L[i/o]ving cities

Posts tagged ‘social’

SMART CITIES VS SMARTER CITIES (or Tron paradox)

Somehow, when somebody talks to me about smart cities I start thinking about all the movies of the 80´s that I used to watch in my childhood, and I remember some futuristic cities and situations. Of all these movies, the strongest memory I have is from Tron, (the classical one, of course) with the red and blue motorbikes racing for their lives. Wow, it was amazing thinking about what the technology would provide!!

 

Tron was about a “supermachine” that controlled people´s memories and lives, and there was a character (the good one) that was trying to recover people´s lives. Actually, smart cities could have some similarities with that script, and I will explain.

I really agree with ICTs and other new technologies as a tool to improve our life quality and to achieve a better efficiency in the use of natural resources. I also think that it is absolutely necessary to invest in ICTs in our forthcoming smart cities, because nowadays´ civil engineering know-how is based on 19th and 20th century technologies.

But on the other hand, all these improvements cannot be presented as a new enlightened despotism ruled by Tron´s “supermachines”. Smart cities should not be ruled by new technocrat elites who know the performance of the new technologies and who tells us what machines “think” that are better for cities. Those could be smart cities, but definitely they are not smarter cities.

I think that technologists have to be the facilitators to get ICTs closer to citizens. Citizens have to be the new center of decision of smart cities and citizens have to be educated to consider social, environmental and economic criteria in their decisions. I also think that we have enough new ways of data visualization, communication media and social networks to be effective enough in this thrilling process of educating people and bringing smart cities (sorry, smarter cities) closer to citizens.

The next episode in your city!

Advertisements

THE CITY LIMITS III: THE CITIZENS

In this trilogy I have previously talked about two of the dimensions of the city limits. I have talked about the physical limits of the cities and about their influence outside their physical limit. In this new post I am going to extend into the implication of the city limits and I want to talk briefly about how these limits have an influence on people and on people relations.

In this case I want to focus on how human relations have been altered with the city expansion/explosion. I think that there is an essential question, the bigger the city, the weaker the social control. So we can find an interesting paradox where agglomeration means some kind of isolation or liberation to people.

On the one hand, we know that in small towns and in closed communities there is a big social control from the rest of the people. In these settlements you are supported by the rest of the community but also controlled by the community rules. On the other hand, we know that in big cities your are more free to do whatever you want, although you are supported by fewer people than in smaller communities.

If I continue with this example it is funny to see how both sides of the story (bigger and smaller communities) have managed to try to get the good things of the other. For example, in small cities people usually go to more populated cities to spend time doing some activities that are not possible in the small cities and that express the individual likes of people (theatre, cinema, sport events, shopping…). On the other hand, people in big cities usually go to the same bars or cafes, or need to start different activities to meet people with similar likes.

I think that in big cities we enhance our individual side and in small towns we enhance our social or collective side. In any case, as people with complex behaviors, we have to reinforce the side of us that we are lacking due to the size of the city in which we are living. That implies that our individual behavior suits better a certain city topology. Of course, as we change our behavior during life, we will feel more comfortable in different types of cities along life.

Summarizing, in the first city limits post I have concluded that the size of the city is directly related to the physical possibility of communication. In the second city limit post I have concluded that as places for relation, the influence of the city network has to be considered worldwide. Finally, in this third city limits post I have explained that individually, different cities suit us better or worse depending on our own behavior. So maybe these three posts are not really useful to have a definition of the city limit, but I think that the importance of this city limit to understand its implication on personal relations is clear.

SOCIAL OR ENVIRONMENTAL PRODUCTION

Hello Cityliners, it´s been a long time since the last City Lines post, but holidays is not the best time for writing, although it is a great time for thinking. Formerly, we have written about the planned obsolescence and we have made some criticising about the usual means of production and sale. Now we want to go beyond that post with some more reflections about the implications of the planned obsolescence.

One of the things that could be surprising about planned obsolescence is the first time that it was mentioned. It is a concept that was formulated in 1932, when Bernard London wrote, “Ending the Depression through Planned Obsolescence”, in which he blamed the Great Depression on consumers who use “their old cars, their old radios and their old clothing much longer than statisticians had expected”.

So, we can assume that planned obsolescence was some kind of countercyclical measure expressed during the great depression to promote more employment. The lack of it was the real consequence of the 1929 crash, and some of these economic measures and a world war made possible to get a lot of people employed during the next years.

Nowadays, we are suffering some kind of similar situation as the one in the early 30s. But, in contrast, we have the problem that we are using a lot more amounts of natural resources than before, so it seems to be difficult to go beyond in this “planned obsolescence” tactic. Therefore, it also seems that we have to reduce our natural resources spending for a more cohesive world.

All this argumentation suggests that, on the one hand, the “planned obsolescence” tactic can promote more employment but, environmentally, the consequences are terrible. On the other hand, although resigning the “planned obsolescence” tactic will improve our environment, it will have really bad consequences upon employment and social cohesion.

Summarizing, we can see how we have not reached the equation that links environment and employment in a sustainable way. I expect that we will be able to find more technical solutions that approximate both variables, because otherwise we will have to choose between a social and an environmental production. I really expect that technical solutions…

TO OWN OR TO USE, THAT IS THE CAR´S QUESTION

Here at City Lines I enjoy talking about some of the new paradigms that are arising in our society because the financial crisis, that we are still suffering, is a great opportunity to reflect on this type of issues. One of those paradigms that we are living is the one related with property.

The strongest example about the property crisis could be related with Cloud Computing. The new technologies are going through a new path where the consumer will have the use rights of the servers, software, hardware, contents, etc, but not the property rights of them.

As in the Cloud Computing example, transport is also facing the challenge of carsharing and carpooling policies as part of this property paradigm changes. As I try to analyze it, these new transport policies have several positive impacts into the economic, social and environmental criteria.

For instance, economically, if we share our cars, we will use them more efficiently, because they wouldn’t require so much “parking” time as they do now. Economically, as well, if you manage a great amount of cars you have a better bargaining power to obtain better prices or, alternatively, to have better technologies that will go on the direction of having a better environment.

Environmentally, managing a great car fleet also means that you can change them sooner and through that you can have the best environmental technologies. These car fleets also allow to program car replacements, which is a way to stabilize the car market. These can also be a good social criterion, because you can also stabilize the car labour market. Talking about social criteria, you can also say that sharing cars you, individually, can be more flexible if you have to change your place from a city to the countryside or vice versa.

I think that all these criteria are good to start a discussion about using or owning a car, but we have to be conscious about one last question, which is that when we are resigning to property, we are renouncing to the decision rights upon that good. So, for a good carsharing policy it is necessary that customers have a discount on the price of the service (use of cars) that will make it attractive to use them instead of to own them.

Well, I think that if you live in a rented flat you will understand it perfectly.

HIGHWAY REMOVAL, LESS IS MORE

Citylines supports friendly cities and human scale neighbourhoods. This support takes on that this kind of cities allows people to have a better urban environment and therefore better life quality conditions.

The twentieth century speech about developing used to be far away of these planning criteria and has created huge infrastructures in the cities that were supposed to improve mobility. Fortunately, new century paradigms are changing and we have great examples of urban renewals that let us see the way to improve the quality of our cities.

This video is an example of how some highway removals have allowed improving some neighbourhoods in different cities and of how people of local communities have benefited from these works.

THE UN-SUSTAINABILITY SPIRAL

In former posts of City Lines, I have focused my point of view on the different criteria that have to be considered for a correct planning of cities and territories. In these posts, I concluded that the main criteria to consider were social, environmental, and economic. Well, I still agree with this arguing and I would like to explain the Un-Sustainability Spiral that, nowadays, is happening under these three criteria.

I think I can start to explain this spiral with this Bible passage, Genesis 1-27, “God created man… and, then, the Spiral began. So, the first element to point out is “man” or humanity as the central element of social criteria. These social criteria basically lead us to try to have a higher life quality. Fortunately, we have been very successful in this issue during the last 10,000 years because we have been able to improve technologies that let us live three or four times more than 2,000 years ago.

Here comes the second of the criteria, the economic criterion related with technology. We can match technology and economy, because the knowledge of more technologies is the main reason that provides some nations with differential welfare to others and allow them to have better life conditions. So a modus operandi of our societies is gathering technologies as an equivalent to improving life quality.

Finally, the third criterion comes up, the environmental one, because going on gathering technologies needs natural resources. So commodities are essential to support these technologies that allow us to improve our life quality.

If we reread the thread of the argumentation we can find the Un-Sustainability Spiral. We want higher levels of life quality, so we improve our technologies and, for that, we consume more commodities. This spiral could be virtuous if commodities were infinite, which is not real, or if our new technologies were able to produce more with fewer natural resources, which nowadays is not happening, or if we wanted to have lower levels of life quality, which is definitely far from our thoughts.

In all this arguing there is only one thing that is a fact and that we cannot change, natural resources are limited on Earth. So, we have to work hard to improve technologies, otherwise we will have to fight to keep life quality, and in this war we can only aim to lose as little as possible.

THE NEW MEANING OF LOCAL

During the thirty four years of my existence I have been living in six cities in two different countries. In all those cities I met people with whom, luckily, I am still in touch and who allowed me to build my own personality with their points of view and actions. All these natural comes and goes in a young adult life could be considered as a utopia for my parents and much more for my grandparents.

The possibility of this kind of life, so individual and so far away from that static groups of people who influenced us during our whole life, is not casual. Fortunately, nowadays we have facebook, twitter, linkedin, skype, mobile phones, e-mail, low-cost transport and all the tools that are to come and that, for the first time in history, allow us to connect our relations in real time and not to lose them in our memory.

This entire new real world that is emerging in the last years, as François Ascher explains in his book “Les Nouveaux Compromis urbains”, is pushing us to rethink about the nature of what local means. Nowadays, we have several transport technologies that have blurred distances between goods and people and, we also have, the information technologies that allow us to share knowledge around the world. Therefore, in my point of view, the meaning of local, which historically was focused in territorial aspects, has to go forward to be focused in the relational aspects.

It is a fact that the territorial aspect was, is and is going to be a key factor on the generation of links and relations between people, but, nowadays, that is not the only place for relations. An example of this is that people swap things and have personal or professional relations with other people who have never seen. Therefore, this new way for relations has to have its consequences in territorial organizations and in the possibility of letting people participate in local policies.

At this point come up new possibilities that have to be studied, developed and could be incorporated in our democracies to improve their own acceptance. As examples I can add, in the first place, the possibility of a territorial weighting of votes depending on the implication of people with different territories (eg. for people who live in two cities simultaneously) or, in the second place, the possibility of participation on particular issues for people who have a relation with the place of the issue although it is not a residence place.

On the other hand, it seems that tools as the local census or as the vote in fixed districts according with the residence place are becoming a bit restricted in this global word of relations that we are creating. As one friend of mine said: “globalization beyond economy: citizenship and public spirit are key concepts”.

If somebody asks me, I will say that home is the place where people that value me are, but, just now, I do not know where they are.

%d bloggers like this: