Cities of the Future: Highway Cities

Colonizing new worlds will provide not only new challenges but also new opportunities; opportunities to think out of the box and be creative, to plan different types of community and change the way we live, to rethink the whole concept of city-living and use our experience to plan more efficient and sustainable settlements. The likelihood that the planets we colonize will differ from Earth in both geography and climate, coupled with the freedom of building from scratch, may mean that the cities of these future colony worlds will be designed along completely different lines to those of present day Earth.

Changing Cities

You needn’t look far for evidence of urban reshaping taking place in the past. The colonization of the New World (America) presented a similar opportunity for European colonists and Western pioneers. While European cities had been largely unplanned, with road networks emerging naturally over time through necessity rather than by design, the American settlers instead took the opportunity to apply a more logical approach to the layout of their new cities, using a grid pattern to plan their streets (just as the Romans had done centuries before). This idea was, in fact, reintroduced by Italian architects and used in new developments across Europe, where transport and sanitation was becoming a real issue in continually expanding cities.

Today, the rise of the motor car is causing our approach to city planning to change yet again. With a huge rise in car ownership over recent decades, the otherwise logical grid system simply cannot cope with increasing volumes of traffic and is beginning to look somewhat outdated. The problem is that the grid-layout of many cities (and the even less practical layout of British and European cities) creates a network of awkward junctions, slowing traffic and making electronic signals necessary. The solution to this problem comes in the form of the freeway (or motorway), which uses slip-roads (on-ramps) to keep traffic moving at all times (at least that’s the idea). High speed motorways and wide boulevards are now the order of the day, and it makes more sense to spread our cities out over larger areas, rather than focusing them on one central spot.

Roads rule in the modern city, and the old idea of the city-center business district now seems wholly impractical, being replaced instead by out of town malls and drive-through restaurants.

Highway Cities of the Future

So, what’s the next step? Where is this trend taking us?

It seems that the logical future of city planning will involve doing away with the idea of the city altogether. Concentrating large numbers of buildings in one area only serves to cause traffic issues. Instead, might future settlements become entirely linear, being shaped to fit the highways, rather than highways being shaped to serve the city? Might the city and the highway actually become the same thing?

Highway city of the futureIt’s probably too late to apply such radical changes to the way we build here on Earth, but if we were to imagine starting fresh on a new world, this concept design (image, right) might seem entirely practical. This image comes from a project known as Island Proposition 2100, which proposes a new way to link Australia’s major cities. The idea is to create an enormous interconnecting ‘spine’ to join different regions of the country. The spine would provide a transportation highway for commuters and freight, as well as connecting utilities such as water and power. Most interestingly of all, the design also incorporates residential areas into the design of the highway itself, hanging several levels of apartments (and what appears to be a park) from the underside of the raised highway.

While the aim of Island Proposition 2100 is to connect Australian cities, it’s not too difficult to imagine a series of interconnecting highways such as this becoming a viable alternative to the city itself.

Who needs a city when every single person has high speed travel on their doorstep? Who needs a city when a single multi-lane highway connects and serves every residence, shop and office on the planet?

Providing the highway is wide enough, high volumes of traffic could travel at incredible speeds through these linear settlements. Meanwhile, parking lanes (or access to parking garages) on either side could be linked to the residences below via stairwells and elevators. There would be a limit to how many residences each section of the city can support, so parking requirements can be easily calculated, and public transport can be easily arranged.

Structuring the residential and commercial areas of our future settlements in this way would be extremely efficient in terms of transportation and utilities, and it would leave valuable ground space for agriculture, the preservation of natural resources, and industry (which, let’s be honest, has slightly different needs). Instead of connecting different cities or districts, these overpass cities could connect the various resources that exist on the planet – the location of resources and existing geography being the only factors that need determine their course.

Speaking of geography, this type of city building might be useful in areas where there are natural barriers to conventional city building. For example, the crossing of ravines might provide additional living space (image, left) while island chains could be connected by bridge-cities, freeing limited and valuable areas of fertile land for agricultural purposes.

Bridge city of the future

This second image (left) shows a somewhat less ordered and less practical application of the idea. It is the work of Canadian architects JA Studio Inc, and it shows their vision for the bridging of a valley in Italy as part of a competition called Zero Emissions. I guess this is what a shanty town in our linear city of the future might look like.

This wouldn’t be the first example of a bridge being used to provide residential and commercial space; the medieval Old London Bridge featured a chapel in its original design and became famously overcrowded with shops and buildings, some standing up to seven stories high, after King John leased parts of the structure in an attempt to recoup the building costs. Old London Bridge was even home to two 16th century flour mills (driven by water wheels, of course).

Highway Colonies

When we finally do get our act together and start colonizing new worlds, the areas we settle and and begin extracting resources from are likely to be spread far apart. (This again can be evidenced in the settlement of the New World, with cities and towns in America being spaced much farther apart than those in Europe and Britain.) Linking these distant areas with a high-speed transportation network will be vitally important, and the establishment of efficient planet-wide infrastructure will be high on our list of priorities. Will building linear highway cities like these be the best way of doing just that? Perhaps, or perhaps not. But whether or not this is truly practical or truly the answer to our future colonization needs, you have to agree that it’s a pretty cool idea, and that the finished result would look pretty awesome from space.

  • Gabriel

    Another practical configuration is the pyramid.

    This Japanese design may turn a city into a multilevel structure, with layers interconnected via elevators and monorail system. This 3D configuration saves lots of time traveling from one area to another, claimed to be very transportation-efficient, making cars much less needed in most cases. Tsunami waves may pass underneath, leaving the structure undisturbed. Space-efficient and saves cost of land.

    There is inherent risk in “overusing” the linear “bridge on top” structure to concentrate too many people in one place: Natural disasters such as earthquakes strong enough may damage a large portion and cause casualties at larger scales. The highway’s fate is no better if this happens and this will cut-off a large portion of the transportation. A road on solid ground will be necessary for emergency. I don’t opt-out the idea, I just say “use with moderation”

  • Arturo Gutierrez

    While I think the linear city concept looks really cool indeed, I wonder whether it could remain linear for too long. If valued resources are on far ends of a city line, then perhaps people would start conglomerating closer and closer to those ends, thinning out the middle of the line.
    I think linear cities would inevitably grow thicker nodes on certain points in the grid. Kind of like what mold does as it spreads over a rock. It connects all important places first and then it starts moving its mass into the nodes, leaving thin lines in between. Not much different than what our current cities do already.

  • Jack Hemsley 1

    I’d love to see a colony on a colonized world that takes this idea and creates a hundred-mile-wide ring that is a city and the middle of the ring is a traditional city.