Can digital technology help us build better cities? A workshop at the Academy of Urbanism Annual Congress, Bradford, Thursday 16th May
April 22, 2013 11 Comments
Over the course of the last two decades, digital technologies such as the Internet, mobile telephone and touchscreen have transformed the way we communicate, work and live; and in so doing have caused industries such as publishing and music to change out of all recognition.
These developments clearly change the way that we behave in cities – the way we travel; and where and when we work, shop and communicate.
And they lead to new demands on the urban environment from residents, visitors, businesses and communities: the availability of mobile and broadband connectivity; open data portals; and transient working environments such as the Hub Westminster collaborative workspace – or simply cafes with wi-fi and power outlets.
Should these technologies change the way we design and build cities, and if so, how? Do technologies offer solutions to difficult problems such as offering more flexible, coordinated transport services? Or are they a distraction on focussing on what really matters – the physical, social and economic needs of people and their communities? And how do they compare to long-standing debates within the more traditional domains of urbanism about how good cities are created, regardless of technology?
The Academy of Urbanism, a body of several hundred professionals, researchers and policy-makers involved in the design and operation of cities from perspectives as diverse as town planning, social science and technology is holding a workshop at it’s Annual Congress in Bradford this year to explore these issues.
The workshop will feature opening contributions from speakers from a variety of backgrounds, and with differing opinions on the value and relevance of digital technology to good urbanism. Our intention is to stimulate an informed and frank debate to follow; from which we hope that useful, practical insights will emerge on whether and how the technology agenda is relevant to cities.
Some of the questions we’d like to consider in the debate are:
- Do emerging uses of technology in cities have implications for spatial or master-planning – for example, the provision of physical space for cabling, or the specification of policies or standards for information from city infrastructures to be made openly available?
- What implications do technology trends such as online commerce and virtual working have for requirements for physical space and transport in cities?
- Do changes in the economy, and convergence between sectors driven by new technology, mean that cities and region should focus their support for innovation and business incubation in urban environments where connections between businesses and disciplines are more concentrated, rather than out-of-town science parks?
- If cities need the flexibility in their physical infrastructure implied by such approaches as “Smart Urbanism“, then can technology enable that flexibility? And what are the design principles for technology that should be applied in order to do so?
- If technology professionals and urban designers are applying their skills in the same context domain (city systems) can we use tools common to both professions, such as design patterns, to combine and share our expertise?
- What are the new investment and management models for funding, delivering and governing “smart” systems? How do they reflect the achievement of long term social, economic and environment objectives? How can the achievements of entrepreneurial and social enterprises be replicated at city-scale?
Our plans are still forming; so I’d value your thoughts on the theme and scope of the workshop; the structure of the debate; questions that will stimulate a constructive and worthwhile discussion … and any speakers on this topic – whether they are proponents or sceptics of technology in cities – who you think would be particularly interesting. (I’ll update this blog soon with our initial speakers once I’ve confirmed them).
And of course, I’d love you to simply attend the conference and the workshop and join the debate! I hope to see some of you there.