The previous technological revolution brought a dependency on the automobile. Our cities were physically fashioned by the needs to accommodate the car. Some of our cities were fashioned economically and socially by the car (think Flint, Michigan). The current digital revolution has the ability to do all three.
The future of our cities lies in the enhancement of their inherent urban qualities. The future of our society is the responsible use of “social” structures.
Today this is being done primarily digitally. The convergence of tech and urbanism can usher in a new era for the connected city.
Rather than disconnecting us, as some currently believe, I see the potential of this digital tech to bring us closer together. The sharing of information empowers us all and creates an environment with a collective purpose. I see three ways that digital technology is being used that is currently transforming how we understand our cities.
Contact with government
Lets take a look at these three ways:
Mapping. Geneva, Switzerland implemented a visualization of the usage of cell phones in the city to study human interaction (Faulk, Smart Planet). This project was called the Ville Vivante (Living City). They tracked the digital traces left behind during the course of one day. This allowed the City to see how people were using urban space, how popular certain districts are during periods of the day, and helped to focus planning strategies.
Geo-locational Services. A current example of this digital approach is Google Goggles. These glasses display real-time information right before your eyes based on where you focus the glasses and available digital information in your current location. This could transmit to the user information on local retailers and services, enhancing the experience of residents as well as visitors. While the use of these devices may be impractical right now, we do already have access to this kind of information via our smart phones. Of course, this tech comes with many privacy concerns. Is the future of the city non-private?
Contact with Government. Another digital technique is crowdsourscing. Crowdsourcing can be used to address large scale planning issues that affect citizens. This allows input into the urban design process and provides for a convenient way to suggest ideas based on personal experience. This can aid in the shaping of public space that is responsive to a specific community.
Internet access is of course a critical factor in the marriage of tech and urbanism. Kansas City, KA and Kansas City, MO were recipients of Google’s ultra high-speed fiber network, 100 times the national average (Pierce, Citi-Wire.net). In Michigan, Oakland County has been working towards a similar service. This could be crucial to attracting and retaining new innovative businesses.
The crucial challenge in all of this will be identifying ways that tech can improve the lives of and be accessed by lower income residents as well as affluent.
How does all of this generate a better city? Also, how does green tech factor into the new city? These are critical questions that might only be answered through trial and error. Empowerment is an important factor in giving existing and potential residents the feeling that they can shape their lives in a their city. It also portends to provide opportunity and optimism to entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurial opportunities are the life blood of cities (to be discussed in a future post). Digital empowerment is key for the continual adaptation of our cities to the needs of future urban life.