Somewhere in the world right now, drivers and passengers are cursing their city’s traffic. The automotive snarls common in today’s metropolis are accepted as a symptom of modernity, but the traffic jam—as well as the battle between wheeled and foot traffic on city streets—is probably as old as the city itself. In fact, our forbearers dealt with it in many of the same ways that we’re attempting to now. To alleviate congestion in Rome, Julius Caesar implemented a version of road space rationing, forbidding carts and chariots to enter the city center before late afternoon. For bustling 15th century Milan, Leonardo da Vinci sketched an idea for road sharing system that separated pedestrian from wheeled traffic.
But the stakes of moving through the city were dramatically changed in the early 20th century with the debut of the car, a shift that provoked well-founded anxiety. “With all their speed forward, they may be a step backward in civilization,” Booth Tarkington wrote of automobiles in The Magnificent Ambersons, his 1918 novel that follows the beginnings of car culture. The multi-layered cost of cars and the infrastructure they require have come under intense scrutiny almost 100 years later, but one automotive company is hoping to be a leader in the conversation about what’s next. 2012 marks the second cycle in Audi’s Urban Future Award, a biannual competition that invites young architecture firms to contemplate what “mobility” could mean for cities in the year 2030.