Smart Cities Insider interviewed Dan Sturges. Dan Sturges is a leading mobility designer & developer focused on creating smart multi-mobility systems. We talked about the future of mobility and highly interesting community concepts like the “Centerwalk”.
Could you tell more about you and your projects?
Dan Sturges: I’ve been working on innovating mobility for 30 years now. I began my career as a car designer for General Motors, but was really far more interested in the future for small “intermediate” vehicles – something that filled the gap between a low-priced rudimentary Vespa scooter and the more expensive and complicated common automobile. This led me to designing and the first Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV) and creating the company to commercialize it. (Today my company is called GEM and owned by Polaris Industries).
Have you ever looked an automobile exploded into the 20,000 – 30,000 parts that they are comprised of? It’s amazing how many parts there are – and equally amazing to me that this is the vehicle we commonly drive just one (1) mile to the store or for a coffee sometimes. It’s overkill really! And in our new world of smartphones and the Internet, we can now begin selecting our mobility “on-demand”, and in the future we will be able to choose the right vehicle (tool) for the needs of the trip. While I was early in the NEV space, it’s only now that cities have begun installing bikes hare systems and developing their public mobility networks to a point where NEVs begin to make more sense to many consumers. It’s exciting! I sometimes actually think of our NEVs as being “fax machines” that we have only used as “copiers” so far. Now are we connecting them up to “phone lines” – to our new mobility networks and enabling consumers better solutions of getting around.
The more I work on new smart mobility solutions / systems, the more I have become interested in the city or community as being the ultimate “product” to focus on, rather than the new mobility mode. The latest mobility paradigm came over 100 years ago – it’s the car we all know so well – and it has profoundly reshaped the built environment from our urbanized world of 1900. Remember, the average American never traveled more than 30 miles from where they were born before the Model T. Think of that! There is no reason to think this upcoming new mobility paradigm won’t be able to as boldly reshape our cities and world again – but in an even more positive way! It’s not as interesting that we create new energy and land saving mobility solutions, as it is that we can create really awesome new communities (and cities) now with these new digital right-sized mobility elements!
What is your current project that you’re working on?
Dan Sturges: The big project I am working on now is designing a new type of community or small city based around the profound new smart mobility technologies. We can now build communities that offer internal micro-sized motorized movement, and deliver major advantages over conventional automobile-oriented community designs of the past. We can create an all-new neighborhood for families – where kids can run in front of the house and play, while never even seeing a car, because there are no cars on the streets. All the motorized movement will happen in sealed-off alleyways in the back of our dwellings – where you have improved access to your community. I’m talking about an entirely new built environment enabled by cutting-edge mobility and livability innovation.
A part of your built-environment concept is called “Centerwalk”. Could you please tell us more about it and how this could improve lives in cities?
Dan Sturges: If I had the significant financial resources, I would probably start thinking about a concept of an all-new small city myself. China ultimately would be that kind a place that could ultimately build a radical new city based on these innovations. But to start down this path, a small planned community leveraging this new tech is a good place to start.
The name Centerwalk has to do with the tiny amount of space (sidewalks) we give to pedestrians, while our streets are giant and allowing a few to move in over-sized cars, and parking empty cars. In the new age of mobility on-demand, Uber, car share, etc.: we should begin looking at how the center of the street, in communities, is for people. Not cars. Cars can park at the edge of a new community, and the resident can walk, bike, or transfer into something like a “horizontal elevator” for the short remaining distance to their dwelling.
I also feel these new community designs will help existing cities and communities see the value of this new Centerwalk model, and be able to experience the new way of getting around, and enable larger scale adoption or modification with the multitude of existing communities. This is because a problem I encountered getting low speed vehicles to find users in cities – a lot of people don’t want to drive a little vehicle next to a big SUV. Today, if you try to take out cars and parking, some businesses in the communities will get upset. I often hear “you are lowering the value of my property” with pushing cars towards the edge. So, if we are trying to innovate smart cities, but at the same time not affect anyone’s valuation of their property, I don’t think it’s going to go very well. Actually, it hasn’t. We need to go to a nearby greenfield or an empty nearby brownfield and start experimenting with a whole new DNA of what a smart city can become.
To add a little more detail on the Centerwalk concept; in most suburban areas people drive their car right into their own garage, but in a high-rise you don’t drive your car to a condo, you drive into a garage. You get out of your car, you go to the elevator and you go to your condo. If you can imagine that high-rise “laid onto its side” where you park your car at the edge and you can either walk or jump into a “robot mover” unit – that thing zips you right to the back of your apartment in just a minute or two, then you can see a new model I am proposing. It might be a nice day and you have the micro-sized robotic mobility unit take your briefcase and groceries direct to your dwelling and automatically install them in your place, while you walk to your house at your leisure, without having to carry anything heavy.