Break out the Lego – if you could build a city from scratch, what would it look like? In the year 2050, two thirds of the people on Earth will be living in urban areas (give or take), so how do we want to live? Cities used to grow kind of by accident, wherever conditions were good and people accumulated. But these days we have an opportunity to be way more deliberate in the design as we build, evolve and imagine the cities of the future. We could design cities for humans AND nature to thrive in, that exist beyond facilitating commerce.
As the air turned orange with smoke in New York earlier this year and the effects of climate change and pollution are making themselves felt all over the planet, we need to get our sh*t together and radically change the urban environment. And there is definitely hope in the form of exciting and promising design and initiatives popping up all over the place.
In Valladolid Spain, these green shades provide a cooling canopy, absorb CO2 and encourage biodiversity.
And Eindhoven’s spacecraft-like Hovenring cycle bridge allows cyclists to pedal stress free above the traffic jam.
When our own clients come to us with future-facing ambition to imagine better solutions to the problems we all face, it really gets our gears going. We recently worked with Plymouth City Council and innovative tech startup Mosa that both plan to change the way we travel for greener cleaner cities.
Sustainable moves: greening up Plymouth’s commute
Plymouth City Council wanted to change the way people move around the city with their sustainable travel initiative – Connect Plymouth.
The way we travel obviously has a big impact on the environment but it does on people too. Which sounds more fun – being stuck in traffic with hundreds of idling engines or whizzing around the city, wind in your hair, on a bright green e-bike? And if pedals aren’t your style, the project also includes an electric car share platform and 300 publicly accessible EV charging points across the city. The rise of sharing and leasing models is a really interesting trend in re-thinking consumption for a more sustainable future.
According to the RAC Foundation, most personal cars in the UK sit unused for 96 percent of the time. As urban planning experts try to reduce auto dependency and find better, more sustainable ways to travel, car sharing rather than individual ownership makes a whole lot of sense – especially in urban areas.
Whatever the mode of transport, Plymouth recognised the need for overall transit innovation and made it easier to choose green travel. This project was really interesting and we had the privilege to work on branding, naming, illustration and creating locational/signage design with the purpose to connect people, connect places and connect Plymouth.
Mosa: unlocking cleaner cities on two wheels
Do you know why so many people in cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam travel by bicycle? Because the environment makes it easy to do. There are cycle lanes everywhere and when you get to your place of work, shops or cinema or wherever you’re going, you know that there will be a suitable place to lock your bike up. Tech startup Mosa is focusing on solving at least one of those problems. They have designed a smart bike dock with hardware developed in partnership with Giant.
But Mosa are not selling locks to to cyclists. Instead they’re approaching employers, space-owners and councils to install the locks on new and existing bike parking sites to facilitate green travel for their employees, customers, residents etc. The super secure smart docks are free for the cyclist to use and bookable via the Mosa Rider app. If you’ve ever lugged around a lock heavier than a small child in your backpack or experienced the anxiety of leaving your beloved two-wheeler chained to a lamp post, you’ll know what a game changer this is. And rather than placing all the onus on the cyclist, Mosa are here to make it easier to choose two wheels over four.
Mosa are at the start of their journey after running pilot programmes in the UK and Tel Aviv and we partnered with them to bring their vision to life with a vibrant and flexible brand that puts community and optimism at the heart of the story. Urgent high-vis yellow, soft rounded typography, and portrait photographs to create a real identity that disrupts the security sector. They’ve got their sights set for a net-zero urban future while also creating a platform for inclusivity within cycling.
“Cities are fascinating. They are the melting pots of civilisation where minds, cultures and ideas meet to birth humanity’s future. How we design our cities and the things that go into them has a great impact on the kind of future we will help to bring about. An example: Cities like London that avoid ghettos by spreading council housing across all boroughs bring tolerance and cultural exchange. Whereas Paris, which is similar geographically, has a policy of segregation which breeds elitism (and riots?).
Admittedly these are big high-level city planning decisions, but small acts of design can have similar impacts as we are all driven by our subconscious. There was an experiment conducted by Yale which showed that by simply getting someone to hold a hot drink vs a cold drink they will perceive strangers as being kinder, and become kinder themselves. Good product, graphic, and UX design can have a similar effect if we keep compassion and inclusivity in mind.
Now, that’s not always easy to do, I know. We make high security bike docks, which by their nature keep people out and can make the world look more threatening, but through careful product design and with Leap’s branding and graphic genius we’re on our way to something that does good beyond the product’s brief. And with over 55% of the world’s population living in cities, this is where these kinds of design choices have the greatest impact.”
– Simon Laumet, MOSA co-founder
Re-drawing the map
Design isn’t just aesthetics; it moulds how we interact with our surroundings. As our cities hurtle into the future, we can choose to be active participants in shaping what comes next. We’ve got a chance to actually design our urban landscapes, to make them really great places to live, work, and get lost in. It’s a chance to craft cities where people and nature both thrive, with better air and a whole lot more green.
This shift isn’t just about infrastructure; it’s also about mindset. There’s a burst of ideas and initiatives popping up everywhere. And guess what? Designing cities with a planet-first mindset could make city life way cooler for us too.