Scarce urban resources


Listen to me, The 1993 version of 2019

Listicle, based on personal experience and some seminars at FCL on smart cities, and the share economy rhetoric, I’m thinking about some urban resources that are possibly sub-optimally allocated in the sense that people are on average worse off with the current mechanism than with conceivable alternatives. There are probably even profitable business plans involved in solving some of these, although you not only have to capture private value from solving a public problem to get that funded, you also have to frame it in terms of smartphone apps. In an effective democracy one imagines, this might be a question of straight optimal mechanism design, in order to extract maximal overall return rather than optimal return for direct investors.

  • Motor traffic. Notoriously inefficient for a variety of institutional reasons. By default, when no collective solutions are found, the failure case is that everyone owning a personal car, which they all drive simultaneously at rush hour, therefore sitting traffic jams for hours per day, pumping out heat, and toxic waste gasses and thereby making the streets more hostile to any alternatives, locking in a cycle of more of the same.

    SENSEable argues that shared automatic vehicles can reduce this by 80%. Possibly non-automatic shared vehicles could help just as much for cheaper, but that’s a harder marketing pitch, and sounds hippy as opposed to techno-utopian.

    Poorly-allocated corollaries

    • parking space
    • automobile-focussed roads
    • bicycle paths
    • train tracks, monorail tracks
    • distance from workplace to home
  • noise (conflict between nightlife and early-risers, industry and tai chi classes in the park, traffic and sleep.)

  • liquor licences — speaking as someone from NSW, these are intensely analysed and yet still allocated in a suboptimal fashion.

  • water run-off (urban flooding)

  • desk space (see the office space startups)

  • commercial/industrial/residential zoning - feels like these are broad-brush solutions to a fine-brush problem

  • building heritage protections

  • shade-trees, maintenance and planting thereof

  • waste heat from passive building construction and active energy usage

  • public space for unstructured use

  • allocation of surfaces to advertising/art/information/nothing at all

  • agricultural land