the so-called megalopolises and smaller cities. The cities of emerging economies will face profoundly different issues compared to the consolidated cities of the Western world, even if emerging–country cities have been planned and continue to develop following Western-style urban models, i.e. with a pervasive presence of private transport. In contrast, urban planning in the West now includes models that are trying to go beyond urban layouts pivoted around private transport. The move away from the car is a phenomenon that cuts across all Western economies and is accompanied by an exponential growth in digital connectivity that should allow more efficient management of cities, and especially of urban and suburban mobility. These trends will allow us to start rethinking and redistributing spaces allocated the automobile. I think that the urban model of the future will be characterised by ‘light’ interventions that will lead to systemic changes such as the overlapping of flexible public transport systems with the existing road network and the progressive removal of the extraordinary amount of parking areas that are a feature of all our cities. Urban mobility flows will become more streamlined and balanced; perhaps the only really new infrastructures will be invisible ones providing ever-greater digital connectivity.


What sort of balance is being attempted among the various types of transport – from pedestrian and cycle paths, private and heavy vehicle traffic to public transport above and below ground?


As I said, I think the key to improving the infrastructure offering and the quality of our cities must be with functional redistribution rather than adding new infrastructure.

The transport system must mould to the morphology of the city it serves. The problems of cities like London and Paris cannot be directly compared with those of Milan, Barcelona or Zürich.

Zürich has given us an example of how to balance mobility flows. It serves as a role model for cities of similar size and its metropolitan region.

We could imagine just this sort of light, flexible transport system superimposed on the existing network and managed digitally along the lines of what has been developed in Switzerland. It is a system that could be applied to suburban areas of metropolitan regions, in other words, to those segments of a city that are often dubbed as not possessing the underlying conditions to support an efficient, economically sustainable public transport system.

As Paul Mees explains in his “Transport for Suburbia: Beyond the Automobile Age”, this sort of redistribution could also be delivered to low-density areas, where the car is king. It would allow a good balance between public transport and pedestrian and cycle routes that would once again be on a par with the private car.


Getting the mobility plan right is key to the success of any real-estate development project, the building of new urban districts or the regeneration of rundown areas. How do you see the relationship between real estate and infrastructure, or the way solid and voids relate in the urban fabric? Is there any sort of ‘urban golden rule’, a perfect balance between built volumes, infrastructure, and urban green? I’ m thinking of the magical amalgam that is London…


When it comes to planning transport systems, thinking of the city in terms of solids and voids is only half the story. The presence of infrastructure and especially the density and type of mobility flows will determine the type of spaces that are created. These may be very different and will have direct repercussions on the quality of the open spaces in a given area.

The transport flows crossing spaces or voids radically impact community life in the public spaces between buildings, and directly impact real-estate values.

In his book “Streets & Patterns”, Stephen Marshall invites us to imagine London’s Fitzroy Square first crossed by a bicycle and then by an increasing number of motor vehicles. He describes how the very nature of space changes with the different type of transport flows. When planning built space, you have to somehow imagine what type of traffic flows there will be, because these will determine the quality of that space regardless of the road layout. I should also say that in our consulting work for projects connected with mobility and transport, we always try to ensure an urban environment where there is a subtle relationship between the spaces separating buildings but also that the mobility flow pattern will guarantee urban quality.


Today we talk of the urban environment. Seeing things in terms of streetscape means adopting a whole new take on road design. Is this because architecture is increasingly impacting town planning? Or is it rather an acknowledgement that architecture is not about building a single item but rather placing a building in its broader context, in a connective tissue that in turn needs to be planned?

Integrated planning of architectures and their surrounding connective tissue is key to the success of an overall project. In this context, planning the road layout is not just a question of determining geometries. It’s what creates a micro-urban environment.

These seemingly obvious considerations were in fact deeply contradicted by urban planning in the 1950s and 60s when designers came to have less and less say in the quality of urban spaces–the” streetscape”.

With the arrival of cars for the masses, an era that began in the 60s in Europe, we saw the birth of a specialist figure, the traffic engineer, whose job it was to plan the road network. His task was first and foremost to solve issues of road safety. He later became charged with assessing the highway network exclusively in terms of capacity. Reducing the road network to a system for private transport generated the perverse effects on cities we know all too well today. It is essential that infrastructure projects take back the multifaceted complexity that is typical of all urban projects, paying attention to light mobility and public transport, to the micro-environment and the city as a whole.


The concept of sustainability has two fundamental aspects: a technical performance factor, linked to energy consumption (for architecture) and soil occupation (for town planning); and a much wider, more complex factor that has to do with society, the urban and natural landscape and the delicate balance between the survival and future sustainability of urban development. In this complex whole how can architecture, town planning, and mobility come together and dialogue?


The impact of mobility on energy efficiency and ecological sustainability is huge, and unfortunately there do not seem to be technologies that can, in the short term, make any significant inroads. Nor do I think it possible to change the urban building patterns consolidated over the last 60 years of urban development that have led to widespread low–density urban development. It should be said, however, that the structural reduction in traffic volumes we have been seeing since the middle of the last decade will allow us to rethink mobility spaces in existing cities more appropriately. The spaces in cities allocated to cars are often oversized even for current traffic flows. Architects, town planners, transport planners must all start to confer with one another to ensure that transport infrastructure projects are founded on criteria of urban quality and do not just conform to technical considerations.

Reconsidering the road platform as an opportunity to “redistribute” spaces or voids may even allow us to conceive of diverse scenarios in which the natural world might be returned to places where it has been progressively banished by relentless asphalting of whole urban stretches.

Christophe Loir interview

Christophe Loir is historian and historian of art, Professor of the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB). He works on cultural studies in the 18th and 19th centuries, especially the history of the urban circulation : the “promenade” (Christophe LOIR & Laurent TURCOT (éds), La promenade aux 18e et 19e siècles, Belgique/Europe, Brussels, Editions de l’Université, 2011), the question of the circulation around the theaters (Christophe LOIR et Mélanie TRAVERSIER (éds), ‘Aller au théâtre’. Pour une perspective diachronique des enjeux urbanistiques et policiers de la circulation autour des théâtres, Antiquité, 18e-19e siècles, forthcoming publication of the acts of the Conference in the journal Histoire urbaine), the problems of mobility during the markets (Jean-Pierre DEVROEY, Arnaud KNAEPEN, Christophe LOIR, Alexis WILKIN (éds), Se déplacer pour (se) nourrir : circulation urbaine et marché alimentaire, 11e-19e siècles, forthcoming in 2013) and the history of the boulevards and rings (Boulevards & Rings in Europe, 18th – 19th Centuries, forthcoming Conference in 2013 in Brussels and Reykjavik).

Flow[n] interviews Christophe Loir from Flow[n] on Vimeo.

Carlo Ratti Interview

Carlo Ratti of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) SENSEable City Lab explains why cities keep on growing and how technology is changing our life in terms of mobility and access to real-time information. The increasing deployment of sensors and hand-held electronics in recent years is allowing a new approach to the study of the built environment. The Senseable City Lab aims to investigate and intervene in the interface between people, technologies and the city, delivering research and applications that empower citizens to make choices that result in a more livable urban condition.
Carlo Ratti is an architect and engineer who practices in Italy (, and teaches at the MIT, where he directs the SENSEable City Lab.

Flow[n] interviews Carlo Ratti from Flow[n] on Vimeo.

Connect ideas – Maximize impact, Federico Parolotto talk

Transsolar symposium

Stuttgard, June 2012


On the occasion of its 20th anniversary Transsolar has organized a symposium in Stuttgart on June 2012 to reflect on the reality that the high comfort, low impact built environments have limited impact in creating a high comfort, low impact world. Planners, company partners and thought leaders were invited to explore the question: “What do we need to do to maximize our impact?”

Here it is Federico Parolotto talk.




Metropolis without density


MWD – Metropolis without density – The Veneto Case


Freek Persyn (51N4E)

Ambra Fabi

Giovanni Piovene (Salottobuono)


Student:  Vitor Pessoa Colombo

Accademia di Architettura di Mendrisio – Spring Semester 2012


obstacle bike car mobility




On mobility : Inhabitants, landscape and civitas

In a place where the personal automobile colonises the public spaces ( Hard mobility infrastructures ) and where the sparse built environment ignores the surrounding venetian campagna ( Present disruptive infrastructures) , it becomes necessary to reconsider the way people live and experience the territory.

The project hereby proposes an alternative mobility web, favoring a softer transit (pedestrians, cyclists and eventually new, small, green-vehicles) which allows more interaction with the rich but forgotten green areas. Moreover, this new mobility model aims to foster encounters by gathering inhabitants around better public spaces, hence promoting the sense of community and common realm that may lack in a society shaped and built by individual motivations.

Mobility behavior


Evolving context, flexible design

Considering the fast changes that have taken place – and that will take place – in the Camposampierese in terms of land use, along with the political complexities such large scale intervention must face, the design proposed could not be final ; it had to allow later adjustments and extensions.

Therefore, the design consists in a system that offers great number of possible paths where some are to be selected under common agreement between citizens, land-owners and politicians to become part of the new mobility web that extends through the Camposampierese and even further. The base to stablish this « paths palette » are the pre-existing rural paths, used now by farmers and hard to access from public roads.

The chosen paths certainly need to be adapted to the new users ; their ground is hence reinforced by a strong net that intertwines with the vegetation, forming a green band that naturally signalises the path over the soil.

1.1 Soft mobility potential

2.1 Bringing connectedness


Enhancing connectedness

This intervention improves the connectedness between towns in the Camposampierese, so far very dependent on the personal car and dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians as the present soft mobility infrastructure is chronically disruptive and insufficient.

Moreover, this new infrastructure benefits not only the leisure and tourism activities, but above all the daily commutes from house to work that could be done, let’s say, by bike instead of car. It is about bringing a progressive change to the present mobility behaviour, leading it towards a more sustainable model, environmentally and socially.


Road cross 

Joining river

The Corners


MWD – Metropolis without density – The Veneto Case


Freek Persyn (51N4E)

Ambra Fabi

Giovanni Piovene (Salottobuono)


Student:  Tommaso Facchini

Accademia di Architettura di Mendrisio – Spring Semester 2012



Corners types



Designing a common space on the roman grid intersections

The shape of infrastructure in this part of Veneto region is based on the old design of roman grid. This design had mainly an agricultural function that has now for the most part been lost.

Decumani and cardines intersect and create a network of perfect square with a 700 m long facet, the centuriae. This structure led to urbanize along the limits, to maintain the maximum area of the squares cultivated. As a result agglomerations have a very low density, which requires the use of high-speed transport, the majority of which is private.

Driving through a diffuse city can be confusing, the straight network development speeds up the movement thus making it difficult to acquire orientation points.

The general low-rise urbanization becomes a homogeneous belt that runs through the window of the car. Places of public and private nature are alternated without logic, if not in village centers. Sites are mixed in the memories, and an overall image replaces the multitude of landscapes.

Only in the vicinity of the crossings the speed of the car decreases and allows to recognize the sorrounding objects, and even in this case the flatness of the styles generates confusion.

In a place where the distance between people and places is such that can be traveled only by car, slow points become really important.





I decided to follow the decumano maximo, to analyze the different situations that occur at intersections. This road crosses the territory of the Camposampierese from one extreme to the other, cutting through several conurbations with different densities. The range goes from purely rural intersections to other that coincides with the center of the community.

In this last situation streets are designing the shape  of the public space, and the way people deals with it.

Also the relationship of the buildings with the street changes depending on their nature: private buthat exemildings tend to keep distance from traffic, while commercial and public buildings tend to get closer to the street. This reflects also on the location of the parkings related to the buildings.

Among all cases I found four different situations that exemplify the analyzed cases.




As a result of the analysis I noted that some intersections have the potential to become a new type of public space. Commercial and public activities tend to concentrate in these corners, but the supremacy of the car cancels any possibility of use by the pedestrians. To change the situation is necessary to level the relationship between the two categories.

I then tried to find out what were the techniques to make a space more pedestrian-friendly.  The discipline of “traffic calming” uses various escamotage in order to reduce the speed of the car and facilitating the movement of pedestrians: speed bumps, roundabouts, noisy stripes,… Some of them are already used in Camposampiarese, but were ineffective.

The intersection i decided to work on is in Borgoricco. Here the daily traffic does not exceed 10000 vehicles with peaks, early in the morning and late in the afternoon, that are generated by the flow of people to reach the workplace. It is therefore possible to remove the traffic lights and regulate the intersection with a priority system.

New techniques such as “naked streets” or “shared surfaces” are proved to be more.The data I collected on site and received from the municipality, compared to the values needed to apply these techniques, gave a positive result. In order to work the approach  has to be systematic and cover a series of consecutive intersections.

The project aims to create a common surface, for cars and for people. A continuous floor that does not create different levels of mobility. A grained modular paving that changes shade during the day. When car traffic is at most, during the morning and during the evening, modules on either side of the road are darker. This way the driver will have no difficulty in recognizing the limits of the road. During the rest of the day, when the pedestrian traffic is more dense, all tiles will be the same creating an hybrid space for people and cars.

A fast and economical technique to produce this effect is to “print on the asphalt”. With just 3 centimeter of asphalt, 3 men can print up to 2000 m2 in one day. The process is simple: two men are placing and removing metal grids, while the third one uses a machine that presses the grid on the asphalt, leaving the desired engraving.



A New Direction for Transport Planning


by Federico Parolotto and Francesca Arcuri


Realities of Today

The Car and the City

The impact of private vehicles on the urban fabric is undoubtedly a well-known issue. The space that through the years has been dedicated to the car has often modeled the new form of growing settlements or profoundly affected historic city centres.

During the first years since the appearance of the car, the social innovations introduced by Henry Ford—minimum wage, shorter working hours and affordable cars—made it possible for thousands of workers to become car owners and commuters.

Considering the generally poor living conditions of the overcrowded cities at the beginning of the century, especially in the United States and in the UK, the car offered the simplest—in that it is individual—solution towards moving away from these congested environments of bad housing. Hence the subsequent generation of the low density suburbs.

A Typical Example of Knowledge Silos—Traffic Engineering

Due to the incredibly steep growth of vehicle ownership early in the last century in the States and after the war in Europe, a car-centered urban vision grew and strengthened, flourishing in the 60s with the Modernist vision. Roads and buildings weren’t meant to communicate anymore, their relationship was broken and so was any inter-disciplinary approach to urban planning. What Marshall describes as the schism of Modernism, produced the consequent schism of professions.


Fig. 1a, b “The Scism of Modernism” (Marshall, 2005)


The identification of a “traffic flow” as a discipline led to the birth of a very specific professional figure to whom the study and design of the “movement channel” was entirely assigned: the traffic engineer.

The hyper-specialisation of this professional figure, together with an inward looking approach based on quantitative issues alone, generated detrimental urban interventions that are now dotted throughout cities around the world.

Traffic engineering is possibly the clearest example of a “knowledge silo”: the simplification of vehicular movement into mathematical simulations (often generating spectacular failures) and the inability to establish a dialogue with other disciplines has proven to be a major issue when facing complex problems typical of the contemporary world.

The growing importance of sustainability issues has brought up a set of problems of unprecedented complexity and interdependency (on this topic see this HDL link).

A Car-centred Approach

The approach that has characterised transport engineering since the 60s in Europe, as in the rest of the western world, has been centered on giving maximum capacity to the road network, in order to respond to the continuous growth of traffic. More and more urban space has been given to the automobile.

Moreover, because the car is a land-hungry transport system as well as being energy intensive and an emitter of pollutants, the “Faustian bargain” evoked by John Whitelegg—the willingness to give away urban quality in order to ensure as much vehicular movement as possible—is evident in most cities worldwide. Some western cities have witnessed the expansion of space dedicated to the car on the road network until very recently, as well as the construction of major urban motorways in dense city centers. The space given to the automobile in the new suburbs has generated diffuse urban patterns with a major role played by car movement and parking.

Without lingering on the issue of whether the car has determined the demise of urban public life or on the contrary the car has given a technological answer to desires already embedded within society, it appears clear that the overall result of the car-centred approach has proven disastrous to urban quality.


Towards Reducing Infrastructure

Peak Traffic in the Western World

Since the first Ford Model T, traffic and car ownership (and more precisely the mileage travelled by car) have constantly been growing in the western cities and are now expected to grow very steeply in the emerging countries, where the car industry is focusing most of its sales in the upcoming years.

Nevertheless, we are recently witnessing (or becoming aware of, since some first signals had already emerged in the 90s) a decrement in car usage. It has been shown that vehicle miles travelled (VMT) have finally peaked in the western world and the inversion of this trend is related to a complex combination of causes. The worldwide economic crisis with the associated rise in fuel prices is the unifying element underlying technological and social factors: limited travel time budget, diffusion of transit-centred policies and a re-urbanization bias both for young and older people who are less and less attracted by the car.

Fig. 4 Car use growth trends in developed cities from ’60 to ’05 using Global Cities Database (European cities included in the study are: Amsterdam, Brussels, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Hamburg, London, Munich, Paris, Stockholm). (Newman and Kenworthy, 2011)

The Real-time Revolution

Changes in social habits that directly or indirectly influence car usage are already taking place.

The development of ICT as a general trend within our society now allows thinking of integrated management systems, where mobility-related data is collected in real time and analyzed in order to improve service efficiency (see IBM Smarter City site).

Examples could apply to the management of a public transport network, of a multimodal mobility network, of a car park management system at the city scale or the real-time update of a dynamic pricing policy.

The great potential of information technology as an instrument of optimisation is mostly due to the fact that the improvements are both to the managements’ and the users’ benefit.

Systems that are currently becoming more and more popular—especially among young generations—such us car sharing or bike sharing are supported by and based on this kind of technology. In the framework of the re-urbanisation that has been registered as one of the causes of the peak car phenomenon, these sharing habits can also be read as a progressive separation from the idea of the car as a symbol to posses, returning it to the realm of the instrument to be used.

New Policies for the Car in the City

As cars become tools to use and share rather than objects to desire and possess, it appears clear that a new awareness is emerging when it comes to understanding the impact of the automobile on the city fabric.

In this sense, traffic containment policies such as congestion charges or high hourly rates for car parks in city centres are becoming—in the western world—increasingly accepted by the population, which is therefore starting to internalise the externalities of the car that have traditionally not been associated with a cost.

The introduction of congestion charges, starting from Singapore some 25 years ago and following with Oslo in 1990 and London in 2003, has been shown to be a feasible route; the shift towards a different way of thinking about the presence of the car in the city has proved to be evident even in traditionally car-dominated environment, as shown in a recent referendum on the city in Milan.

A New Set of Tools

As new policies are being envisaged a progressive shift is happening in the realm of transport planning. One key element is the growing criticism of one of the pillars of the sector: the “predict and provide” methodology.

From back in the late 50s and up to the early 90s, transport planning was about forecasting traffic growth—the demand—and then building a road infrastructure wide enough to accommodate it.

This approach has proved to be—and is now widely recognized as—an unsuccessful strategy, causing a faster saturation of the new road, due to the temporary reduction in the level of congestion and consequent attraction of new users. This phenomenon has been largely investigated under the name of “induced traffic”.

During the 90s planning moved from providing for what was predicted, to preventing the prediction from becoming true.

The recognition of the fallacies of simply adding road infrastructure as the way out of congestion has determined a major slowdown in new road construction in certain parts of the western world.

In the same logic, there has been increasing criticism of what used to be the pillars of transport planning such as the level of service (LOS) approach.

The necessity for a holistic understanding of the relation between flows and space is again becoming a priority in the planning field.

A New Way of Doing Things—Towards Reducing Infrastructure

Looking at the road network from this perspective might open up different ways of thinking in long-term planning—do we really need all the major infrastructures that are still planned in cities throughout the world? Or it is maybe now time to stop the construction of new roads and conversely to start eating away at existing infrastructure?

The issue of peak traffic, new policies and real time data processing, as well as the progressive shift in the transport planning field discussed above, are setting the basis for a possible revision of the way we plan cities and road infrastructures, which in the past focused on making them grow constantly, following (and at the same time stimulating) the rise of car usage.

We are at a change of the tide: in the last decade (and up until very recently) cities have been experiencing a continuous growth in traffic, while it seems now that the use we make of cars has peaked. Therefore we might imagine a different future, a future in which we will progressively readjust and/or remove existing road infrastructure.

A new road network might emerge onto which a low-impact public transport network could be superimposed, along with mobility-on-demand systems to cover the last mile problem.

It is therefore possible to start shaping the image of a new city, an image different from what we have built and experienced in the last decades.


From Theory to Practice: a New City Looking to the Future

The planning concepts that have been introduced thus far find a practical application in a cutting-edge project in Saudi Arabia: a sustainable city with 180,000 residents based on renewable energy supplies and focused on a future of sustainable mobility. With Foster + Partners leading the group as the master planner, in this project our know-how summed up with that of many other players, creating a multi-disciplinary team that covered several areas of expertise.

[…] This article was written with support from Sitra, the Finnish Innovation Fund as part of their Low2No Project. Read more on

Fig. 5 View of the masterplan (courtesy of Foster+Partners) 

Andrea Branzi Interview


In January 2012 we had the opportunity to meet in his Milan office the father of radical design Andrea Branzi.

A constant feature of Andrea Branzi’s activity is the theoretic reflection about the changes within the design culture, and about the relations between this one and the socio-technologic context.
An author of many books about the theory of contemporary project and about the history of Italian design, that have been published since the ‘80es in Italy, England, France, United States. He is the only author in his field with three volumes published by MIT Press (USA).

We used this opportunity to ask Andrea Branzi first to talk about Agronica, a project developed in Domus Academy in 1985 that summarizes his last 20 years of theoretical research on Agrarian Urbanism, Landscape Urbanism  and contemporary Society. Here a great essay by Charles Waldheim, helpful to better understand the theoretical context in which Branzi recent research topics and Agronica must be embedded.


Part I

Part II

Part III

Video credits:

Francesco di Maio (cameras)

Sabina Barcucci (interview and video editing)

Federico Parolotto e Federico Cassani (Interview)