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Arup Hosts NYC2050

Last Thursday February 24th Arup hosted its’ first NYC2050 event at Green Spaces: an eco and social entrepreneurial co-working space and hub. The event brought together professionals and students from design, technology, and sustainability industries with a vested interest in shaping the future of New York.  The purpose of the event was to bring together a cross-section of stakeholders from various areas and to facilitate an interactive conversation on how to co-design and co-create a better New York in 2050.

The event began with an overview of ground-breaking Arup projects to showcase our  global leadership and investment in innovation. We then kicked off the conversation with a panel of visionary experts drawn from a range of sectors. The panel included Aaron Koch, a senior advisor with New York City Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, Sonali Sridhar, a senior interaction designer formerly with the Open Planning Project and currently with R/GA, Jackrit Watanatada, a managing partner with KJK Climate Investments, Molly Wright-Steenson, a Princeton PHD candidate and digital strategist, and Sarah Rich, a writer/editor and co-founder of Longshot Magazine and the Foodprint Project.

Panelists highlighted the challenges and opportunities that New York City may face heading into 2050.  Sonali Sridhar shared some compelling maps that highlight the challenge of educational and racial disparity, and the promise of integration.  Molly Wright-Steenson raised the issue of obsolete infrastructure, and the opportunity offered by ubiquitous availability of data, which can be visualized and communicated to lead to productive decisions. Jackrit Watanatada spoke about the importance of small scale change at the local community level and taking small steps towards positive change, as opposed to relying entirely on large-scale institutions. Sarah Rich talked about the uneven distribution of fresh, healthy food and the opportunities presented by mobile devices and innovative distribution mechanisms to connect people with food. Aaron Koch concluded the panel with the City’s predictions of impacts of sea-level rise and the need to design and develop solutions for the challenges ahead.

Following the rich future overview by the panel, we led the audience into ‘NYC Wizard’ an interactive planning exercise focused on brainstorming improvements to the five boroughs inspired by plaNYC.  Participants were asked to highlight their top three priorities among the 10 goals outlined in plaNYC, and then to consider projects they would initiate to address and deliver on the goals.  Stuart Candy, who provided great support as a facilitator and time keeper- asked participants to report back their ideas in short bursts, or ‘Future Flashes’, in the form of public service announcements or news reports. The outcomes ranged from focusing on the efficient treatment and delivery of water to the creation of an indoor living machine in Central Park which would produce 20% of food for city residents. One group looked at creating incentives for interdisciplinary teams to address future housing needs in new, original ways.  Another group decided to take on the earlier climate change predictions by creating a sea wall with ecological benefits and heat island effect improvements around the five boroughs, fully equipped with new transport networks which included barge and kayak alternatives. Finally, one presenter caught the attention of the audience and drew impressed sighs when he announced that in 2050 the air quality, and light pollution would be greatly improved within the city: “its 2050, I’m standing in Times Square, and I can see the stars”.

Organizers of NYC2050 (Francesca Birks, Mayra Madriz) hope to host more focused thematic workshops which continue to draw on the rich professional talent and social capital of the cities where Arup has a presence. Change in New York and other cities will be driven by the intersection of various professions.  As a leader in integrated design, Arup can play a key role in designing and setting up a framework to facilitate and guide the creativity which leads to better cities in 2050.

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