Arte y ciencia en la construcción de la ciudad

letterEisnteinBerna. Junio, 1907

“Estimado Sr. Einstein […] Sentimos que sus conclusiones sobre la naturaleza de la luz y la conexión fundamental entre espacio y tiempo son algo radicales. A grosso modo, nos parecen, de hecho, más cercanas a lo artístico que a la Física.”

Dr. Wilheim Heinrich. Decano de la Facultad de Ciencias

Estas semanas ha circulado por las redes la (famosa) falsa carta que Einstein recibió rechazando su solicitud para el puesto de profesor en la Universidad de Berna. En su lacónica, y ficticia, respuesta, el decano tachaba las ideas del genio alemán relacionando el espacio y el tiempo como radicales, pisando más el terreno del arte que el de la ciencia. Como sea que otro genial visionario, Marshall McLuhan, nos recuerda que los artistas están precisamente dotados de un poder anticipatorio para la ciencia, es fácil ponerse en la piel del pobre decano imaginario y comprender sus reticencias a contratar al físico-artista Albert Einstein. ¿Cómo contratar a un profesor para enseñar a los alumnos misterios del universo que no se descubrirían sino décadas después? Hasta el propio Einstein reconocía que su cerebro no era lo suficientemente maduro; que, en cierta medida, su mente era la de un niño. Continue reading


El centenario de Jane Jacobs

Se cumplen 100 años del nacimiento de Jane Jacobs. En OYC lo celebramos recopilando en una sola entrada tres de los artículos inspirados por esta pequeña gran mujer, cuya figura no hace sino crecer al ritmo que lo hace el interés por esa gran invención humana que son las ciudades. Economistas como Edward Glaeser, geógrafos como Michael Batty, ingenieros como Anthony Townsend o arquitectos urbanistas como Jan Gehl, citan a Jane Jacobs como una de sus principales fuentes de inspiración. Cumpleaños feliz.

jacobsJane Jacobs: “Muerte y vida de las grandes ciudades”. La autora analiza, con precisión de entomóloga urbana, cómo funcionan las ciudades a escala microscópica, cuáles son los procesos que las revitalizan y las hacen más “vivibles” y cuáles los que las destruyen y empobrecen. Imprescindible para todo aquel que piense que, para conseguir un mundo mejor, necesitamos ciudades mejores.

theEconomyCitiesBNJane Jacobs: “La economía de las ciudades”. Casi una década después de su revolucionaria y atemporal obra “Muerte y vida de las grandes ciudades americanas”, Jane Jacobs publicó en 1969 “La economía de las ciudades”, un intento de explicar de manera sencilla los procesos de generación de riqueza que, desde el principio de la humanidad, han hecho de las ciudades poderosos imanes de atracción de gente y de generación de oportunidades.

jane-jacobsDetroitJane Jacobs’ predictions about Detroit. El proceso de caída de Detroit analizado bajo el prisma visionario de nuestra urbanista de cabecera. No nos cansaremos de recomendar la lectura de la urbanista y activista canadiense siempre a todo aquel apasionado de la innovación urbana.


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. Continue reading


7 laws about cities that will fascinate you


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. Continue reading


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.

Continue reading


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”. Continue reading


Questions for a new generation of city scientists

MCSOn 28th, October 2015 we were honored to lecture at the opening session of 2015-2016 edition of the Master of City Sciences at Politechnic University of Madrid, sharing our latest thoughts and experiencies on urban innovation with students and staff.

Everything starts by Jaime Lerner’s statement about cities as the great solution, fostering progress in the fields of economics, sustainability, quality of life, and innovation.

The desire to climb up the prosperity ladder has been the main driving force that keeps attracting people to cities. That only means that cities have always been perceived as extremely ‘valuable’ by people. Now… can we aspire to quantify the value of cities? In the lecture, we presented several works by prominent city scientists, as well as subsequent laws that cast some light into this question, and then move to another important subject: how can we reconfigure cities to maximize that value? Continue reading


Designing the Hubble of cities


‘Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science’

Edwin P. Hubble

Cities are one of the most complex ecosystems in nature, one of the closest to us, humans, and one of the least understood. The different urban disciplines (architecture, urban planning, social sciences, traffic engineering, telecommunications, urban economics…) have been traditionally devoted to study the city as a collection of either physical objects or human livings.

It was Jane Jacobs who first pointed out the misalignments derived from the ‘narrowness’ of these approach, providing a broader understanding of the relationships that govern the mutual feedback between humans and objects in cities. A public space entomologist like Jan Gehl followed and performed sound observations about interactions between people and ‘physicalities in cities’. Gehl’s empirical discovery ‘first life, then spaces, then buildings’ anticipates the thought that places are a result of interactions, and not the opposite. Manuel Castells introduced the concept of flows as a governing phenomena to study thoroughly for a better understanding of cities. His influential socio-economic perspective of the city-verse as a ‘space of flows’ is at the basis of the new science of cities that contemporary pioneers like the geographer Michael Batty is trying to build. Continue reading