The Century of Cities.

  • 7. April 2013
  • Connectivity
  • Illustration: Iassen Markov / Krieger des Lichts, XOIO
  • Text: Rüdiger Abele

Daimler researchers have devised an urban typology that will help us to better understand city living and will provide stimuli for shaping tomorrow’s products.

Cities. The focal points of human living. Within a clearly delineated area, residents from all generations busily go about their day-to-day activities and find accommodation, schools, jobs, shops, and leisure facilities. And they use mobility to exploit the opportunities open to them and to shape their daily lives. Mobility is the binding agent of social and economic activity. There are several modes of transport available: some that ensure individual privacy, and a number of local public transport media. The city is shared by everyone and everything, so that practically every need can be met as conveniently as possible – the experts refer to this as “shared space” when this all takes place even on a joint traffic route.

Cities are highly diverse. For example they can be large or small, full or empty, constricted or generously spaced, modern or traditional. There is practically no limit to the number or combination of such defining characteristics. But they all share one aspect, namely the matter of how quality of life is taken into account – and this is vital for the development of the inhabitants in their local environment and key to the future of the overall system. In view of the prediction that the number of people living in cities will continue to grow strongly, the importance of this entire issue becomes even more obvious. More and more people will move to increasingly large cities in the course of the 21st century – this is the essence of all the forecasts. By 2025 the world’s urban population will have grown from today’s figure of 3.5 billion to an estimated 4.5 billion, while the rural population is only likely to increase very slightly from 3.4 billion to 3.5 billion. The United Nations estimates that about 75 percent of the world’s inhabitants will be living in cities in 2050, as compared to today’s figure of 50 percent. Cities are facing increasing challenges for the future, above all with regard to climate change and supplies of energy and raw materials (with shortages to be expected in some regions of the world), economic development, quality of life, and social harmony.


The visitor stands on the sidewalk and observes the traffic at an intersection:

Wind turbines atop a heritage-listed building give an indication as to where most of the electricity is now derived – from renewable sources. A businessman on an electrically powered scooter whirrs past. Behind him is a Mercedes-Benz coupé with plug-in hybrid drive technology, which electrically powers the quiet vehicle. The automobile is about to turn left, and a warning projected on to the road alerts all nearby traffic to the oncoming vehicle, a battery-powered B-Class car. The bike lane is marked in red. For his short journey through the city centre, the visitor will rent an e-bike at the public charging station. Or should he take the fuel cell-powered bus that is just arriving over there – or perhaps one of the car2go automobiles? The urban mobility of the future offers individual flexibility and freedom of choice.

Cities are crystallization points for innovation. Daimler’s future research is also focusing intensely on urban transformation. The task at hand is first of all to acquire a comprehensive understanding of today’s cities in these times of increasing urbanization, in order to gain a perspective for the future; this naturally has a great deal to do with mobility. After all, Daimler is a comprehensive mobility provider already today. City-oriented future research has generated an urban typology for the 21st century that describes the multifarious and changing nature of lifestyles and mobility. “We are embarking on the century of cities,” says Frank Ruff, Head of Society and Technology at Daimler Research.

“We have therefore developed eight characteristic urban models in order to compare cities and arrive at a better understanding of their differences and similarities.” The individual models have it all when it comes to the future of urban living: One example is “Compact Prosperous Variety” – wealthy, creative cities on a comparatively small space and at the same time usually marked by a long tradition, such as New York, London, Berlin, or Barcelona. And then there is the “Flourishing Suburbia” model, comprising thriving urban regions such as the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, or conurbations like Stuttgart and its surroundings. The “Urban Aspirants” comprise cities that are already burgeoning today and will continue this development over the coming years; these cities are to be found above all in East Asia, for instance Beijing or Shanghai. A further interesting model is “Striving Modernity” – aspiring cities that are undergoing a clear transition from more traditional structures to a strong brand of traditional modernity, such as Delhi, Mexico City, São Paulo, Jakarta, or Moscow.



“The objective is to gain an even better ­understanding of cities as living and operating environments and to draw conclusions for the vehicles and services of tomorrow,” says Ruff. “In-depth analysis of the urban models is of help here, as it points out both unifying and divisive patterns, thereby providing insights into individual patterns of mobility.” Like any typology, this analysis of urban models is based on a set of relevant features or dimensions that define the individual categories. The investigations carried out by the Daimler researchers have yielded six dimensions, each with its own fundamental distinguishing features and characteristics (see next page). “On the basis of these models, it is possible to compare towns above and beyond the categories of regional and national attributes,” explains Stefan Carsten, who supervised the development of urban models in the research group together with his colleague Christian Neuhaus. “Furthermore, they are crucial for an understanding of the future dimensions of urban mobility – and can thus also point out potential fields of activity for Daimler.”


A North American suburb in 2030, part of a large metropolitan area in the south of the U.S:

The townscape and street scenario are open and expansive. Wind turbines in the background give an indication of the growing importance of renewable energy forms. Even the traditionally car-oriented Americans are now starting to use other modes of transport more and more often for short trips. E-scooters are a frequent sight. A hydrogen filling station for fuel cell vehicles is conveniently located next to a shopping centre. A pedestrian strolls along the sidewalk, which is clearly separated from the roadway: Covering short distances on foot is seen as a personal statement for fitness and an active contribution to the conservation of resources. On the road, an electrically powered Mercedes-Benz sedan with fuel cell plug-in hybrid drive cruises past. Mobility has gradually become more diversified, even in the formerly auto-dominated American suburbia.



“Change” – How rapidly does the city undergo transformation?

This is the essence of this dimension, whereby change can take a generally positive direction, for example through the establishment of new industries, revitalization, or a strong influx of people – but can also undergo a negative development, marked by decay and shrinkage (of the population and industry).


“Life” – To what extent is the city alive?

This dimension describes the vitality of a city, in the truest sense of the word – to what extent is it fit for survival in the understanding of its inhabitants? At one end of the scale we have cities such as Copenhagen that are in excellent “health”; this is reflected for example in a strong economy and a variegated cultural scene. At the other extreme are cities such as Lagos or Baghdad, where many inhabitants have to fight for mere survival. The dimension of “Life” differentiates strongly between cities in highly industrialized or emerging countries and those in the developing nations.


“Form” – What does the city look like?

„Form“ describes the visible shell of the conurbation and, as a consequence, the extent to which it is prepared to meet the challenges of the future. The researchers’ criteria for a hub of development include the following attributes: compact, functionally and socially mixed, polycentric, multimodally connected, variegated, green, controlled in a complex manner, traffic-calmed, and architecturally distinctive. They currently see only a few cities as approaching this ideal, such as Stockholm and Barcelona, or to a certain extent Berlin, London, and Portland. The emerging and developing countries have a long way to catch up in this regard.


„Size“– How big is the city?

A conurbation of 2,000 inhabitants is already defined as a city in some countries, and at the upper end of the scale are metropolises with a population of 20 million or more. Urbanity and urban mobility are to be found in cities of all sizes, ranging in quality from mediocre to excellent. One finding with far-reaching implications for this study is that cities from one and the same size category are by no means identical.


„Relations“– To what extent is the city networked?

This refers above all to the global ranking enjoyed by a city and how well it is known. Paris, Tokyo, New York, and Shanghai each have a distinctive image and are well known throughout the world. At the other end of the scale are relatively unknown cities without a characteristic profile.


„Governance“ – How is the city controlled?

“Governance” describes to what extent a city’s social and political structures can orient themselves toward new objectives at any time – how adaptable it is, and also the extent to which the common good is placed before self-interest. Cities in Scandinavia, but also in autocratic systems such as China, are marked by robust “governance.” The cities at the opposite end of the scale tend to develop strong momentum in favour of individuals, mostly as a result of economic interests. The researchers in Berlin used these six dimensions to analyze numerous cities on all continents. “This provided the basis for the eight urban models that allow us to grasp the diverse nature of various cities,” says Stefan Carsten. In addition to the four categories outlined above, the researchers have also developed the urban models “Classic Sprawl,” “Saturated Urbanity,” “Continuous Decay,” and “Desperate Stagnation”.



A large Asian city with high population density, seen in the early evening light in 2030:

It is striving vertically, since space is limited and expensive. The road area is extended by mobility corridors at higher levels. Modern skyscrapers glowing in bright colours line the road, which is shared by cars, public transport vehicles, and motorbikes, all powered by various drive concepts. On dedicated lanes provided for autonomous driving the traffic flows smoothly, and the drivers can turn their attention to other activities. A high-speed railway links the city centre with other transport hubs such as airports. Pedestrians stroll next to the road and at a higher level, or on walkways and bridges located above the roadway. For short and medium-length trips on this walkway, those who do not wish to go on foot can spontaneously opt for a small, automatically controlled capsule vehicle. A resident has just arrived home and, together with his automobile, is being lifted up by the exterior car loft to his apartment.


The consequences of these investigations for future Daimler products are no less varied than the urban models themselves. The researchers see the “Compact Prosperous Variety” model leading to decreasing importance for the private automobile, and at the same time expect new opportunities for flexible usage models and mobility services that link various modes of transport. The “Flourishing Suburbia” urban model stands for high affinity and demand for environmentally friendly drive systems, with stable demand for automobiles. The “Urban Aspirants” model accords public transport an important role and sees great opportunities for vehicle-based mobility. However, the researchers are reluctant to reveal what specific plans for new vehicle concepts or services are being envisaged for which urban models or individual cities – this knowledge is of high strategic value to the company. It is being made directly available to the product development and strategic marketing departments, for instance to provide impetus in the search for interesting extensions to the vehicle range and in the design of future vehicles, but also in the development of new mobility services.

A statement from these sectors is that there will be “urban-fit” vehicles – automobiles tailored to the mobility requirements of a city, which within the Group could yield a whole range of vehicles catering to the various urban models. There is a discernible trend for example toward “urban micro e-mobility,” i.e. short-distance mobility based on small electric vehicles. smart, a brand of Mercedes-Benz Cars, is a pioneer in this field, offering products with locally emission-free mobility for short, medium, and long distances: The smart fortwo electric drive has already been joined by the ebike, and production of the battery-powered escooter is currently under preparation. Work is also being carried out on additional innovation impulses for urban micromobility. “Our urban typology project is primarily concerned with arriving at an understanding of the diverse nature of urban living and its impact on the urban mobility of tomorrow,” summarizes Ruff, “for passenger cars, commercial vehicles, new vehicle concepts, and mobility services alike.”

To present this concept more vividly and in greater detail, realistic scenarios were created that will enhance our understanding of the expected changes to the urban environment and innovations in mobility. But will it all turn out exactly like this? Ruff gives us food for thought: “The future often has surprises in store for us, but we have already started to steer them in the described strategic directions.”

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