Intelligent cities, hives and human clusters

Tower of Babel
The Tower of Babel
This morning I came across a PSFK excerpt of a presentation titled Intelligent cities: Efficient city. It's premise is that "Intelligent Cities can create personal, helpful, efficient and communal cities. In four articles on PSFK, we will describe each of these four aspects and the manifestations occurring today that point to a better urban future." In other words, PSFK will position technology as the great leveler/provider that allows for the idea of the "sentient" city. That's fine as long as we understand that advancement in technology and how it can be applied to cities, is not necessarily something "new" - cities after all, developed over centuries and with that development came technological advancement. Consider Napoleon III and his visionary rebuilding of Paris in the 1860's where he made vast improvements to the city's sewer system, most of which is still in use today. His vision was not only to improve the daily life of Parisians but also to inspire them as citizens.

This brings me to an essay I wrote about 18 months ago that considers the same ideas as the PSFK presentation, but looks at the city as a more human-centered invention and development, where technology came second to community. I have posted it below:

Cities live and breathe. As I wrote in a post last week on Social Media, cities are no more artificial [technological] than the hives of bees. As we go about our daily lives [mostly unconsciously,] we psycho-drift from block to block through neighborhoods that we know well, in amongst communities that have been drawn together by like-minded people. Think East Village in Manhattan, Venice Beach in Los Angeles, Camden Town in London, Pigalle in Paris - and here in Portland, the Pearl District.

Where we tend to live and work is often amongst communities of like-minded people, unless, as in the USA, one lives in a far-flung exurb and commutes for hours to work. Over centuries we have moved as a species from the rural countryside into large urban centres. As we have done so the 'idea' of the city sprang up. Throughout different periods in history, planners and architects have had differing ideas about how to cultivate urban living arrangements. There has been some success and much failure.

As James Kunstler writes in his book, The City in Mind, - "[the] nation's massive suburban build-out was an orgy of misspent energy and material resources that squandered our national wealth and left us with an infrastructure of daily life that, left as is, has poor prospects in the new century." Kunstler points out that as global warming, oil depletion and other epochal disorders are upon us, we must reconsider what is a 'city.'

He argues that one of the chief side effects of the move to suburbanism is "the cultural destruction...especially the loss of knowledge, tradition, skill, custom and vernacular wisdom in the art of city-making that was thrown in the dumpster of history...."

Read the rest of this essay.