AI for Rewilding Your Street

The “Dutch Cycling Lifestyle” app replaces cars with plants, bikes and pedestrians

Clive Thompson

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A photo of a street, as if we were standing in the middle of the street and seeing it recede in the distance. The photo is divided in half down the vertical center. On the left hand side is the regular street, showing vehicular traffic riding away us; a large white van is in front of us, and behind it are perhaps a dozen cars, all moving away from us. On the right hand side is the same street, except transformed to have no cars. The street is a walkway, filled with potted flowers
Fourth Ave in Brooklyn, rewilded by the app “Dutch Cycling Lifestyle”

That picture above? It’s a before-and-after image of a road near where I live. The picture was modified by “Dutch Cycling Lifestyle”, a fun new web app where you upload a picture of a street filled with cars, and it uses an AI filter to remove the vehicles — replacing them with plants, walkable pathways, and bicycles.

It’s a clever little idea for helping us reimagine our cities. What would it look like if your neighborhood suddenly changed the avenues so they were focused heavily on serving pedestrians and people, instead of mostly just 2-ton vehicles?

You can give it a try yourself. Pump in any street address and it’ll grab a picture from Google maps, then run its filtering magic.

Here’s another example, done by the Romford Recorder in the UK …

A street in Romford, UK, viewed from the perspective of someone standing in the street and seeing it recede in the distance towards the horizon. On the left hand side is a photo of the street as it is — there are no pedestrians, only red buses. On the right hand is the same street, except transformed to have no buses or cars; it is full of pedestrians, sitting areas covered by umbrella,s and plants
via the Romford Recorder

For a while now, I’ve been blogging about the art of “rewilding” our environments — from our mental ones to the towns we live in.

When it comes to cities, rewilding requires an imaginative leap. We have to look at the world around us and wonder, huh, how could we run things differently?

That’s not easy to do! For the last 100 years, North America has been so thoroughly terraformed around cars and trucks that it’s hard to perceive the status quo as anything but normal. It takes a dedicated act of noticing to look out your window, see cars and trucks whizzing by and perceive them not as totes regular things but as deadly, overpowered personal mechas that have, bizarrely, become equipment necessary to purchase and retrieve a single quart of milk in many US cities — mechas which, in recent years, have grown ever-more-massive, as owners seek to defend themselves against the terrifying danger of their neighbor’s mechas. Cars are so hilariously, derangedly over-specced for the vast majority of their uses that they now constitute one the least efficient uses of matter in the history of human civilization.

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Clive Thompson

I write 2X a week on tech, science, culture — and how those collide. Writer at NYT mag/Wired; author, “Coders”. @clive@saturation.social clive@clivethompson.net