My grandfather built a house with a few hand tools using raw materials that he literally found (not bought) within about a square kilometre including trees! Of course, we’re talking about a pretty basic house, but it is still standing.
A hundred years on, and specialisation enables us to create immensely complex structures, processes and widgets, but only through the cooperation of numerous experts. And not one of those experts can produce, or even reproduce, the whole. We have relinquished control of the creation and maintenance of our own environment, which leaves us disconnected, alienated and vulnerable.
Ironically, the very inventions that have liberated us tend to slowly and subtly ensnare us. Take the car – symbol of freedom and independence. Most modern cities are characterised by networks of motorways and snarled traffic, and until recently almost all "solutions" were aimed at increasing the efficiency of getting a few thousand cars from the suburbs into the city every day.
So, while we think we’re getting smarter, maybe we’ve actually been getting dumber.
But that’s changing. The fire-eating, smoke-belching private car is slowly being toppled from its pedestal, and all around the world people are demanding that technologies are modified to serve our needs rather than forcing us to adapt to the requirements of the technologies. We need human-scale neighbourhoods and people-centred cities. And cities are responding – whether it’s through optimised communication infrastructure, improved public transport, non-motorised transport systems, green building codes, pedestrianisation, or mixed-use precincts, city administrators and developers are starting to build cities that work for people. Smart cities for smart people.
Smart cities of the world are able to satisfy diverse diet and eating preferences, all within walking distance, and again Melrose Arch gets full marks.
And we don’t have to revert to the ox wagon or burning mussel shells for cement. We love technology, and we’re not about to give it up. We just need to tame it – make it work for us, rather than against us. It’s early days still, and we have a lot to learn, but there are pockets of excellence and examples of genuinely creative thinking from all over the world.
One of these pockets of excellence in Johannesburg is Melrose Arch, the trendy "city within a city" next to the M1 highway at the Corlett Drive off-ramp. Here you have every amenity on site – offices, restaurants, shopping, hotels, banking, medical services, a gym, postal services and entertainment – so there’s no reason to leave the precinct.
So the pedestrian is number one. When you enter Melrose Arch, you can park your car for the duration of your stay and take a leisurely walk from one place to another. And you can do so day or night, as the precinct boasts state-of-the-art security systems and 24-hour CCTV surveillance.
Smart cities of the world are able to satisfy diverse diet and eating preferences, all within walking distance, and again Melrose Arch gets full marks, with 26 world-class restaurants and coffee shops, including the only Jamie’s Italian and PAUL restaurants in South Africa.
Another hallmark of a smart city is fast and efficient medical response. At Melrose Arch there’s Medi Response, an on-site medical services team, which provides 24-hour emergency medical response services and an emergency care station. A medical centre with GPs, dentists, physiotherapists, a psychologist, and even an aesthetic centre, fulfills many other medical needs.
Last but not least, travel in smart cities is relatively stress-free. At Melrose Arch, travellers can get seamless transfers to the Rosebank Gautrain station, as there are three Gautrain bus stops in the precinct, or hop on an Uber to take them anywhere within the city. Melrose Arch is one of Uber’s busiest areas in South Africa.
Melrose Arch, then, is a prime example of the mixed-use development and/or neighbourhood, a trend that more and more developers are adopting as they realise the need to create spaces that fit people – places where they can work, live, play, eat, love and pray, where they can feel part of a community. Spaces that are truly integrated. But they’re still the exception. We haven’t yet reached the critical mass, the tipping point after which it’s such a no-brainer we’ll all wonder why we hadn’t done it years ago. But we’ll get there.
Watch this space …