Jessica Leigh Hester is a former senior associate editor at CityLab, covering environment and culture. Her work also appears in the New Yorker, The Atlantic, New York Times, Modern Farmer, Village Voice, Slate, BBC, NPR, and other outlets.
What if an intersection could tell when you were coming, and adapted to your needs?
Numerous interventions are aiming to make busy street crossings more navigable. As CityLab reported in January, scientists and architects are collaborating on cartography that will make wayfinding simpler for people with visual impairments. Plus, back in 2012, Gallaudet University in D.C., a preeminent institution for the hard of hearing, released a set of DeafSpace Guidelines designed to be a reference for creating urban environments that are comfortable for people who communicate with their hands. (For instance, shadows, glare, and densely-packed sidewalks make it tricky for sign language to be readily legible.)
New technology recently unveiled at the Designs of the Year exhibition at London's Design Museum takes the idea of accessible design even further, adapting to suit pedestrians' needs in real-time.
Introduced by designers Ross Atkin and Jon Scott, the prototype for Responsive Street Furniture aims to deliver a customized experience on demand.
It works like this: Users log on to a website and select from a range of potential accommodations, including additional spots to sit, brighter street lights, audio cues, and more time to cross. The site stores users' data, and when they pass an intersection equipped with the technology, the environment adapts to fit the preselected preferences.
The notion of tailoring an environment to different needs isn't novel, but it's definitely powerful, not to mention empowering.