Infill on the Cut Detroit Gensler

Gensler’s design forecasts for cities in 2021

Global architecture practice Gensler has set out its top four trends that are shaping urban design, public policy, and community voices this year.

1. Don’t sacrifice density

To get ahead of the next public health crisis, build resilience, and promote equity, cities should counterbalance perceived negative effects of density by improving access to essential services such as water, affordable housing, education, open space, technology, and healthcare. Repurposing existing buildings to new functions will form a significant part of such efforts. It’s possible to make cities healthier places without sacrificing the density that fuels their economies.

2. Parks and flexible streets

New approaches to city-making should bring open spaces, watersheds, infrastructure, forests, and parks into the heart of how we plan and reshape our cities in the face of climate change and future pandemics. Likewise, we are witnessing a new widespread acknowledgment of the advantages of flexible streetscapes. In the long term, reducing street widths to expand sidewalks will become more commonplace.

3. Second-tier cities rise

Technology has erased the need for physical proximity for many of our daily activities. Now, work can be done from anywhere. The pandemic caused many city dwellers who are no longer tethered to a downtown office to rethink life in large urban areas in favor of smaller, less dense second- and third-tier cities. Through a confluence of lower costs of living, more accessible amenities, and improved overall quality of life, the appeal of second- and third-tier cities (or “18 hour cities”) is increasing — and they must respond accordingly. Meanwhile, larger cities have an opportunity to preserve their vibrancy by increasing the permanent population and diversity of functions in their urban centers.

4. Prioritise accessibility

To make a 20-minute neighborhood work, it must first be infused with the necessary services to support residents’ quality of life, including healthcare, affordable housing, education, healthy food, retail, and greenspace. Access for all residents must be an absolute priority. This becomes especially important as shortages in revenues are affecting investment in updates to ailing transportation infrastructure. Over time, this will increase reticence to use mass transit in major cities, which amplifies the importance of creating cities where all residents can find what they need within walking distance.

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