The Ups & Downs of Drones

The Ups & Downs of Drones

Drones are expected have big impacts on a range of  industries, but also represent new security risks. In response, London Police are training eagles to handle this high-tech security headache, another example of the reapplication of ancient technology, while  Michigan Tech created a robotic drone catcher. Conversely, the FDA  recently loosened restrictions on “micro” drones, as Amazon moves full speed ahead with its own project. What creative ideas and/or concerns about the spreading drones do you have?

The City as an R&D Lab

The City as an R&D Lab

The evolution of cities as labs is clear in a Fast Company interview with Dan Doctoroff, CEO of Sidewalk Labs, a Google startup company. They discuss the opportunity technology presents to solve big urban challenges, the need for scalable solutions and a fourth technology revolution in modern cities. Perhaps most interestingly, Doctoroff emphasizes the need for new technologies to benefit the triple-helix of urban stakeholders: the City, the public and the private sector. A shift towards a kinder, gentler smart city?

Gaming & the City

Gaming & the City

It’s been more than two decades since Sim City was first released. During the interim, city-making games have become more popular and nuanced, reflecting a growing public interest in urbanism. More than just fun, these games can teach planners valuable lessons about how we plan and how we envision the idealized city. Games can also be used as valuable engagement tools and to re-imagine the places we call home. Could the games of today lead to the self-building cities of tomorrow?

What Would You do with a Magic Wand?

What Would You do with a Magic Wand?

With the Internet of Things, controlling objects daily is becoming real. Valentin Heun at MIT’s Fluid Interfaces Lab introduced an app, Reality Editor, aiming to empower users to have more control over their smart tools. When you connect dots on your finger tip featuring the app, smart objects in a room start communicating each other. Combination of individual’s creativity and Reality Editor could bring interesting results to human interactions and physical environment outside of a room.

 

Injecting New Energy into Architecture Debates

Injecting New Energy into Architecture Debates

Bored of traditional architectural debates, Turncoats aims to shake up the establishment provoke real discussions about architecture. Harnessing the free independent journalist approach of Dezeen, Architecture Foundation and Failed Architecture, the “conspirators” want to burst the bubbles around mainstream architectural discussion. Turncoats’ sold-out open conversation will prohibit recording devices during the discussion, focusing instead on the here-and-now. Open your mind and witness an alternative participatory process and subsequent outcomes.

 

Disruptive Technology Moves In on the Housing Market

Disruptive Technology Moves In on the Housing Market

Could the disruptive power of Bitcoin be coming to real estate? Fast Company paints a compelling picture of what that might look like. In the future, houses might have digital addresses, not just physical. This could provide potential home-buyers with a transparent history of the home, it’s costs and even trades-people who have worked on it. For sellers, a block-chain based identity and financial history could provide greater certainty, without the many middle-men in real-estate today. This digital approach could enhance trust and authenticity, underlining the continuing advancement of the sharing economy.

Public Space & the Smart City

Public Space & the Smart City

Much has been made of the smart city’s potential to improve technical coordination and efficiency, but where do people fit into this brave new world? Public space thought leaders Gehl Architects think Montreal is on the right track. In an optimistic article, they detail the City’s digital/physical Faire Montreal (Make Montreal) initiative to engage residents on 180 tangible projects. A model for other cities to follow?

Technology, Stories & Building the Cities of Tomorrow

Technology, Stories & Building the Cities of Tomorrow

In an illuminating (and philosophical) article, Digital Tonto makes the  argument that every era is defined by its technology. The article focuses on the important role that storytelling plays in helping us to make sense of technology and its applications. Paraphrasing Martin Heidegger, the author notes that, “to build for the world you must first understand what it means to live in it.” With this in mind, and in the early days of the digital era, what does the intersection of humanity and technology mean to cities?

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