The Design of the Hybrid City of the Near Future

Wed, Feb. 25 2009 - 13:45

The digitization of the city with technologies embedded into its streets and buildings and carried by people and vehicles has appended an informational membrane, hovering over the urban fabrics. The way citizens and visitors live and feel a city is beginning to be profoundly affected by this information layer. This transformation leads the “behavior” of the city to become as important as its physical aspects. For instance its 'networks', 'nodes' and 'connectivity' are not only about pedestrians and traffic flows. Instead, they are now made by the relationship between the city and its wireless infrastructures, mobile devices, social softwares and other sensor networks. This situation is exemplified by novel citizens practices that involve making a call, briefly working on a laptop, renting a bicycle in the city’s bike-sharing system, being lost and using Google Maps on their phone, use real-time traffic data to select a route, or monitor the status of metro system on Twitter. As a consequence, cities are becoming more adaptive and instantaneous, potentially offering a more sustainable, open and attractive future.

These changes calls for a reflection upon novel practices to design and manage these emerging hybrid cities: Who are the designers of the hybrid city of the near future ? How will they work? What will be their tools, their data sources, their interlocutors, their methods, their competences and their problems? This workshop aims to stimulate discussion and broaden participants’ exposure to new ideas, experiments and theories around the design of the city in the urban informatics era. Particularly, it will focus on extracting and critic the main transformation in design processes implied by:

New urban actors
As cities are becoming more networked, new actors of the urban life manifest themselves. For instance, Google with its real-time and geographic information has changed the way people make use of the city. Similarly, citizens can plug in their own data sources and spatial annotations, contributing to the augmentation of with the physical space. Therefore, citizens can reflect on their city, engage in its design, adapt and engage in original ways with their physical environment. Everyday design could become a conversation within social software networks, and citizens have data and tools that urban designers can only dream of. How do these new urban actors integrate the traditional practices to design cities? Can they help build a better city?

New urban interactions
The dissolution of information systems into the urban life creates opportunities for new kinds interaction that must now be taken into account by designers: the real-time awareness of traffic flows, the access to shared resources such as the bikes, the automated access triggered by motion sensors, the mobile access to georeferenced information. Interactions with this information are as much informational traces left by people on the street, and in the buildings themselves generating a myriad of flows of data that move in and around the built fabric. This is a new kind of data, collective and individual, aggregated and discrete, open and closed, constantly logging impossibly detailed patterns of behavior. However, they also have a potential physical presence when fed back to the benefits of citizens and systems that generate them. But what are the perceptive capabilities of sensors and algorithms to interpret the data? Can such interactions be designed appropriately, in order to avoid misuse and privacy, or just poor user experience design? What are the inherent problems of such a system? Will we need new regulations? Are they even possible?

New practitioners practices
Practitioners of the city have access to this data too, and thus their practice is being transformed. In addition to the structural engineering, cadastral data from the buildings and streets, they also have access to information on the society that make the city, its people, networks, culture, civic relationships as they interplay through the soft infrastructure of the city with the bricks and concrete. Its design will even more be inextricably entwined with social and organizational dynamics. Will architecture and urban governance be able to deal with a system which indicates the pace the city is actually lived at, which indicates how designs are actually used and abused?

Program (4 hours)

15min - Introduction of the theme and format

30min 1-minute presentation of each participant based on a photo, object or story in relation to the theme of the workshop

120min (break included) - Themes definition based on visions (e.g. a bottom-up city, a zero-emission city, a sentient city, a city that bonds people, ...) and group work to
a) define key factors for success and concrete first steps in the design of these cities;
b) define the difficulty to integrate these key factors into current practices;
c) define the implications in the design of these visions in current cities with examples and counter-examples;
d) critic and engage to prevent us from regretting the contemporary analog cities.

60min - Group presentations

15min - Wrap-up