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Reimagining Concrete Jungles: AI's Playful Strokes in Urban Design

Zach Katz, the founder of BetterStreetsAI, is using artificial intelligence tools to transform and enhance urban environments. Instead of traditional art mediums, Katz utilizes emerging AI programs to visualize his vision of beautiful streets. He began by transforming his own neighbourhood in Brooklyn, New York, adding elements like pedestrian promenades, water fountains, and children playing.

Katz believes that streets can be more people-centric and less car-centric.

Inspired by his initial success, Katz started receiving requests from people worldwide to transform their neighborhoods. While he received thousands of requests, he chooses projects based on personal interest.

To transform streets, Katz uses a version of DALL-E, a generative art AI system. The process involves uploading an existing picture of a street, erasing certain parts, and using prompts to guide the AI program in filling in the gaps. Katz describes this as an art form, learning the nuances of different phrases to achieve desired results.

Picture of two versions of a street, one that has the road paved for bikes
Numerous AI street transformations revolve around substituting roads and car parking spaces with paths designed for cycling and walking.

While Katz's project focuses on visual art practice, Hank Haeusler, an associate professor at the University of New South Wales, emphasizes the importance of AI in urban design, particularly addressing urgent issues like climate change. Haeusler suggests using nuanced AI technology to adapt streets to better cope with extreme weather events such as heatwaves and flooding. The challenge lies in transforming streets quickly, as time is running out due to climate change impacts like floods, bushfires, and extreme heat.

Haeusler believes that increasing greenery in urban environments is key to addressing these issues. Advanced computational tools powered by AI can expedite the process of designing streets to mitigate heat and flooding problems. By analyzing the existing street conditions, designers can simulate the impact of interventions like adding trees or changing pavement materials. AI-enabled tools provide rapid information, allowing informed decisions to be made quickly. Without such technology, making these decisions can be time-consuming and cumbersome for urban planners.

For Katz, his street transformations serve as a means to inspire people to envision better public spaces. Whether it's government officials, urban planners, activists, or artists, Katz's goal is to demonstrate the potential for improved streets. By comparing the before and after images, it becomes evident which version is more appealing and preferable to live in.

Zach Katz creator of BetterStreetsAI
Zach Katz creator of BetterStreetsAI

Overall, Zach Katz's use of AI tools showcases the possibilities of transforming urban environments into more beautiful and people-centric spaces. Additionally, advanced AI technology can assist urban designers in addressing urgent climate change challenges by facilitating faster decision-making processes to enhance sustainability and resilience in cities.

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