Future Cities Digest #6 (3.01.2014)

by Lukasz Alwast

#tech-horizons #HCI #makers #IFTF

The Institute for the Future announced recently its 2014 Research Agenda for the Technology Horizon Program. The main themes for the coming year are ‘Human and their Machines’ and ‘Maker Cities’.  IFTF claims to look beyond current handheld-devices and wearable technology and try to map the human-machine interaction with a focus on cutting edge sensory-interfaces.  The research will not only look on how we interact with machines, but also on the ‘story of human relationships and identity’. The second stream of work will explore the role of makers in cities – the explored themes will include: How are makers shaping the development of emerging technology? How are they reinventing critical systems, shared infrastructures, and ideas of participation? What will the growth of maker cities mean for living, working, and doing business ten years from now? Organizations which are already involved in this co-shared research effort include: AT&T, Intel, NATO, Procter & Gamble, Siemens and Swisscom.

#cities #specialization #diversity #Hausman

Last week Ricardo Hausman (former planning minister of Venezuela, Harvard professor of economics) shared an article on Project Syndicate discussing ‘the specialization myth of cities’. Hausman claims that advising cities-states & countries to solely focus on their economies comparative advantage might prove to be wrong and dangerous. “Specialization at the individual level leads to diversity on the higher level and specialization of individuals leads to diversification in the city. Larger cities are more diversified than smaller and among cities with smaller populations, diverse cities are richer than specialized(eg Curitiba, Guadalajara or Monterrey). One way to think about this is to think of industries as stitching together complementary bits of know-how. And likewise, the more bits of know-how there are available, the more industries can be supported and the greater their complexity can be” – writes Hausman. And for that reason – he argues – cities should be ill-advised to focus on a few “clusters” and consolidate the value chains in their locations and instead worry about being a node in many different value chains (which requires finding other industries that can use their existing capabilities).

#science #communication #futures #TED

One of the most commented articles from last week Guardian was Benjamin Bratton’s (Director, Centre for Design & Geopolitics, University of California San Diego) criticism of TED and the challenges of a broken model of communicating science, philosophy and technology – as he argues – embodied by TED Talks. Bratton in particular took a strong take on some of the rhetoric’s of epipchany and personal testimony coupled with oversimplifying of complex challenges and technological solutionism. Bratton argued that instead of dumbing-down the future, we need to raise the level of general understanding to the level of complexity of the systems in which we are embedded and which are embedded in us. This is not about “personal stories of inspiration”, it’s about the difficult and uncertain work of demystification and reconceptualization – the hard stuff that really changes how we think’. The responses to Brattons article (based on comments & tweets) were twofold. Some expressed enthusiasm on ‘whatmany already though about TED Talks’ whilst others criticized Bratton for expecting from TED ‘doing or being things that TED never set out to be’ and ‘not recognizing its value as a proven route to a global audience without any vetting or control by “old elites” ’. As there is much more to this topic than the digest can cover, it’s probably worth the few minutes of reading or watching to come up with your own opinion.

#futures #transformations #LarryPage #Google

An older piece, but still worth the attention – Larry Page’s (Google co-founders) presentation from the company’s annual Zeitgeist conference from September last year [ed. note: Page has partial vocal cords paralysis]. In a ten minutes presentation Page shares his thoughts on some of the recent changes to the structure of Google (after slashing a number of project divisions), electrical vehicles, Fibre and other moon-shot, Google X projects. Page reflects in particular on the too often experienced (by businesses) underestimation of large scale transformations and lack of attention to future-orientated projects. He backs this with Google’s own example of Android, which Google acquired back in 2004, and its only recent true transformational impact. Page argues that if one wants to work on the edge of technology and innovation, ‘you need to start today’ because there are already people doing this for years, and it becomes almost impossible to catch-up – eg on autonomous vehicle, octocopters etc. Worth having this in mind when reflecting on Google’s latest robotics acquisitions – a (potential) new generation of delivery systems, as some say.

New releases on Amazon [Urban Planning]:

  • Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns – Victor Dover & John Massengale, 27 Jan. 2014 Written by two accomplished architects and urban designers, the street design manual shows both how to design new streets and how to enhance existing ones, by sharing examples of excellent streets, examining the elements that make them successful as well as how they were designed and created in the first place.
  •  Radical Cities: Across Latin America in Search of a New Architecture – Justin McGuirk, 28 Jan. 2014 Justin McGuirk travels across Latin America, from Chile to Brazil, and from Mexico to Argentina, discovering people who have begun rebuilding and redesigning their environments in radically new ways – eg an architect in Chile has designed a new form of social housing; the town of Medellin has been transformed with innovative public architecture; Torre David and architect Jorge Mario Jauregui have upgraded Rio’s favelas in exciting new ways etc.
  • Shrinking Cities: A Global Perspective – Harry Richardson & Chang Woo Nam, 25 Feb. 2014 This book examines an emerging new topic in urban settlement patterns: the role of shrinking cities. Much coverage is given to declining fertility rates, ageing populations and economic restructuring as the factors behind shrinking cities, but there is also reference to resource depletion, the demise of single-company towns and the micro-location of environmental hazards.

 This weeks’ artefact from the Future:


Mindwriter (IFTF)
“Sure it’s fast, convenient, and sometimes brilliant to use thought recording to capture your ideas in real time and even connect with friends in your social networks. But with more and more platforms claiming copyright ownership for any thoughts you share via mindshare technologies, you need a way to protect your right to the products of your own mind. That’s what this little cap does—it records your thoughts and assigns immediate copyrights to you before anyone else can claim them.”