digital can’t replace the necessity of real cities
October 17, 2011, 5:30 pm
Filed under: Cities, density | Tags: , , , ,

Remember when we were promised the paperless office?  Digital technology would allow us to do everything online and thereby reduce the use of copying and paper waste. In my experience the use of paper went up after the advent of the digital because it became just too easy to push the print button.

Another more recent argument is that digital technologies allow us to continue to build our sprawling, disconnected environments because we are connected electronically.  Following is a good rebuttal by Tim Stonor.

Nothing can alter the basic need of people to be near social and economic centers.  Dense cities nurture innovation, provide efficient places for living and for work, they afford the less fortunate among us opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have, they help to form commonly held beliefs and commitments, they make our lives better.

You could argue that the phone and the car changed our need to live and work in cities.  But really they didn’t; business travel, the home office and ultimately the dense city are still the methods and loci of human need and fulfillment.

Here is how Tim Stonor puts it in his blog The Power of the Network:

Digital technologies offer new forms of online human connectivity. Does this mean we no longer need traditional city layouts? This is a key question for urban planners. There is a body of professionals that think we don’t need cities, at least in the form we have known for centuries. Instead, they suggest that people can now live in small-scale towns and villages, which are supposedly more humane. They suggest we can disconnect physically and reconnect online. This idea has huge appeal and it is shared by many environmental campaigners because it is thought to reduce carbon footprints. It is also a popular idea within the technology community.

I will argue in my talk that it is a flawed idea.

Digital technology is a new urban utility, of immense value to the social, economic & environmental performance of cities. However, in adopting new technologies we should not abandon the historically successful form of dense, compact & continuously connected cities. Yes, cities have been damaged by divisive and polluting highway engineering but these failings are recent mistakes in the long history of urbanism. They can, and are, being fixed.

IBM Smart Cities, Helsinki, Tim Stonor


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