About the Project

 

How will urban society be impacted by tomorrow's transit system?

 
Background

With Designit’s new office in New York, we wanted to explore a problem specific to this city of cities, namely, how the future of transportation and technology will impact society. When people intersect with complex infrastructure systems like transit, their behaviors and social practices are changed in unpredictable ways. The greater New York area is incredibly complex, involving the MTA, NJ Transit, LIRR, NYCTA, MetroNorth, CitiBike, Amtrak, Greyhound, and East River Ferry, to name a few. We chose to look at how these systems were developed and evolved in the past, and understand how tomorrow’s transit futures might also change the rules and behaviors of social interaction.

Approach

Our goal during the research phase was to gain a level of understanding about transit in New York City, in order to develop believable and compelling future narratives. Specifically, we wanted to understand “How did we get here?” and “What will drive change and how will it be experienced?” As such, we focused our research on 3 major domains: People, Modes of Transit, and Policy Drivers.

For each research domain, we wanted to tie together the past, the present and possible futures. In order to arrive at the answers we needed, we conducted a lightweight research effort using techniques such as graffiti walls, diary studies, ethnographic observations, expert interviews, and literature review.

Key Issues:
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People
Wayfinding remains unsolved, even in today’s information age.
People use public goods for their own private interests. 
People expect the transit system to be one seamless service, when in fact it’s hundreds of systems stitched together.

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Policy Drivers
Past decisions still have lingering effects.
New York City transit is moving towards a hybrid governance structure.
Technology is being used to empower policy.
Planning urban projects is now taking into account external events like climate change.

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Modes of Transit
City planners have begun to take a region-centric approach to commuter train systems.
Infrastructure design has shifted towards pedestrian-focused planning.
Underutilized waterways present many possibilities for transportation.

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Developing Future Narratives

The insights from the research helped inspire three distinct themes, which we used to guide our concept development. These themes are: Transit + Data, Regionalism, and Hybrid Governance. Each theme had a set of core features and provocations that framed our thinking during an ideation workshop.

 
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Transit + Data

In the near future, big data and internet connected devices will play a more prominent role in the transit experience. For example, wayfinding was designed to help navigate physical space, but digital technology is adding to the complexity of information space. This new digital infrastructure would present opportunities such as connecting transit/non-transit services and fluid/adaptive traffic control. However, this digital infrastructure also presents concerns around information cognition and privacy/security. 

Hypothetical future events:
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NYC OpenTransit develops guidelines to “open source” transit, any citizen can contribute to the transit system.

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Conversations between infrastructure and people become commonplace.

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Growing trend of “Ghost Citizens” poses challenges to the city in terms of revenue, policing, and security.

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Dynamic, personalized signage system piloted by the city is prone to data error, but provides powerful personalization.

Regionalism

In the near future, planning for transit will shift from the current ‘Manhattan as the epicenter’ model to a ‘NYC is part of a regional network’ model. New economic hubs will arise outside of Manhattan and new transportation routes that facilitate movement throughout the greater metropolitan region will be needed. Though Manhattan has long been the cultural and economic center of the region, we are seeing rising rent prices in Brooklyn and New Jersey, major companies moving headquarters out of Manhattan, population growth in outer boroughs, and initiatives by the Mayor’s office. These shifts encourage the development of new economic and cultural hubs. The transit system of NYC will need to account for and facilitate the movement of people beyond the current paradigm of into/out of Manhattan.

 
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Hypothetical future events:
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A decline in business in Manhattan results in vast amounts of empty office space; people come up with creative new uses.

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Major agreement reached by the city and metro communities provides funding for a new wave of regional transit initiatives.

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“Greater Metropolitan Area” definition expands as transit times collapse, and once distant cities are revitalized.

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An increasingly competitive marketplace drives transit stations to focus on architecture and service to differentiate.

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Hybrid Governance

In the near future, private companies will increasingly enter into what has recently been a public service. Cities will provide a transportation “platform”, consisting of policies, technology, and infrastructure. Enabling the private sector to tap into a base infrastructure to pursue new transit initiatives will be the new norm. Private-Public partnership projects such as CitiBike and the Chelsea Highline, mass adoption of an open-source mindset, and the development of regulations to manage non-traditional private enterprises are hinting at this future reality. Private companies will seek to enter the transit market for a variety of reasons, enterprising citizens will launch solutions to user problems, the city government will provide governance, and the public will comment on and determine the efficacy of these enterprises.

Hypothetical future events:
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Ride-sharing services launch fleets of Autonomous WaterTaxis.

 

New technology enables citizens to harness and sell the energy they generate in walking, biking back to the city, creating a new energy economy.

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City begins crowd-sourcing cleaning of public infrastructure, creating new business opportunities for citizens.

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City develops a payment OS, unifying payment methods and enabling rapid policy change and private implementations. 

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Concept Development

Instead of creating a concept of the future focused around specific product developments or a utopian vision, we strove for a more reality-based future. This future-cast is grounded in the social implications of technological change, and the more human aspect of what living in a metropolis means.

Our speculation about the future is embodied in the podcasts, fictitious events, and visual concepts, and we aim to provoke rather than explicitly define a hypothetical world. We chose podcasts as our narrative tool and container for our concepts for a variety of reasons. 

First, we felt that podcasts were a fantastic form of diegetic storytelling, that encourages people to imagine a future world from the inside out. Second, podcasts are a popular medium for New York’s transit riders, so it felt appropriate for the content.

Our future podcasts are called Lunch Ladies, The 8th Wonder, and Drunken Barber. Each podcast draws ideas from the three core themes and explores the potential future impact to people, policy, and modes.

Future Artifacts
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This show focuses on the introduction of a new technology called FlexStreets, which dynamically reallocates a fixed amount of road infrastructure. It explores the following concepts as related to our themes: 

Transit + Data
• FlexStreets
• Vehicle Taxonomy
• Dynamic Wayfinding

Regionalism
• Pedestrian-centric Urban Planning

Hybrid Governance
• Department of Mobility

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This show focuses on the social and economic consequences of distributed living outside of traditional residences. It explores the following concepts as related to our themes: 

Transit + Data
• Dynamic Maps

Regionalism
• Fluid Neighborhoods

Hybrid Governance
• Privatization of Transit
• Service Providers on Wheels

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This show explores what might happen as travel times decrease and once distinct regions begin to blur together. It explores the following concepts as related to our themes:

Transit + Data
• Wayfinding Services
• Cohesive Transit Ecosystem

Regionalism
• Multi-state Megaregion

Hybrid Governance
• 10Boros - privatized regional operators