September 19, 2018 / 6:36 PM / a year ago

How agile is your city? Urban experts call for more flexible land use

SEATTLE (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Cities will have to embrace “agility” to adapt land use to the flexible needs that new technological innovations will require, the World Economic Forum said in a report released on Wednesday.

    At the moment cities typically designate a single purpose for a piece of land - such as a public road or a lot for building a house. An agile approach would allow that land to be used in different ways as the need arose, the report said.

    The Australian city of Melbourne has seized on this opportunity, it said, turning more than 90 hectares of pavement into parks and pedestrian plazas in the last 30 years.     

    “It is crucial for cities to be agile to promptly respond to the new scenarios,” said architect Carlos Ratti, co-chair of the World Economic Forum Council on Cities and Urbanization, which produced the report.  

    “Soon, we might imagine the case of a street for autonomous vehicles that creates an extra car lane during rush hour, but then turns it into a pedestrian-only plaza in the evening,” Ratti told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by e-mail.

    Roads make up 80 percent of the average city’s public space, he said, making them ripe for multi-use.

    The report cited Singapore as another city on the leading edge of “agile” planning.

    Its new Punggol North district, a burgeoning commercial hub for Singapore’s tech industry, has a district-level zoning plan to guide overall development, but the developer has the freedom to alter the use of individual parcels of land.

    Ratti said the new approach was necessary because technology would continue to bring disruptions to cities.

    He cited the software behind ride hailing app Uber, which has changed how people move around cities and forced authorities to respond by introducing new regulations.    

    The report said cities would have to be agile in many areas, including IT and governance.

    But Ratti said a flexible approach to land use was key, as technological advances allowed even greater levels of automation, transforming the global economy in profound ways.

    “Land use is possibly the underlying element that allows most of the other phenomena to unfold,” he said.

Reporting by Gregory Scruggs, Editing by Claire Cozens and Jared Ferrie. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit

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