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A week and a half ago, I had the opportunity to discuss how human-centered design can be applied to our urban spaces on the TEDxColoradoSprings stage, so I thought it might be a good time to talk about why I chose my topic: “Let’s Reimagine Our Cities Through User Experience Design.”

I’ve lived in a number of cities in the Western half of the United States, and within different settings in these cities. It’s fascinating to hear the stories of these cities, with all the ups and downs and growth that have taken place over the last century and a half. The rate at which these cities has grown, along with accompanying changes in city planning philosophies over this time frame, has significantly marked the physical environment.

And there’s this odd thing: every neighborhood and each city has a different feel.

Sure, some of this “feel,” this human experience of a city, has to do with culture and weather, a sort of unique flavor that distinguishes Albuquerque from Seattle. But I’ve found that much of the human experience of a city has to do with how we move within our cities – particularly how much time we spend in our vehicles.

Overlooking the Aurora and Fremont Bridges in Seattle (Photo credit: Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons)

My wife and I went to college in Seattle, in a very compact urban area. Neither of us had a car for most of our college career, so we biked, walked, and bussed to and from our campus to mixed use neighborhoods like Fremont, Ballard, Queen Anne, and the U District. Just about anything we needed or wanted was accessible by foot or pedal, and these neighborhoods were enjoyable to explore.

Hot air balloons above a drainage canal in Albuquerque

Albuquerque balloon fiesta (Photo Credit: Graeme Nicholl via Unsplash)

During our first year of marriage, we lived in Albuquerque, again carless, but here this became much more of a challenge. While the city of Albuquerque recently celebrated 300 years of existence, it has experienced much of its growth in the last century, so the city feels more sprawled out than the urban areas of Seattle. One massive benefit of biking, though the distances were longer, was experiencing the elements, the change in seasons, the heartbeat of the city, and a sort of clockwork of events in the neighborhoods we’d pass through on our way to work.

Since living in Colorado, and now that we have multiple kids, we’ve spent much more of our time in our car. Earlier this year, we purchased our first home in the Southeast part of Colorado Springs, which is amazingly diverse culturally, but it still has the feel of suburbia since there’s little within walking distance. So though I’d love to be more involved in this beautifully diverse part of the city and truly know my neighbors, the design of our community simply does not lend to knowing each other and gathering together as a community.

Mixed use lot illustration

Mixed use lot illustration from my TEDx talk

So here’s the vision that emerged: a mixed-use community hub in the Southeast within walkable distance from the abundance of homes in our area. A place to gather, work, play, and be community. Together.

And bigger than this, what about a city filled with walkable mini-hubs instead of a central focus on one central district and surrounding sprawl? What if we had more green and efficient transportation and bike paths linking neighborhood to neighborhood? What if community members had easier access to opportunities and to each other? What if our cities were built more for humans than for the vehicles we drive around in? Thus began my TEDx journey.