2019 JAN–MAR

Architect Olli Hakanen aims to revolutionize urban planning

What if the number of commuters using the New York City public transportation could be multiplied, while countless acres of green space would be freed and restored in the process? Olli Hakanen, our architect-in-residence in Jan–Mar 2019, encourages us to play with this intriguing idea that could become reality sometime in the future with the help of his smart tram-train platooning system.

Olli Hakanen, the founder of architectural and consultancy office Respace Oy stayed in New York for two months as FCINY’s architect-in-residence in 2015. Back then, Hakanen started to work on his still-ongoing project Helsinki Quick Step, which proposes a plan to renew the public transportation system in the capital of Finland. Hakanen will return to New York for three more months to further develop his project, as well as research how his ideas could be implemented by the public transportation system of New York City.

Hakanen’s Helsinki Quick Step project is based on a simple idea: planning the public transportation system concentrating on the flow of people, instead of vehicle flow. He believes that by optimizing the transportation system in this way, it would be possible to move significantly larger amounts of commuters in a quicker and much more effective way. The Manhattan East River City Project that Hakanen will be working on during his time in New York, utilizes the same principles.  

“The project will showcase game-changing ideas about urban mobility and planning near the UN Headquarters, one of the most famous urban environments in the world. It will hopefully have a global impact on the fundamental assumptions of urban planning, proposing a symbiosis between the human-made and the natural environment as the new paradigm of all urban development.”

But why is it so important to rethink the way our urban transportation systems work? In addition to the obvious benefits of effectiveness and saving time, Hakanen points out that smarter public transportation systems could play a significant role in solving much broader environmental problems:

“One of the most effective ways to combat climate change and biodiversity depletion would be a transition to a circular way of using land. It would mean that no new previously untouched areas of nature would be taken into use, and moreover many of the areas currently in the use of ineffective transportation systems could be returned to their original natural state. With the help of smarter transportation planning, this could be possible.”

In New York, Hakanen will be advised by Eric W. Sanderson, whom Hakanen regards as one of the most important urban planning reformers of our time. Sanderson is a landscape ecologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society at the Bronx Zoo and the author of Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City. Through geographically matching an 18th-century map with one of the modern city, the book recreates an image of what the landscape of Manhattan might have looked like in its natural state before the settlement.