One of the biggest challenges in retrofitting older cities has turned out to be the most ubiquitous: the street. Whereas buildings and even public transportation systems can be updated in stages, with little interruption to the life of the city, the urban grid is a much more fragile ecosystem. It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario. What comes first: the post-car city, or post-car behavior?
So designers and policy-makers have developed a number of compromises. In Dallas, that means covering a six-lane highway with a park. In Chicago, it means retrofitting existing boulevards with green infrastructure. In New York, the DOT closes off certain streets in the summer, turning them into temporary parks. In London, higher taxes for drivers discourages commuting by car.
Milan, another city clogged with automobile traffic, is the subject of a new proposal by designer Matteo Cibic. His idea is simple: "If you can pay to park your car in front of your house or office, why can’t you also pay to have a tree right there?"
The Milan native imagines giving citizens the option to pay a small sum to have a portable green "trolley" parked near their homes. The trolleys are rolling, miniature parks that would provide other services—like charging stations, benches, and Wi-Fi—to renters. It’s an unusual take on the post-car city, since it enables citizens to make micro-investments in green space, with immediate, visible benefits.
The proposal is only an idea, but Cibic tells Co.Design that he’s currently developing prototypes and looking for investors. He imagines the parks as an advertising tool for companies who want to associate their brand with sustainability, or for schools and institutions who have no access to green space. Private neighborhood "investors" could band together to aggregate the trolleys en masse, taking over whole blocks.
The weakness of the proposal—and others like it—is in the design of the trolleys themselves, which seem like they’d be targets for thieves. It’s also unclear who would be in charge of caring for and transporting the structures.
What’s really interesting about Cibic’s proposal is that it puts the choice between car and park in the hands of citizens, making it a behavioral intervention as well as a design concept. "Citizens could decide to finance the stay and maintenance of the little garden and park it wherever they like," he explains. "Parking it would also reduce the free parking slots and thus the experiment would ultimately show if people are willing to sacrifice parking space for green space."