September 25th, 2015. By Emily Gabelludy for Wired.
Cities used to grow by accident. Sure, the location usually made sense—someplace defensible, on a hill or an island, or somewhere near an extractable resource or the confluence of two transport routes. But what happened next was ad hoc. The people who worked in the fort or the mines or the port or the warehouses needed places to eat, to sleep, to worship. Infrastructure threaded through the hustle and bustle—water, sewage, roads, trolleys, gas, electricity—in vast networks of improvisation. You can find planned exceptions: Alexandria, Roman colonial towns, certain districts in major Chinese cities, Haussmann’s Paris. But for the most part it was happenstance, luck, and layering the new on top of the old.
At least, that’s the way things worked for most of human history. But around the second decade of the 20th century, things changed. Cities started to happen on purpose. Beginning with New York City’s zoning laws in 1916, development began to occur by commission, not omission. Laws and regulations dictated the shape of the envelope. Functional decisions determined aesthetic outcomes—not always for the best.
So let’s jump to now: A century, plus or minus, after human beings started putting their minds toward designing cities as a whole, things are getting good. High tech materials, sensor networks, new science, and better data are all letting architects, designers, and planners work smarter and more precisely. Cities are getting more environmentally sound, more fun, and more beautiful. And just in time, because today more human beings live in cities than not.
In this year’s design issue, we’re telling the stories of some of those projects, from the detail of a new streetlight to a sacred city in flux, from masterful museums to infrastructure made for bikes (and the algorithms that run it all). The cities of tomorrow might still self-assemble haltingly, but done right, the process won’t be accidental. A city shouldn’t just happen anymore. Every block, every building, every brick represents innumerable decisions. Decide well, and cities are magic. —Adam Rogers
LA Goes LED—and Gets Connected
Los Angeles is retrofitting 4,500 miles of orange-yellow sodium-vapor streetlights with a moonlight-hued matrix of light-emitting diodes. Roads will look brighter, but they’ll also be more connected. Every energy-efficient lamp will link wirelessly to the Bureau of Street Lighting, letting headquarters know if it is on, off, broken, etc. And in the future? Lights that change in response to what’s going on around them. They might blink if a police car or ambulance is on its way or brighten for pedestrians after a ball game. While other cities around the world use LEDs to save money and add splashes of color and emphasis, LA plans to build a network that does more than show what’s happening right in front of you. It tells you something about the entire city. —Adam Rogers
An Airport in the Airport for Celebs and Other Elite Fliers
More than 70 million people passed through Los Angeles International Airport in 2014—a jet-lagged gauntlet of wheely bags and neck pillows. Now LAX is getting an upgrade, a more than $8 billion overhaul of everything from concession areas to moving walkways. Delta kicked in $229 million to rework its Terminal 5. The revamp includes Delta One, a sort of airport within the airport that caters to celebrities and the wealthy. It presages a future where airports are less ad hoc, better organized, and not so dehumanizing.
On arrival, a curbside attendant checks your name, velvet-rope-style. Once you’re checked in, it’s off to a swanky lounge, one of the most private spaces in the terminal. When it’s time to board, Delta escorts take you up a private elevator and down a private corridor to the front of the line at a priority security checkpoint.
On the way home you can opt for an express exit with Delta’s VIP Select service. You’re chaperoned to the tarmac, then a hybrid Porsche zooms you across the airfield and onto Century Boulevard where, presumably, your driver will be waiting. —Nate Berg
To Beat the Drought, LA Turns to Less-Thirsty Landscapes
The palm trees along Hollywood Boulevard may be iconic, but native to LA they are not. And as California staggers through drought, landscape architects are replacing imported plants and thirsty turf with native and drought-resistant flora. This new look—call it California Dry—is all about getting creative with textures and shapes. —Liz Stinson
A Mobile Opera Cruises Downtown LA
To experience Hopscotch, an opera set in 24 limousines and SUVs driving around downtown LA, the audience will sit knee-to-knee with singers and musicians. Over the course of the show’s run in October and November, the cars will drive three routes, tracking a story of the search for a lost love. Actors and dancers with wireless mics will perform on the sidewalk and in cars passing by, mixing with the ballet of everyday city life.
“LA feels like the central character,” says Yuval Sharon, artistic director of the Industry, the opera company behind the production. Audience members—just 96 per performance—will also leave the cars and enter buildings and public spaces, with each walk or ride telling one of 36 chapters. You might want to attend more than once—any given audience member will see only eight chapters. —Nate Berg