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For Functional Cities, First Get the Basics Right

Experts at the Urbanism Next conference advise city leaders not to overlook basic, "mundane" infrastructure that underpins the success of cities and transportation systems.
April 11, 2021, 7am PDT | Diana Ionescu | @aworkoffiction
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Dee Browning

Rather than looking to flashy, high-tech transportation projects, writes Skip Descant in GovTech, urbanists have another recommendation for cities: "fix the sidewalks."

At the recent Urbanism Next conference, experts in the field cautioned against focusing on new technologies to the exclusion of basic infrastructure fixes and much-needed maintenance. "Getting the basics right is a necessary precondition for actually having the technologies work, in the sense of having people use them consistently," argued David Zipper, a visiting fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School's Taubman Center for State and Local Government. "Well-maintained sidewalks that connect to other transportation systems, he argued, could rise to high priority for any number of reasons — like improving safety for pedestrians or reducing car trips." A better sidewalk can encourage more people to use any number of high-tech mobility devices. "The moonshot mobility tech solutions that we think about — especially the shared ones — they really rely on cities first getting the basics right."

Zipper is not advocating a "retreat from technology." Rather, he asserts that "cities should more enthusiastically embrace the use of pilot projects as a way to test ideas against their ability to truly achieve some of those high-level goals, and rethink the project when it doesn’t."

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Published on Monday, March 22, 2021 in GOVTECH.COM
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