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Brief Published: 30 Apr 2014

Public Space in the Cities of Tomorrow

Shigeru Ban (right) speaking at NYT Cities for Tomorrow

Architects, politicians and academics gathered last week to discuss the future of urban design at the Cities for Tomorrow conference in the US. Run by American newspaper the New York Times, the event focused on creating and improving public spaces.

  • Cardboard Constructions: Japanese architect Shigeru Ban spoke about his temporary paper shelters for people in disaster zones. In addition to family shelters, he also designs churches, schools and gathering places to give temporary settlements a sense of community. Many of these structures are still standing – despite being designed for short-term use. "Paper is permanent if people love it," explains Ban. "Concrete buildings that are built just to make money are not permanent." Last month, Ban was awarded the 2014 Pritzker Architecture Prize for his work.

  • Water Works: The ongoing Water Tank Project has enlisted artists such as Jeff Koons and Kenny Scharf to decorate more than 100 of New York's iconic water tanks to raise awareness about water issues and spruce up the city's rooftops. The first tanks will be decorated in spring 2014.
  • Public Playgrounds: Project 51: Play the LA River is an initiative from the University of California's Humanities Research Institute. It aims to reimagine the 51-mile concrete flood channel in Los Angeles as a public space through a series of concerts and community events. The project launches in September 2014.

  • Electric Power: California-based TIG/m manufactures self-powered streetcars for electric street railway systems. The cars carry all the electric or hydrogen power required for a 16-hour shift – meaning no overhead power lines. The vehicles are easy and inexpensive to install in urban settings, and help with the "last mile" problem of public transportation. TIG/m is working in Aruba – the first country to commit to the elimination of fossil-fuel use by 2020 – to create the first zero-carbon transportation system.

For more on the future of cities, take a look at Social Innovation and Re.Work Cities.