How the city of the future will be shaped by us

Published by on 10.16.2020 - 5 min

As cities become more and more divided, paying close attention to the needs and behaviours of their inhabitants can help reshape them. How? This is precisely what a slew of designers, architects, and startups are currently working on.

Designing cities through data

What if data could help shape the city of the future? Architect and designer Francesco Cingolani is using data to construct new urban areas adapted to the wants and needs of the locals. “Instead of imposing certain designs or uses on cities, the idea is to use data that we’ve collected, read, and interpreted to construct new spaces,” Cingolani said in an interview with JCDecaux, adding: “All this data will help give us different, more precise insights into real estate projects and their impact. Data can serve as a veritable support tool in the conception of cities.”

And conceiving ideas, like designing spaces, is in his blood. In 2014, he founded Volumes, a coworking space in northern Paris. It’s a project founded on the idea of community, and it’s constantly evolving. This Fab Lab has given birth to, among others: a Food Lab, an education space for engineering university École des Ponts ParisTech, the HQ for the Grand Paris Fab City Research Lab, and Reflow, the first European circular economy research program. But then, what exactly is the role that Fab Labs play in urban design?

Fab Labs and their impact on cities

According to Paris’s Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, the biggest science museum in Europe, “A Fab Lab (fabrication laboratory) is an open space in which all kinds of tools, and computer-powered machines in particular, are made available to the public for the conception and creation of objects.” Fab Labs allow people to come up with innovations, and can even help commercialise them. As the Cité des Sciences explains, “commercial activities can be prototyped and incubated in a Fab Lab, but they must not impede on other activities: their growth must happen outside the Lab, rather than within it.”

But more concretely, how can these laboratories assist in creating the city of the future?

Mobility, for example, is an area in which Fab Labs can play a role. That’s certainly the case of mobiLAB, a research centre founded in 2019 that’s focused on the future of mobility. “The mobiLAB will serve as a laboratory for the clean public transport of the future. Its goal is to provide people with quality services while aligning with economic objectives around the environment and new forms of mobility,” said François de Mazières—president of the metropolitan community of Versailles Grand Parc—at the lab’s opening. Startups around the world are taking advantage of labs like these. That’s the case for US startup Pix Moving, which is building self-driving vehicles that consist of a custom vehicle body mounted on an autonomous chassis, which can thus be adapted to specific uses (whether to transport people or goods). Another startup, Plastic Road, is using a Fab Lab to develop an alternative to asphalt that can be used to create modular roads.

So will these be adapted to the way we use cities in the future?

A Fab Lab in the United Kingdom
Manufacturing workshop in the heart of an English Fab Lab Darya Tryfanava via Unsplash

The emergence of Fab Cities

There are 28 Fab Cities around the world, together home to some 1,300 Fab Labs. Conceived in 2011 by Tomás Díez, director of Fab Lab Barcelona, Fab Cities are directly linked to the philosophy and spirit of innovation central to Fab Labs. A 2018 manifesto for Fab Cities reads: “We give priority to people and culture over technology, so that the city can become a living and resilient ecosystem. Autonomous vehicles, digital tools, artificial intelligence and robotic machines must be placed at the service of the people’s well-being and expectations.” The city of the future will adapt to the everyday realities of its inhabitants on a grand scale, and with Fab Labs at its heart. And as always, startups are leading the charge.

That’s certainly the case with 2GetThere, a Dutch company that’s bringing automated transit solutions to dozens of cities, including Schiphol in the Netherlands, and Masdar City in the U.A.E. According to the startup, their vehicles have already been used to transport over 14 million passengers. Other companies, like May Mobility in the US and Navya in France, are working to simplify transport in cities using fleets of automated, electric minibuses. Innovations like these will continue to influence urban travel, while reshaping cities themselves to better serve the needs of their inhabitants.


Vincent Thobel, L’ADN journalist
L’ADN is the media on innovation that every day analyses the best concepts of the new economy on the web and in magazine format.



Copyrights : Sergio Souza, Darya Tryfanava