Social Equity & Successful Sustainability

Social Equity & Successful Sustainability

If sustainability action plans and eco-districts were three legged stools, most would fall over. Environmental and economic sustainability are typically well-accounted for in these plans, but as San Diego UrbDeZine writes, social sustainability, is often an afterthought. However, marginalized communities face a high share of environmental degradation and as poverty sprawls outwards, it will be impossible to successfully address environmental sustainability without a legitimate social component. Looking forward, city-makers that can create three strong sustainability legs will have lucrative prospects, and a stool for cities to sit on.

A Networked Future

A Networked Future

Digital technology is becoming ever-more pervasive and the world is increasingly urban. The simultaneous rise of these trends find us at a unique intersection in space and time. In a reflective interview with Smart Circle that ranges from urban mobility and citizen participation to cyber terrorism and the future of sharing, Carlo Ratti, director of MIT’s Senseable City Lab aims to make sense of these changes. It’s a worthwhile read, particularly for those seeking to connect the “smart” city with it’s citizens.

The Art of Blight Fighting

The Art of Blight Fighting

For the first time ever, the prestigious Turner Prize has been awarded to non-artists. Assemble Collective was bestowed with the honour for their grassroots work to regenerate Granby Four Streets, a blighted area in Liverpool, together with residents. Their long-term vision for the district? A self-made neighborhood that’s welcoming, artistic, multicultural and architecturally rich, as well as the greenest quarter in the city. When done well, city making can be an art, after all.

Where Cities are Going, Next

Where Cities are Going, Next

In a recent post, I argued that the increasing complexity of developed cities necessitates coordination between different urban infrastructures to ensure operational efficiencies and produce social well-being. I also mentioned that new technologies – read: Big Data, Internet-of-Things, Smart City Systems – are not the centre of the ‘city of tomorrow,’ but merely its enablers. But where are cities going with this?

A good way to frame an answer to this question is not through the lens of new technologies, but through understanding where cities have been in the past, where they are now and, given this track record, where they are likely to be in the future: Hindsight and insight can lead to foresight.

To illustrate this process, I created the Evolution of Cities Roadmap that is depicted below. It includes the central ideas or ‘themes’ that have dominated post-industrial urban discourse since 1970 and potentially will do so for the next couple of decades. It shows, on a simplified timeline, how the basic components of cities – infrastructure, buildings, technology, and citizens – increasingly begin to overlap, interact, and build upon each other.

PowerPoint PresentationThe first phase, called ‘The City of Bits and Pieces’ continues the tradition of specialization, a hallmark of the 20th century economy. It focuses on individual components (bridges, airports, hospitals, schools, traffic signals) and includes citizen participation primarily through elected representatives and public meetings. The emphasis is in providing products and services with as much efficiency as possible, usually through silo-ed institutions, meeting basic needs and improving productivity.

The second phase, ‘The Increasingly Interconnected City,’ roughly corresponding to the city of today, begins to recognize that its pieces are interconnected, part of a complex whole. It focuses on bridging the barriers between silos by harnessing the power of emerging technologies, such as workplace collaboration platforms and mobile-based end user apps. Public participation and input increasingly occurs through online outreach platforms and crowdsourced data that provides information for a more efficient and personalized provision of services.

The foundational changes in how the city is perceived in the first versus the second phase gives a powerful clue about how the third phase could look like. I’ve named it ‘The Responsive and Resilient City,’ because here the ties between end users and public and private service providers are bound to be further strengthened. The emphasis will shift from overly centralized organizations statistically predicting user needs in aggregate (think of public transit providers) to users themselves collaborating in real time to meet specific needs in a particular moment in time (think of mobile-phone-based car-sharing), increasing adaptability and resilience.

These changes go beyond cities. They are reflections on how the world is rapidly changing around us, based on a power shift towards the individual, enabled by the Internet age. What this user-centric, network-based new world means to cities is that they are compelled, by the expectations of its citizens, to become more responsive in real time to the needs of the individual, or, as John Hagel would put it, more “pull than push.” The New Urban Mechanics program, which started in Boston with an app to report graffiti and potholes, is a good example of this.

While still many issues, notably data privacy and security and the inequities of a rising digital divide, need to be solved, as many experts have pointed out, this evolving city notion has the potential to substantially alter the way people experience and interact with the physical city, with each other, and with service providers. Will it happen to the benefit of citizens? The jury is still out on this – but it certainly has the potential to do so.

By Oliver Hartleben, IBI TH!NK Coordinator