When things connect seamlessly they not only solve big problems but also create a pleasant experience. Don’t we all love apple’s ideology where the iPods, iPhones, IMacs, iTunes, and its web apps are all in sync and are all designed to enhance the user experience.
At the beginning of the era of telecommunication and information technology, urban planners began to foresee the end of public space and thus the doom of cities. The ideas of the creation of a “spaceless world” (Knoke) prevailed in which we will all inhabit “electronic cottages” (Toffler) and indulge in teleconference.
Instead technology coupled with design has played a great role in making information accessible to everyone thus even improving mobility in cities through mobile apps and websites like Walkscore, and Mapquest. Sites like everyblock and changebyus, have provided a platform for community participation that leads to meaningful conversations about particular communities. Designers like Candy Chang have combined street art with urban planning and social activism. Cities now have networked civic utilities like parking meters, trash cans, train and bus shelters. Yet all these efforts are occurring in isolation. There lacks a common thread that connects all these wonderful ideas and builds off them.
The role of city planners is to envision new futures and create strong foundations that will nurture these futures. Over time the field of planning has become absorbed in solving the devils of the past instead of foreseeing the opportunities of the future. We need to ask ourselves, are the principles and practices of planning equipped to support and benefit from the more complex and technologically advanced societies of the future? I believe that the future of cities lies in visualizing it is as a platform for interaction. It lies in creating a multi-faceted network that enables public access to information at both virtual and physical locations. In the future, information provided by both the city agencies and through crowd sourcing would be tapped into by locals to create innovative products and services for the people. Currently we try to use technology like mobile apps as external plug-ins to the system but wouldn’t they work better as integral parts of its plan.
These platforms of interaction should not be seen as technologically focused ventures but as interdisciplinary attempts to bring together innovations in various fields. We need to integrate products, services, technologies and design to create a better city of the future. Amazon has become an even greater success after it shifted its strategy from product based (books) to building itself into a platform. This has allowed Amazon to position itself such that it could benefit from advancements in other fields (it is now able to sell and rent online video as well). It invested in the future by laying the foundations today. Cities have been collecting large amounts of data for a few decades, but it took IPhone apps to make us realize that the information we hold in our separate departments when interlinked offer great solutions for people. This use of information is not limited to smart phones but is accessible from computers and laptops as well, which have been around for a few decades.
The task might seem too complex but then as Sue Zielinski would say “One could imagine in the process of the creation of the human body saying “it’s all too complex – you have a choice – it’s going to be a heart or lungs – what’s it going to be?- you have to choose?” Obviously the human body needs a heart AND lungs AND a pituitary gland, and a few other things, and it needs them all to work together seamlessly.” Having said that, the task doesn’t need to be(and can’t be) undertaken solely by the public sector. We need to create an integrated platform that allows for different private, public and non-profit entities and players to contribute their expertise towards a more sustainable, connected, equitable and livable future.