Project Proposition

How might we envision a future without gridlock? What if there were no garbage trucks on the road?

From here we built out the first layer of a hyper local urban landscape in which basic needs are addressed within neighborhoods rather than at the scale of a whole city.

Waste hauling is a strain to city mobility – trucks average 3.7 miles per gallon, garbage piles up on the sides of streets, and the ubiquitous nature of garbage itself encourages more thoughtless waste.

By modifying the way goods and services move through the city, this provocation questions the mobility of services and examines their impact on city life. It aims to lower strains on city infrastructure by reconfiguring the concept of waste from someone else's problem to civic ownership. The project leverages the internal value of personal responsibility to prompt lasting behavioral change and focuses on the hyperlocality of waste management to ensure that the stresses on the system are equally shared. 

Just as important as the interventions proposed in this project are the possible implications, both negative and positive. This speculation brings to light the various chain reactions that could result from three design interventions in the current waste disposal system.

Project Background

Graduate students from Parsons Transdisciplinary Design MFA program partnered with Ford Motor Company and visiting scholars from the Stockholm School of Entrepreneurship to imagine the future of mobility with speculative design.

Conducted over five weeks in April and May 2015, six teams were challenged to push past current ideas surrounding mobility, transportation and access. Each project proposed a new way of addressing issues of mobility, ranging from gridlock prevention and car-sharing solutions, to waste management and mental health.  

At the core of this project was the application of speculative design. Defined as a "means of speculating about how things could be, as a tool to create not only things but ideas." [Dunne and Raby, Speculative Everything]  it’s a provocative way to approach problem-solving from nontraditional avenues. It’s imperative that we apply the strategies of speculative design because traditional interventions are insufficient to tackle the wicked problems that plague our world.

Speculative design opens up an alternative space fueled by emotional connection and experimentation. It leverages the language and visualization of design with the systems of technology to propose palpable cultural interventions. Less about presenting solutions for immediate action, speculative design creates conversation and opens up realms of possibility. Using objects and media that produce convincing experiences of possible futures, we open up assumptions about what is possible, as demonstrated in this short video.



Proposed Interventions

// Pipe Dreams //


Exposed transparent tubes connected through the windows of buildings would carry waste to from building to building and then on to a final landfill. The need for truck disposal would be removed, and with that congestion in the streets created by the current waste disposal truck fleet would be eliminated. The big question, though, is: what happens when we change the mobility of waste disposal?  As a design exercise in systems thinking, this speculation uncovered possible scenarios:

LOCAL STYLE. Tubes might become an outward projection of social status in a neighborhood, based on the inner contents and upkeep. The color and materiality of the tubes themselves could become signifiers of neighborhoods, just like certain smells help citizens know their place in a city? What is the role of government in maintaining equality of aesthetics?

GUERRILLA SPORTS. What if the tubes become a new canvas for graffiti artists, or a railing for underground daredevils to practice on? What then of safety? In any system intervention like these tubes, new social practices would emerge. Design must account for possible subcultures being born out of it.

PEST CONTROL. Taking this speculation to its extremes, new stakeholders come to the foreground. In the absence of waste, what is the new definition of public health? Will pests, such as rats, move from the streets to the tubes in the sky? And if so, what is the new line dividing public vs. private health?


// Salvage to Save //


Salvage to Save is a program that reward citizens with free fares bus in exchange for one's household compost. People would carry their natural waste to the bus in a backpack-sized carrier and feed it into the bus. The compost would go to the top of the bus for processing. Once the refuse has been turned into fertile soil, it would be given to local gardens to cultivate food for communities. What secondary outcomes might this program produce?

BEHAVIORAL NUDGING. Anti-odor carriers would be provided to transport compost, and this new habit would be layered on top of the quotidian journey to the bus. Likewise, reduced bus fare would be a primary encouragement to start composting. It's all about small nudges to behavioral change.

POTENTIAL ISSUES. There could be potential issues with sanitation, smells and leaks. Depending on the socio-economic status of neighborhoods, the organic richness of compost might differ. Would people actually be willing to carry their garbage for personal and public benefit? 


By installing waste incinerators on select subway lines throughout the city, passengers deposit trash in lieu of paying a fare. The waste is then converted into energy to power the transit system though a clean incineration process.

MULTI-USE. Combining functionality - in this case transportation and clean energy - are the keys to a sustainable future.

SCALE. The principle issue with this proposal is scale, storage and quality control. How could demand meet supply and capability?

Insights & Implications

The overall objective of this speculation is to question how we might intervene and transform complete systems, not just their components. By thinking of the broader picture, and imagining a world where mobility includes not only transportation of people, but of waste and public services themselves, the seams of our very social systems begin to unravel. If waste traveled differently, if it became visible, could people realize their own place inside broader systems of transportation, health, and food?


This project was produced by Parsons Transdisciplinary Design MFA candidates in partnership with Ford Smart Mobility. Many thanks to the visiting scholars from the Stockholm School of Entrepreneurship.