Marshall McLuhan. Understanding media (and cities)

McLuhanI first new about Marshall McLuhan in 2011. José Carlos Arnal, former Director of the Zaragoza City of Knowledge Foundation, had introduced me to Mariano Salvador, a young local journalist who had just co-organized a remembrance exhibition about McLuhan at the Pratt Center in New York City.

I had no idea at the time that, under such resonant name, terms we were already familiar with, like “global village” or “the medium is the message”, had been coined and so acutely described. Those were the times when we were a small “guerrilla” of avid learners pushing for a shift in the economic model of our city, Zaragoza (Spain), and insanely committed to the launching of the city’s innovation flagship: Etopia Center for Arts and Technology. When Etopia Center finally opened two years later, in June 2013, a 600 square meter media façade wrapped around one of its three gigantic cubes illuminated with digital artworks the departure side of the city’s central station.

I stumbled upon McLuhan’s book Understanding Media on that very same summer of 2013, buried in a heap of books at the old, wood-and-dust smelling Venice’s Libreria Aqua Alta, just a week after having imparted a workshop on open place making with M.I.T. professor Michael Joroff as part of the inauguration activities of Etopia Center. I was so into the reading of place-making urbanists like Jane Jacobs and Jan Gehl at the time that I decided to put momentarily McLuhan aside. I stubbornly wanted to understand cities. Understanding media could wait.

Here is what I was missing. Sigue leyendo

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7 laws about cities that will fascinate you

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Photo by Nick Brandt.

Urban development, as everything in nature, follows certain rules. It is a question of time that science will find more laws about cities.

In the Universe there are humans, and in those humans there is a brain. And those countless human brains have invented many things along history. Amongst those things, striking indeed for its durability and success, are cities. It is no wonder that humans have always looked both to the deep outside and to the deep inside with awe, applying huge scientific and intelectual efforts to the formidable task of unveiling the misteries of the Universe and the brain. Now, long after the blooming of physics, astronomy, neuroscience or psychology, and influenced by the rapid urbanization of our planet, the eyes of science are starting to look around us: they are laid on cities.

It is fascinating how some of the laws about cities presented here come from fields as distant as physics, information theory or antropology, and how they can also be formulated to rule how cities are shaped, their interactions or their evolution. Give credit to a prominent city scientist like Michael Batty for collecting some of these laws, many of which the reader will reckon that respond to patterns that we observe in our daily errands or that just backup plain common sense. Sigue leyendo

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Smart city research highlights

urbanFabricTampere

Tampere urban fabric. worldarchitecture.org

The renowned Finish research instititution VTT has just published Smart city research highlights, an extensive guide to the scientific progress on the field of the smart cities.

Many have tried to define what a smart city is, or should be, and many have failed. The question is kind of resolved by reading through the dozens of projects that researchers in VTT are working at, and by reflecting at the subsequent challenges they are addressing.

Boosting collaborative planning with visualization technology, developing new urban services by citizen-driven co-design, use of gamification to foster mutual learning in healthcare, augmented reality for building maintenance, visual and participative urban planning tools, or ICT supported business in energy positive neighborhoods… are just a few glimpses of a wide array of disciplines that are enlightened by means of VTT’s research efforts. Sigue leyendo

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Sharing big data to deploy smart energy services

londonEnergyBusesBNOn Jan, 29th 2015 we spoke at the “Smart energy UK & Europe Summit” in London, where we had the chance to discuss and develop the idea of advancing towards a “data sharing economy” at the urban ecosystem. What we were presenting, basically, is how a new kind of organizational relationship between urban players could eventually lead both to the creation of new social, scientific and economic value at the local scale, and to the development of new business prospects in those industries willing to play the game.

Cities have faced challenges in history with innovative ways of transforming the materials at their reach into innovative solutions. Whether we are talking about limestone, wood, brass, concrete, copper, or electrons, engineers have effectively used technology to provide security, access to drinkable water, sanitation, wired communications, or energy to households and people. Today, data is the new material upon which we can continue to develop innovative solutions to deal with the “bugs” or impracticalities (in Jane Jacobs’ words) of urban life. Sigue leyendo

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The art of city making. Charles Landry

artOfCityMaking“The art of city making”, by Charles Landry, is a brilliant attempt to understand cities with the declared and simple objective of making them better. In its pages, the reader should not expect to find a step-by-step recipe of how to make cities from scratch. The book is targeted at those readers concerned, instead, with reconfiguring existing cities so they can fulfill their role of solution providers for its own people and, ultimately, for the world.

In an increasingly urbanized planet, understanding cities has never been so high in the agenda. Cities are the result of a multiplicity of relationships, flows, interests, layers, forces, all intertwined in intricate networks where phenomena from a variety of domains like psychology, physics, sociology, culture, politics, or biology combine to make every city unique.

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Making the urban innovation spiral happen. Why, how, where

smartravelPortugalBNOn 4th, December 2015, we spoke about “the urban innovation spiral” at the Smart Portugal event in the beautiful medieval city of Bragança, province of Tras Os Montes.

As many urban practitioners, we are increasingly interested about cities as solution providers to problems. The aqueduct of Segovia (Spain) is an example of how cities, in the Roman era, solved the problem of access to drinkable water thanks to a smart invention. Today it attracts hords of tourists while giving a distinct identity to the city. In the middle ages, city walls, like Lucca’s (Italy) gave shelter to people threatened by insecurity and pillage. In the 21st century, that wall is one of the city’s main attractions, its upper promenade offering a shady tour of the city in the hottest days of summer. But overall, in the past as well as in present times, cities have represented the quest of prosperity. Few names illustrate this pursue better than the name of “La prosperidad”, a Madrid neighborhood originally populated with migrants from southern rural Spain under the dark times of Franco’s dictatorship.

World urbanization rate grows in parallel to the decrease in illiteracy level and life expectancy. Those are fundamental, aggregate indicators. Literacy is highly correlated with our future. Life expectancy speaks mainly about our past. But, while urbanization fixes the bigger picture (famine, extreme poverty or violence, access to sanitation), it creates bugs: inequality, obesity, isolation… Many refer to the process of addressing these bugs through technology as the transition to becoming a “smart city”. Sigue leyendo

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Game theory in public policies: the unaffordable cost of risk aversion

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Daniel Kahneman. Source: howtoacademy.com

On Dec, 2th 2015 we spoke at the “Smart cities for smart businesses” event in Córdoba (Spain), where we presented some of our latest ideas on public policies for urban innovation: specifically, on advancing towards sharing agreements between the key urban players that allow to place urban big data at the service of building sustainable engines of social and economic value.

Unexpectedly, the afternoon debate sparked an intense discussion about what the city of Córdoba could do to speed up its transition to a knowledge-based economy. We were fortunate to witness an inspiring discussion between some of the innovation stakeholders of the city: universities, entrepeneurs, researchers and City Council on the assets and opportunities that lay ahead of Córdoba’s desire to seize a more innovative future. Our contribution was targeted at dismantling some of the false clichés that might slow or paralyze such a necessary process. Sigue leyendo

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Measuring urban innovation

SmartCityExpoBCN19NovOn 19th, November 2015, we spoke at the Smart City Expo in Barcelona about the slippery subject of applying KPIs to measure urban innovation.

Somebody said: “What can’t be measured, probably does not exist”. He or she was probably an engineer, like most of our audience. But take for instance love and wrath, hunger or joy, selfishness or cooperation. Those concepts do exist, are as real as us, humans, and they will probably escape from the engineers’ measurement capabilities still for a long time. Sigue leyendo

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