More than 50% of the 7 billion people inhabiting our planet now live in cities, a number projected to grow to more than 75% during this century. The growth of cities as the center of the human world was highlighted when “The City 2.0” was awarded the 2012 TED Prize. “For the first time in the history of the prize, it is being awarded not to an individual, but to an idea,” the TED committee stated. “It is an idea upon which our planet’s future depends.”
Clearly cities will play an increasingly important role in our future survival. Cities offer easier access to services, and urban dwellers are more efficient consumers of limited resources. Cities are human destiny. But as our cities become more populated and more numerous, how do we best manage this complexity?
We need to start thinking about cities in a different way.
Reimagining the Canvas
Maps have proven to be very useful throughout our history, but traditional maps have limited our ability to manage and design in a holistic, comprehensive manner. GIS technology gives us a powerful new context for extending our traditional methods of abstracting geography—a new canvas that includes everything that lies below, on, above, and around the city, including what exists inside and outside buildings, as well as how things connect to the city and how all of these things change through time.
“Redesigning Paris with CityEngine” features a Parisian-like city with two
levels of detail arranged around a logo on a fully dynamic city layout.
Cities as Ecosystems
Cities are the places where most of us now spend the vast majority of our lives. The recognition of cities as habitat for modern man is leading to new approaches to their management and design. GIS technology has long been used to map, study, analyze, and manage “natural” ecosystems. It only seems logical to manage, model, and design our new man-made ecosystem with the same tried and true tools used to manage, model, and design traditional ecosystems.
“David Thorpe presents “Fractals and Urban Forms: Using Chaos Theory
to Reshape Cities” at the 2011 GeoDesign Summit.
Buildings as Microcities
As our cities grow in size and complexity, so too do the buildings which compose much of the fabric of the city. In effect, many buildings and facilities are becoming small cities themselves, and they need to be designed and managed as such.
An Engaged Citizenry
Smart cities of the future will be those where the citizenry is engaged in their design and evolution, where we fully leverage the collective intelligence of the masses and allow everyone to actively participate in shaping our communities. Today, social media and mobile citizen engagement applications are enhancing a variety of government-citizen interactions involving public information, requests for service, public reporting, citizen-as-a-sensor, unsolicited public comment, and even volunteerism.
Designing The City 2.0
Geography is constantly changing—from wind and water erosion, natural climate shifts, tectonic and volcanic activity, and the dominance and extinction of species and ecosystems. But recent changes to geography as a direct result of human activities are threatening the survival of many species, including our own.
In my talk at TED2010, I introduced the idea of “geodesign”—a concept which enables architects, urban planners, and others to harness the power of GIS to design with nature and geography in mind. Geodesign, which combines the strengths of data management and analysis with a strong design and automation component, is fundamental to designing The City 2.0.
A New Direction
Our challenge is to design our man-made ecosystems to achieve the maximum benefit to society while minimizing short- and long-term impacts on the natural environment. As an integrative platform for management and analysis of all things spatial, I believe that GIS technology can help meet this challenge.
“This idea is capable of inspiring millions of people around the world to contribute to one of the biggest challenges and opportunities humanity faces,” the TED committee stated when announcing the award of the 2012 TED Prize. “The City 2.0 is not a sterile utopian dream, but a real-world upgrade tapping into humanity’s collective wisdom.”
Cities are human destiny, and it’s time we start to manage and design them with this in mind.