Combining urban planning and urban informatics

The Chief Technology Officer for the city of Chicago argues urban planning and urban informatics need to be combined:

“This is a plea – and I make it frequently – for a discipline that doesn’t really exist yet,” Tolva says, “a merger of urban design and urban planning with urban informatics, with networked public space.”

Tolva is touching here on a number of ideas we’ve broached before. The unevenness of digital information has real-world implications in cities. The tools that we use to access it (smartphones, laptops, WiFi) will demand changes to the physical environment. And social norms about privacy in public space are all evolving as a result. But it’s helpful now to pause and think about who should be addressing all this uncharted territory (and whether those people exist yet).

“The real opportunity is in thinking about how many points of tangency with the online world are actually becoming embedded in physical space,” Tolva says. He is specifically not talking here about government data portals that contain information about the physical city. “This notion of e-government – even coming out of my mouth, it seems quaint – is you interacting with your city in front of your computer. But that’s not how we experience cities. Or, it’s not the best part of cities.”

The best part of cities is on the street. And in the future, your experience of the street life of cities could be enhanced if buildings and stoplights and bus stops and parks all gathered information and spoke to each other (and to anyone who wanted to listen). So what do we call this new job, the architect of everything?

While this may make some quite nervous, there is a lot of potential to put together real-time information and information about urban patterns with real-time devices. Imagine city infrastructure that works by dynamic algorithms rather than strict schedules. Perhaps this could be described as “urban big data” with an “urban big data officer”?

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