Carlo Ratti of MIT Opens ISE 2018 With a Talk About the Future of Cities

By Rebeccah Musson

Carlo Ratti, one of the 50 most influential designers in America, talked this evening about the future of cities. The change from traditional cities to smart cities is occurring today and the industry is working through how the change will occur.

Carlo explained the only four numbers that matter in regards to cities: “2-50-75-80.” Cities take up 2 percent of the earth, host 50 percent of the population and are responsible for 75 percent of energy consumption, as well as 80 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. The future of cities is dependent on how these numbers change. Making small adjustments through utilizing data can cut down both energy and carbon dioxide emissions.

For example, in the city of New York, massive amounts of people travel each day from JFK airport to Manhattan. Through the analysis of data, Ratti explained how the sharing of taxis with people traveling at the same time could decrease the number of taxis on the road by 40 percent.

In terms of mobility, changes such as self-driving cars, automated intersections and drones can increase efficiency, decrease waste and impact every factor of city life.

Ratti accompanied each of his topics with examples his studio, Carlo Ratti Association, have actually created. His predictions are not about the future — they are the reality of the present time.

Carlo’s next question was: “What about office space?” All companies have people “interacting in physical space and interacting in digital space.” With technology, the goal of great companies is “to make the sum of these greater than the individual parts.” Smart buildings should enhance what is already there, whether through work efficiency or connecting people to the outside world in new ways.

The same theory can be applied to the retail industry. Despite the fact that within the next five years, 25 percent of all shopping malls are predicted to close, there are still ways to enhance shopping. To improve the physical space of retail, it’s necessary to improve the experience. Ratti says, “If shoppers don’t have a reason to go somewhere, they will just say ‘Alexa order this.’”  Ratti’s studio created a new food market where consumers using digital displays could find as much additional information as they wanted. Depending on time, information ranged from nutritional facts to the field where the food was grown. By focusing on experiential improvements through technology, kids and adults alike had a reason to go in person to the grocery store.

The future of cities is about how to create a new hybrid space integrating the physical world with the digital one. Ratti says in this new mix, technology has the potential to create a “richer, beneficial and more experiential life.” However, the results of technology are often unpredictable and he finished his talk leaving us with a troubling question: “How smart does your bed at night have to be before you are afraid to go to sleep at night?”