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Transportist: The City Elastic
As Harry Clytus once said, “You never step into the same city twice.” The term "elastic city" encapsulates the dynamic, adaptive and ever-evolving nature of cities. Drawing parallels to the inherent properties of elasticity, the metaphor captures the idea that cities can stretch, refactor themselves, adapt, and flex to changes in the needs of their residents, workers, and users.
Since its establishment in 1788, Sydney has continuously adapted to changes, whether induced by population growth, technological advances, or shifts in economic and social systems. From a penal colony, it transformed into a bustling port, and now a global city and financial hub. As the city grew, it experienced surges in demand for housing, transport, and public amenities. To cope, Sydney extended its boundaries, reshaped its urban layout, and built new infrastructure.
The railways significantly altered the landscape of cities, demonstrating another kind of elasticity. The rail network's expansion in the 19th and early 20th centuries didn't just connect distant towns, and create conurbations, but also reshaped the cities themselves. Suburbs sprang up along railway lines, accommodating growing populations and changing the way people lived and worked. This kind of adaptability can be seen as an early example of an elastic city response to technological change.
But elasticity is not mostly about physical adaptations or spatial extension. It's more about the social, economic, and digital fabric of a city. Refactoring how we view things is an important part of elasticity.
Airbnb, for instance, ushered in significant changes, altering the traditional understanding of the housing and hotel market. The Airbnb platform allowed city residents to rent out their homes or apartments to visitors. This adjustment effectively increased the supply of temporary housing without the need for physical expansion. Airbnb's approach demonstrates a key principle of the elastic city: leveraging existing resources more effectively to meet changing demands.
Uber, another digital disruptor, reflects similar principles. By leveraging the existing private car fleet, Uber provided an adaptable transport solution that expands and contracts with demand. These digital platforms not only reshaped industries but also contributed to the elasticity of cities by allowing them to meet residents' needs more efficiently.
Both of these cases led to specialisation, houses used solely for AirBnB (perhaps removing them from the rental market), and cars used solely for ridehailing or carsharing (perhaps increasing the total number of vehicles on the road).
Beyond the digital realm, cities are also adapting their physical spaces. Examples of elasticity include:
Parklets- temporary or semi-permanent extensions of the sidewalk that provide additional public space and amenities on streets initially designed for cars. They exemplify elasticity as they can be easily installed and parking removed (or vice versa) depending on the community's needs.
Warehouse conversion - originally built for manufacturing and storage during the industrial revolution, these buildings found new life as residential and commercial spaces when industries moved out of city centers. The "loft" living trend is a testament to this elastic adaptation.
Shopping malls - once solely commercial spaces, but over time they have morphed into mixed-use developments incorporating residential units, offices, and even educational institutions. This shift showcases a form of elasticity, as the city adapts its infrastructure in line with changes in consumer behavior and the wider economy.
The city is not one thing, and its uses can change and adapt as needs and opportunities arise. Focusing on nominal or typical use cases short-changes society of the potential embedded within.
Written with the help of ChatGPT4.