The future of transport and cities


A BRT stop




The city and the car

The car is undoubtedly still the superstar of capitalist cities; with solid growth in personal income all societies have witnessed a steep growth in car ownership.

The arrival of the car swept aside public transit on the West Coast of the United States early in the twentieth century, the same happened later on the East Coast and then in Europe in the 60s and 70s.

Similar patterns have developed in Russia after the fall of the Communist regime, where prior to 1989 the modal share of the car was only 4%, and even more recently in China, where the car has progressively replaced the bicycle in the city fabric.

This model is now proving to be fundamentally wrong, since it generates profoundly anti-urban environments. Currently, the Western world is looking to find an alternative solution to an energy intensive and anti-urban transport system focused on the automobile.


graph illustrating the continuous growth of car ownership between 1998 and 2008



Retrofitting and automobile landscapes

Since the beginning of human settlements, historic cities were built around walking distances. In the second half of the nineteenth century, cities first expanded around public transit systems and later around the capillary access provided by a private vehicle.

The advent of the car therefore forced a “retrofitting” of the existing European cities. The process was even more aggressive in the United States, where a system of freeways and urban viaducts was introduced to allow express movement within the city, and suburban environments were planned around car access, yielding “automobile landscapes”.

It is now clear that this model has proven very wrong for the city.


City road network

The progressive increase in vehicular traffic has resulted in a sort of inversion of the traditional urban patterns, where urban structure responded to the densities of movement flows traditionally located at the crossings of key roads. The presence of the car and the need to allow high-speed movement has introduced a system of urban bypasses and ring roads, where the city has been changed to accommodate the geometries of efficient express movement. This points to what John Whitelegg has defined a “Faustian bargain” in which the city renounces urban quality in favour of fast vehicular flows.


Streets and Patterns – Stephen Marshall – Spoon Press 2005

Streets and Patterns – Stephen Marshall – Spoon Press 2005


Radical visions

New ideas are surfacing, such as MVRDV’s futuristic vision of flying cars, which envisions a typology of buildings already described in science fiction films such as Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”. Other radical visions range from Bill Mitchell’s proposals in “Reinventing the Automobile” to the solutions proposed by BIG and J.Maier in the recent “Audi urban future award” competition.

The technical feasibility of assisted guidance systems for cars is constantly increasing and they may become a reality within the near future. This solution would open up the possibility for a revision of road geometries when cars’ current stop-and-go movement is replaced by a continuous flow.


The path to change

It is clear that regardless of the implementation of these radical visions, the current level of car ownership will have to be drastically reduced – there are simply too many vehicles per inhabitant, and the automobile is a land-hungry transportation system: a car moving at 40 km/hr occupied by 1 person “consumes” approximately 60 m2 of land, compared to a pedestrian requirement of 1 m2.


Equivalent urban space occupancy for different modes of transport




Traffic growth and peak traffic

A lot of attention has been given to the recent shift whereby over 50% of the world’s population is living in cities, although other important data has also recently emerged.

Traffic seems to have peaked in several Western cities: after decades of constant growth (so solid that it is defined “physiological” in lots of traffic impact studies when defining future traffic conditions), car use actually seems to be decreasing.

These trends are evident in the Unites States, the UK, and Australia, and were observed in the years 2004-2008 which were prior to the credit crunch that has further reduced vehicle miles travelled (VMT) per capita.


Reshaping streets

An incremental process has already started; it will progressively address cars and cities through the reshaping of the road network, starting from major urban roads down to local thoroughfares.

The future will witness a progressive “internalization” of the car’s externalities, ranging from energy consumption to space occupancy and pollution (for the entire range of emissions, including micro particulates which do not derive from the combustion engine but to the friction of mechanical parts).

The city of the future will therefore have LESS infrastructure; the process of defossilisation of cities has already started. After a century of car movement, the city of 2050 will possibly move back to being more like the urban settlements that characterised the period between 1800 and the arrival of the automobile.

Removing freeways

Freeways will progressively be removed, and transport patterns will no longer be analysed from the perspective of travel time alone.  Isochrone accessibility, capacity, and traffic volumes will no longer be used as the key elements for the evaluation of transport solutions,  and the urban quality generated by proposals will be a fundamental factor alongside the functional aspect.

The freeway system, and more generally all road infrastructure that allows express movement within the city, will be phased out to give space to a set of smaller cross-connected rights of way.




Estimated car passenger km per capita (FY1990-2008) (Newman and Kenworthy, 2011)



A new public transport generation

A new breed of transport will be available to bridge the gap between public and private transport. Thanks to digital technologies and real-time communication, public transport will allow movement within the city through a wide range of possibilities and costs.

Transit systems will evolve to provide a better match between demand and supply through a suite of mobility solutions ranging from vehicle sharing (car, bicycle, etc.) to fixed routes providing key regional connections.

Public transport hubs located at the heart of pedestrian zones will minimise vehicular movement.




A new public life in cities

As recently pointed out by Bernardo Secchi, the arrival of the car fulfilled a desire for privacy and separation embedded in society. The last 30 years have witnessed the progressive decline of public man as people were drawn in to the sense of seclusion ensured by detached housing.

Contemporary society is witnessing new trends, such as the willingness of young couples to move back into the urban environment and the progressive split of families into smaller units.

Moreover, the ageing of the population will generate a new need for communal life than can be fulfilled by an urban framework.


image courtesy of AUDI URBAN FUTURE AWARD/ BIG


The future of the city is in its past

The progressive decline in the car’s presence, the reshaping of the road network and the freeing up of urban space for new activities will allow the transformation of our city, paradoxically bringing it back to the city we knew before the 60s.

The new/old city will allow to generates space for people, landscaping to control the micro environment and create better spaces.

These new spaces could then be populated by new typologies of objects, including sensors, energy generators and information interfaces as well as moving objects such as  bicycles and electric vehicles (with radically reduced densities) as well as “eco-machine” generating better micro-climate as well as local energy production, like the many envised by Ecologic Studio


STEMcloud_A parametric furniture system able to generate spatial atmospheres_Imange courtesy of EcologicStudio


Maybe the city of the future will be very similar to the city we used to know before the arrival of the car in the 60s- the real change will be in the objects that will populate it. Objects in which we will move around, objects we will carry with us to communicate, objects that might be dwelling in our body.



Federico Parolotto, published on the magazine l’Arca on February 2012


Sustainable New York [?]

by Federico Cassani

5.00 PM rain – Van Wyck Expressway (somewhere near Brianwood)


1.0 Intro

The idea at the beginning of my trip to NYC was to describe and analyze couple of examples of how the city approach to sustainability and pedestrian friendly environment progressed in the last few years. This first idea started crumbling as soon as I got on a taxi from JFK to the Lower East Side. The scenery is not different from any other city of the world (especially when it rains), cars everywhere.

The scale of the infrastructures, however, is impressive, and it clearly shows the car oriented approach of infrastructure design in the States. Urban highways with enormous interchanges, enormous amount of wasted space… just another enormous traffic jam.


Interchange between Van Wyck Expressway and Grand Central Parkway (source Google Map)


Without even reaching Manhattan, my idea of finding here a different approach on urban design was shattered (not that I was really expecting something different) and our thoughts on transport planning are true as ever.

Since the modernist vision of the city, urban design has been the field for architects, landscapers and planners, most of the time segregated into the design of high quality (and expensive) refurbishments in the historical hearts and “piazzas” of the city centers.

The rest of the city was left to traffic engineers, more interested into taking care of traffic flows and traffic congestion rather than designing for the quality of the urban spaces. This division of roles created a clear urban fragmentation between the “social” areas and the “traffic areas”, basically dividing the urban spaces into places to live and places to go through, centre and periphery, quality and quantity.

Nothing different here.


2.0 The periphery becomes the  centre…

What is very interesting is the urban regeneration process connected with the redevelopment of the High Line in Western Manhattan.

The High Line is not just a Masterpiece in terms of urban design and landscape design, it has been also a powerful vehicle of regeneration of the entire area. This area of West Chelsea was an obsolete manufacturing area in need of regeneration. The High Line (this is a simplification, the process has been obviously much more complex – please see the book HIGH LINE, The inside Story of New York City’s Park in the Sky for further reading) created the spinning wheel for the redevelopment of the area with an interesting mix of uses, residential, hotel, retail, galleries, bars and restaurants.

The High Line is a great example for Local Authorities how investing in the quality of the public space will determine a virtuous circle of increase in land value and in an overall quality of dismissed and obsolete areas.


Washington Street Shops at the northern entrance of the High Line on Gansevoort Street


Building sites from the High Line


View from the High Line with F.O. Ghery and Jean Nouvell buildings


View from the High Line on the new condo HL23


3.0 … and what does the centre become?

In 2009 Broadway between Times Square and Herald Square has been closed to vehicular traffic and made pedestrianized by NYC DOT. The main task of the “Green Light for Midtown project” was to “simultaneously improve mobility and safety in the Midtown core, and ultimately to make the area a better place to live, work and visit.[…] DOT’s analysis of the data shows that the project has improved mobility by increasing overall motor vehicle travel speeds and accommodating growing travel volumes.”

This is for an European planner, used to decades of pedestrianization of city centers and public squares a quite shocking achievement. To “increase travel speeds” and “accommodate travel volumes” seems a surreal targets in comparison to the achievement of creating a new public space. Only as “additional results” the report underlines that “74% of New Yorkers surveyed agree that Times Square has improved dramatically over the last year and that The number of pedestrians traveling along Broadway and 7th Avenue in Times Square increased by 11%.”

I think that the “additional results” are more than enough to make the square permanent (decision made almost 2 years ago now) and to start increasing the quality of the public space through permanent design (possibly of the same outstanding quality of the high line).


Broadway - January 2012

Times Square- January 2012


4.0 there is never a conclusion always a way forward

It is interesting to find similarities all over the world on how the metropolis are struggling to self morphing into something different, trying to manipulate the past made of infrastructures and traffic channels (fluid-dynamic) into a future city made of public spaces and places to live (flow-design). The examples of this spatial evolution (revolution ?) are still very sparse and difficult to assemble in a real manifesto of global approach to sustainability (Times Square VS Trafalgar Square – still a drop in the ocean).

The way forward is still a long way, for one High Line we still have hundreds of interchanges, bridges, fly overs that are designed exclusively to go faster, to grow bigger, to accommodate more traffic.

We have to hope that the success of these examples will create a virtuous circle that will increase the public awareness and a social call for a better and sustainable way of designing and living the city.


The waterfront between Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge (under F.D. Roosevelt East River Driveway)





Sottsass and Piazzale Loreto

by Federico Parolotto

location of Castiglioni sculpture in Piazzale Loreto

location of Castiglioni sculpture in Piazzale Loreto

Piazzale Loreto has been significant for Italian history since the tragic events of World War II, as discussed in an earlier post. Today, there are no traces of these tragic events apart from a sculpture by Giannino Castiglioni (father to Achille Castiglioni).  This sculpture, coherently with the alienating nature of Piazzale Loreto, is located in a rather inaccessible part of the square.Past events related to the square still influence the residents’ way of thinking. Indeed, opening up discussions about Piazzale Loreto creates a situation that seems doomed to become a disaster.

In combination with the square’s critical location within Milan, this is the reason that Loreto has been the object of numerous urban design and architecture competitions throughout the years.

In a 1985 competition to reshape the square, Sottsass proposed a very surprising entry. This flamboyant architect, famous for his furniture design, envisaged a rather aggressive scheme for the reconfiguration of Loreto. Indeed, his design approach was very different from his conception of interior design, which is clearly developed around ideas that are not centered around a functionalistic approach.

Sottsass's proposal for Piazzale Loreto

Sottsass's proposal for Piazzale Loreto

The project proposes a huge amount of infrastructure, which occupies the square and manages traffic on different levels above ground (it is not possible to provide underground vehicular connections because a metro station is located beneath the square). The result is alarming: it is suprising that designers proposed to address transport issues in a dense urban network with this kind of solution. Even the pastel-coloured eye-level perspective fails to convince the viewer of the quality of the proposed urban space.

Sottsass's proposal for Piazzale Loreto

an eye-level perspective of the proposal

Approximately 15 years later, Studio Nizzoli proposed a less radical approach to Piazzale Loreto. Their proposal was somewhat less aggressive: pedestrians occupy an upper level, and the ground level is entirely dedicated to car use.

The proposed two-level system extends towards corso Buenos Aires. Their scheme essentially amounts to a rather late reinterpretation of the typical split infrastructure of the 70s and 80s, which has proved to generate very unpleasant urban environments.

the Nizzoli proposal

the Nizzoli proposal for Piazzale Loreto

It is easy to imagine how this split level strategy would have transformed this area of the city, to the detriment of the overall urban quality. There a numerous built examples, although not as central as Piazzale Loreto: viale Monte Ceneri and Piazzale Corvetto, both built in the early 60s, or the recently built junction at Piazzale Maggi, an enormous split-level system ruthlessly built despite the strong opposition of the neighbourhood’s residents.

piazzale Maggi

Unfortunately, the way of thinking that results in this over-dimensioned infrastructure still persists. It is evident in politicians’ unbending defense of a new vehicular tunnel that supposed to cross Milan from north to south, with strategically located ramps. The solution is intended to reduce traffic at grade, but would once again put an “unfair advantage on the car” (John Whitelegg 1993).

Our approach for Piazzale Loreto is different: it is based on the reconfiguration of the mobility flows crossing the square, allowing pedestrians to move at grade. Junctions are designed to be tighter and the space dedicated to vehicular movement is minimised. The phasing of the signalised junctions allows both cars and pedestrians to move smoothly across the square.

We propose to redesign the space by knitting the spaces together; the project is about reducing infrastructure rather than adding to it.

The reconfiguration of urban flows can help reshape and redefine a new and better city.

Porta Romana | Piazza Medaglie D’Oro

by Federico Parolotto

Porta Romana was the gateway between Corso di Porta Romana, leading to the city centre, and the road connecting Milan to Rome. The gate was built in the Spanish city walls in the 16th century, and served as a monumental access to the city until – as was the case in several other European cities – the walls were taken down to accommodate the city’s growth.

Porta Romana in 1796

The old city gate – the porta- still exists, while the fornici – the two lateral openings- have been demolished to make space for the large traffic flows that now occupy a vast space in what has become a huge, signalised roundabout.

aerial view of Porta Romana and piazza Medaglie d'oro

It seems incredible that the small opening of the door was sufficient to cater to all of the flows moving into and out of the city, when now it is lost in an immense space dedicated to vehicular movement. This space – like almost all of Milan’s open spaces- is entirely subject to the flow of cars. It ignores pedestrian desire lines and prioritises vehicular movement, with traffic phasing also centred on the car.

The old gateway to the city, framed within relentless channels of vehicular movement, not only recalls the city’s past but also evokes the need to restore a pedestrian-friendly dimension to its future.

Moscow’s mobility: there is no space left to walk…

by Federico Parolotto

the route from the airport to the city centre


The road

It is definitely instructive to take a taxi from Shermenevo airport towards Moscow’s city centre – Moscow’s radial network is planned to allow fast travel towards the urbanized area. A sequence of split level junctions and run down overhead walkways characterize the stretch of the Leningradskoye Shosse road.

Along both sides of the road a there is a continuous sequence of buildings with very little ground level activity, sometimes there is a tunnel or the radial road gets larger due to additional side roads that allow local accessibility, which is obviously not contemplated by the Leningradskoye Shosse or the Leningradskiy Prospect.


Leningradskoye Shosse


No road is provided with pedestrian crossing points at grade, one is supposed to reach the other side of the street through uninviting underpasses. Cars pass so fast and so aggressively (the taxi reached a rather worrying 100km/hr. on Leningradskiy Prospect) that no one is tempted to cross at grade (as normally happens, since pedestrians try to avoid crossings with level changes).


a pedestrian overpass


The Leningradskoye Shosse is one of Moscow’s radial roads, which have all been planned to basically try to bring express car movements as deep as possible into the central urban environment.


Moscow's radial primary road network


Public transport

Most of the tram lines have been removed to provide more space for cars and it is a little disappointing to see that trolley buses are stuck in the middle of traffic as there is no dedicated lane for public transport. As a consequence during peak hour public surface transport is stuck in the middle of traffic.


Moscow public transport


Despite the enormous width of roads in the city centre, generally composed of 6/7 lanes per direction, it is clear that no space is dedicated to public transport and this makes surface transport incredibly unattractive. The idea of reserving one lane for public transport would not change the overall congestion pattern for private motorized vehicles, especially given the fact that roads in peak hour are basically in a state of gridlock with average speeds in the centre lower than walking speed. It would, however, generate a very positive effect on the overall travelling speed of the public transport system.


Moscow public transport


The road

Arriving from south the view of the church is magic, it seems to be coming out of a fairytale taking you to a different world; it is an incredible building.


St. Basil's Cathedral - image from Panoramio


Reaching the square coming from the south is an issue, and definitely a risky experience for pedestrians: the right of way is incredibly large and far away from any sort of pedestrian-friendly environment, the popular area of Zamoskvorechye (which means behind the Moscow river) is basically unreachable on foot, accessible at your own risk.

The traffic light phasing is only focused on car flows, with very short phasing for pedestrian crossing. Pedestrians are forced to rush to the other side of the road, not even the design of the zebra crossing seems to be adequate …

I have not studied the statistics but I am rather certain that car accident rates and the number of people injured on Moscow’s streets must be rather high.

As usual the whole road is dedicated to cars and to say that pedestrian desire sightlines are ignored is a euphemism.


a pedestrian crossing


Parking management is possibly the final element of this car-oriented mobility pattern, there is no payment enforced for parking in Moscow and there is little enforcement of sanctions for illegal parking. It is therefore very common to see 2/3 rows of cars occupying the road, turning it into a surface car park, again taking the little space left for pedestrians.


parking in Moscow


It is a little scary to think that this city in 1989 had a modal share of 4% on private transport (owning a car during the communist regime was definitely complicated).

Then with the arrival of the free market the rate of car ownership grew massively and as experienced before (in the United States before the Second World War and in Europe shortly after it) the consequences are the removal of tramways, the lack of segregated lanes for buses, and minimum pedestrian crossings to allow maximum space for car flows.

In Moscow, the wide road network has been fully dedicated to car flows and in order to reduce interference with traffic and ensure maximum capacity pedestrian crossings are all either overhead walkways or underpasses.

Moscow’s network shows a sort of in vitro example of how available road space can be reserved for car flows only and how this decision fails to solve any mobility issues; on the contrary it generates surreal levels of road congestion.

A Chinese Faustian bargain

by Federico Parolotto

aerial view of Guomao junction

The presence of the car in cities is very often the result of Faustian bargain, as described by John Whitelegg in his book “Critical Mass: Transport, environment and society in the 21st century”. (1)

The Faustian bargain is one in which the soul of the city is given up to private mobility; urban quality is lost in favour of a search for solutions driven by road capacity, where road capacity is the attempt to achieve the maximum number of cars through a road or junction in a given time.

In China this loss of urban quality is evident in the powerful infrastructure of 3 and 4 level junctions of existing urban motorways, in particular the one that will accommodate a new city to be built east of Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport.

This road landscape will soon be populated by thousand of vehicles that will invariably move slowly in a congest road network, in a city where pedestrian mobility and urban quality are strongly compromised.

This bargain is even more evident at Guomao station in Beijing, located in heart of the CBD and in an area populated by incredible buildings such as OMA’s CCTV headquarters. The intersection is a 3 level junction system that bears testimony to how much the municipality is willing to compromise urban quality to ensure vehicular mobility.


view from the second tier of Guomao


What is particular in Guomao is the layout of the split level junction. Geometry and speed are strictly interconnected: it is clear that suburban clover leaf junctions typically have generous ramp geometries in order to ensure high travelling speeds. In Guomao, however, the junction is composed of urban geometries with tight turning radii – it is a set of urban junctions designed for slow speeds, but piled up in three tiers in the desperate search for road capacity.

Guomao is an example of how much cities are willing to give up for cars; pedestrian movement is relegated below these huge concrete decks that hide surrounding buildings from pedestrians’ view and force people to percolate through incredibly noisy viaducts spaces.


a pedestrian view of Guomao


The Chinese example shows that if cities are not addressed holistically, roads become movement channels designed to provide car accessibility. Pedestrians and even bicycles, despite their pervasive presence in Beijing only 20 years ago, are ignored.

Guomao tells the story of how much cities are willing to sacrifice in order to ensure express movement for private transport.




Whitelegg, J. (1997)

Critical Mass: Transport Environment and Society in the Twenty-first Century

Pluto Press, London





From 4 to 12: a biography of Thika road

by Federico Parolotto

A Nairobi typical traffic jam



Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, is a fascinating city that has uncharacteristically grown to a population of approximately 4.5 million without having a ring road (although this will not be the situation for long). Any movement from one side of the city to the other requires transit through its very heart.

Typically, after the arrival of the car cities developed a set of ring roads to deal with vehicular traffic, moving away from the traditional historic settlement where the main movement channel was in the centre of the city.

The speed and consequently the space needed by the car require very wide roads, often fed by split level junctions that guarantee high volumes of traffic and high travelling speeds.

Thika road is part of the road upgrade currently underway in Nairobi. Here, too, a system of split level junctions is being implemented in order to ensure a more efficient traffic system. Although the new north bypass will act as a ring road and divert traffic from Thika road, the latter is also undergoing a major upgrade.

Indeed, it will grown from its current 2+2 configuration to an incredible 6+6 lanes, ensuring direct and express car access to the city centre. Looking at the portion that has already been completed, you will be amazed by the size and scope of the work.

Thika road view



As has happened and is happening in numerous cities throughout the world, Thika road will become a major cut through the city, severing pedestrian connections and creating a chasm that will be mitigated by a set of overhead pedestrian walkways.

The incredible number of pedestrians that currently populate the road, walking alongside the construction work to their destination and often using the Matatu system, will not be there in a few years. Thika road will be occupied by a much higher number of cars, reflecting the very steep growth in car ownership in Kenya and the progressive increase in traffic due to the attractor/generator land uses that are due to exploit the greater vehicular accessibility enabled by the Thika upgrade.

The process from a road upgrade to an increase in induced traffic to the intensification of developments around the infrastructure is a consolidated development pattern throughout the world despite more than 30 years of academic battles against car-driven planning.

Looking at Thika road in the direction of Kasasarmi from the bridge, one cannot avoid the thought that something is going very wrong with urban planning…






Milan and the invisible space revolution: how to change cities by reconfiguring mobility flows

by Federico Parolotto



The legacy of the mono-functional approach to the road network

The common element of cities around the world (with a few rare exceptions) is the car: its ubiquity is the true unifying element of distant and disparate urban settlements .

Private transport in Europe continuously grew since the 60s to become a mass phenomenon in the 70s- a phenomenon that has continued to the present day.

The capillary access provided by the car has allowed a progressive suburbanization of European cities and to a higher extent of American ones. The historic urban centers of Europe have progressively lost inhabitants to the suburbs, which are often only accessible with private transport.

The extraordinary growth of cars in cities has generated extremely dense urban flows; in order to provide an answer to the growing problem of traffic the cities’ road networks were reconfigured to provide maximum vehicular capacity.

This process has determined a progressive erosion of public space and the severing of pedestrian connectivity.

The need to ensure vehicular circulation has produced a reconfiguration of public space exclusively on the basis of vehicular variables; streets and squares have been transformed into movement channels whose geometric layout has been redefined solely in terms of traffic engineering.

The contemporary urban space of Western cities is still characterized by street configurations built after the early 70s with the aim of accommodating the exponential growth of private transport.

We believe it is time to challenge the layout defined 40 years ago in order to produce a new city; a contemporary city that despite substantial traffic flows is organized to give a central role to public life.

Strategies for a transition towards a new city

All cities in the western world have being defining strategies for a progressive reduction of urban traffic; this reduction is necessary both for the need to reduce the use of fossil fuels and because of the desire of improve the quality of the public realm.

The progressive shift from private to public transport will be a slow and complex process but it is necessary in order to ensure a future for our cities.

The strengthening of public transport and the reduction in the use of the car, as well the revision of the land use distribution as developed in the last 50 years thanks to the capillary access granted by the car, will give significant results in the medium to long term. The transition has started, yet the drastic reduction in the presence of private traffic in cities is a feasible target but not an immediate one.

The end result will need to lead to cites in which urban space addresses the needs of soft mobility. A city in which the traffic flows will be drastically reduced in order to ensure more sustainable urban mobility models.

The quality of the micro-environment, and therefore of elements such as natural and artificial lighting levels, emission concentrations, and acoustic qualities, will become a central element for the development of a sustainable mobility ensured by public transport, mobility on demand, pedestrian and bicycle access, transport modes that are necessarily linked to the quality of the micro-environment because of their exposure to the external condition for a significant part of the trip.

It is important to define the strategies for the transition to a better quality micro-environment.

An integrated approach to urban space design

The role of designers of open spaces has to change: too often re-thinking the space is just an aesthetic  adjustment of earlier decisions in which road and junction geometries already set by Municipalities in the name of a traffic engineering are never really challenged.

It is time that designers resume an integrated approach rather than limiting themselves to surface and urban furniture design; it is time to address open space in its structural configuration challenging the way streets and squares function.

Possibly because of the progressive decrease in social interactions between citizens or the lack of profitability (open spaces do not generate immediate revenue), design has been suffering from a lack of an integrated approach, thereby limiting the design process to a set of constraints – paradoxically the only model simulation that is being applied for the street network around the world has been focusing on traffic alone, neglecting other modes of transport such as the bicycle or pedestrian movement.

We believe that with the recent development of sophisticated simulation tools we have to introduce a holistic approach to the design of urban space, designing the flows as much form-shaping.

It is time to address the constraints, to introduce performance-based urban design that centres on people rather than cars.

An incremental approach to generate a new Milan

Milan is one of the most emblematic examples in Europe of the car’s pervasive presence, which determined a reconfiguration of the urban spaces from squares to traffic junctions impermeable to pedestrian connectivity.

Milan’s streets and squares are the most extraordinary example of the lack of interest of the community in public space and its subsequent abandonment to the presence of the car. In Milan, squares no longer exist as public spaces, they were often redesigned in favor of the car in the 70s and have not changed since then.

Piazzale Cadorna is an emblematic example of the very few squares in Milan that have been redesigned in the last 20 years. More than an analogy of the fashion industry, the sculpture by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen seems to represent an ironic attempt to stitch the square severed by numerous “movement channels” back together.

In most of the world’s cities the road infrastructure is oversized, not unlike an hydraulic system the tubes and the joints are not consistent in size, with some sections too large for the amount of flow that will go through them. Milan’s streets and square network, like those of most cities around the world, is characterized by inadequate and inefficient geometries given the traffic flows that they accommodate.

We believe that there is a possibility of re-addressing a large number of Milan’s streets and squares, modifying the road section as well as the junction configuration with no reduction in traffic capacity; we can create a new city by redesigning the flows, reducing the space of traffic movement and therefore gaining surfaces for other possible urban uses. It could be the beginning of a de-paving process progressively “demineralizing” the city.

The “flow design” strategy can change how public space works in Milan: with an incremental approach of discreet interventions we can progressively generate a new city.

A case study | Piazzale Loreto in Milan, a space for new urban strategies

by Federico Parolotto



Today  Piazzale Loreto is  a major traffic junction.Tthe central space is totally inaccessible to pedestrians, it is now virtually a no man’s land .

Piazzale Loreto was the site of one of the most painful events in the recent Italian history: on April the 10th 1944 it witnessed the execution of 15 Italian “partigiani”  by the German army and in the same space Mussolini’s body was hanged and exposed to public abuse.

Perhaps that is the reason why Piazzale Loreto now cannot host any activity apart from the  endless flow of vehicles.


The corpses exposition of Benito Mussolini and Claretta Petacci


the execution of 15 Italian “partigiani” by the Nazist army


Piazzale Loreto is a space that was deleted from the urban fabric.

With the growth of vehicular movement and the construction of the red metro line, built in the mid ‘60s, Piazzale Loreto has lost any possibility of pedestrian access at grade. The designers of the Piazzale decided then that all the pedestrian activities had to happen below grade, favoring  the maximum capacity for cars.

This solution has literally split the city in two parts.  Piazzale Loreto is  exactly in between Corso Buenos Aires (possibly the most important Milanese commercial road) and Viale Padova – the latter being at the same time on the same axis as Corso Buenos Aires and possibly one of the most problematic areas of Milan, where several immigrant riots happened throughout last year.


Immigrant riots in Viale Padova in 2010

Riots in Viale Padova in 2010


We believe that the existing configuration of Piazzale Loreto helps to label the urban Viale Padova as a urban ghetto by splitting the city in two, to the point that a retail property costs half as much in Viale Padova compared to Corso Buenos Aires, although they are  only 100 meters away: the 100 meters occupied by Piazzale Loreto.


Corso Buenos Aires shopping area


Commercial activities

Crime density

Panoramio images locations


With the support of micro simulation modeling we can  adjust the geometries of the square, expanding and connecting the central residual spaces , thereby reducing the over-dimensioned carriageways, as well as  introduce traffic lights with green phasing for pedestrian crossing.

We believe it is time to readdress open space in Milan, centering our thinking on people and not on cars. It is possible to redefine Piazzale Loreto, ensuring the same vehicular capacity but at the same time reducing the space given to the “movement channels” freeing up spaces that can host new urban strategies.

We believe that we can change Milan  from the bottom up and – maybe – generate a better future for the city.



Private mobility is not going away any time soon

Presence of cars as heat sources and ubiquitous presence of asphalts lead to ground surface temperatures above 50 deg C. (We measured 51.6 at midday in September. They would be possibly higher in mid summer months!) _Image courtesy of Foster & Partners



On the 25th of February 2011, MIC took part in the first edition of the Qatar Motor Show in Doha. “Being a speaker at the conference was a very interesting experience, it allowed us to look at the car industry from the manufacturers’ perspective. It is clear from talking to automotive industry representatives that there is very little concern for the current urban planning discourse regarding car dependence in cities and the need to reduce car usage”, said Federico Parolotto – Senior Partner at MIC, “in spite of the worldwide economic crisis, automobile production is expected to start growing again, mainly by responding to demand coming from the Far East where car ownership rates are still very low compared to western standards”.

Cars will evolve profoundly due to the need to reduce CO2 emission and energy consumption – and they will also change to better the existing communication technology, substituting the current CD player and radio with a seamlessly integrated technology hub.


The images shows the coolth of the prt which is AC inside. You can also note that they produce less heat than conventional automobiles_Image courtesy of Foster & Partners


The presence of the car in metropolitan areas will endure, particularly considering that even a city like Copenhagen, which is actively trying to reduce the share of total car trips to 1/3, is struggling to achieve results. It is clear that the love affair between man and car is far from over.

While continuing to work on reducing car traffic, the transport planning industry needs to respond to this reality, rather than fight a lost cause for car-free cities or radical reconfiguration of mobility patterns that envisages a major decrease in private transport.

Transport planners will have to focus on harmonising the presence of the car in the city rather than negating it, re-negotiating the use of space dedicated to private vehicles in the car-dominated approach to planning that characterised the 70s and 80s.

Streets will have to be designed holistically, using from a performance-based approach and understanding the micro-environment and the balance in the use of space between pedestrians, bicycles, public transport, and cars.


Image courtesy of Foster & Partners


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