How Technology Will Transform Urban Life

To drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles — say, during your grand tour of every Asia Society center — takes no less than five hours. Flying is faster but considerably more expensive. And train travel? Slow and expensive, it combines the worst of both worlds.

But the Hyperloop — a train envisioned by the inventor and entrepreneur Elon Musk — would be able to complete the journey in a mere half-hour, making it possible to have dinner in one of California's marquee cities and a nightcap in the other.

The Hyperloop won't be here for awhile — if it ever comes at all. But it is merely one of several technological innovations that have the potential to transform urban life around the world. In a keynote address delivered at the Imagine:2060 conference at Asia Society last Thursday, Judith Rodin elaborated:

The concept is to have passengers and cargo packed into pods and sent through an intercity system of vacuum tubes. And just last month, Musk tweeted that he was planning another type of vehicle that could make the trip between New York and Washington, D.C. in 29 minutes. According to Josh Giegel, President of Engineering for Hyperloop One, “We don’t sell cars, boats, trains or planes. We sell time.”

We are heading for a future, according to Bjarke Ingels, Founding Partner of BIG, where our mental map of the city is completely reconfigured, as our habitual understanding of distance and proximity — time and space — is warped by this form of travel.

The implications of these changes are profound. Sometime in the next three decades, a majority of the world's population will be living in a city — a milestone in human history. Reducing travel time between cities will connect disparate metropolitan areas and form conurbations with tremendous economic potential (think New York City and Philadelphia or, in an Asian context, Guangzhou and Shenzhen).

Rodin, president emerita of both the Rockefeller Foundation and the University of Pennsylvania, also discussed the opportunities and challenges of urbanization and why cities will need to be resilient to succeed. Her full remarks can be viewed below: