Cities are fascinating. Thinking about the future, the design and evolution of cities is equally fascinating, but hard. One thing that I find helpful is to seek a couple of generative analogies that can help explore an issue, and really give it some structure. When it comes to cities there are at least three that I think deserves closer examination, but I am sure there are many, many others – these are my three (and feel free to add your own in the comments):
- City as software. With the growth of sensors, collection of more and more data, expansion of open data sets in many cities, cities are becoming programmable and can be understood as a combination of data and algorithms. This analogy can also be used in another way: you can think about opening office, creating entrepreneur-spaces and similar things as actually reprogramming the city or re-wiring the way it works. Cities still are, to a very large degree, Read-Only R/O – but it seems clear to me that the Read-Write R/W-city is coming soon. Data here mainly comes from the city, and from structures of governance. What Cisco is doing in Barcelona is a good example.
- Cities as stories. A city is told, it unfolds in narratives – many thousands and millions of narratives, micro-narratives like check-ins, photos, status updates, location points and more. In a hundred years we will see the evolution of narrative archaeology as a special discipline, devoted to reading the different historical digital layers of cities. It will be a kind of philology, translating stories across time into a production of identity for the present. Data here comes from users, like us, and will largely be shared under consent.
- Cities as biology. We are an eusocial species, and just as ants, bees and wasps we organize in biologically determined forms, or at leats that may be the case (admittedly biologism is provocative here). What if the hive is to the bee what the city is to man? Examining cities in this way, as a part of our biological system, also allows us to think about the health of cities – we know that the pace with which someone walks down a street is correlated with the incidence of heart attacks in a city, for example, and maybe, just maybe, public health investments in city design could be the most cost-effective way of fighting so-called welfare diseases?
The city is an amazing thing. The ability to study, examine and explore its future is growing exponentially with new data sources and methods, and researching the city may well be the best way to maximize human well-being in the future.