7 laws about cities that will fascinate you

elephants

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

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

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? Sigue leyendo

Designing the Hubble of cities

hubble

‘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. Sigue leyendo

Ponga un CIO en su ciudad

(Como parte de mi intervención en Jornadas SmartCity del ICEMD-ESIC)

He tenido el honor de trabajar durante 12 años por mi ciudad, Zaragoza, y he podido hacerlo junto a un gran alcalde, Juan Alberto Belloch, en uno de los momentos más excitantes de la historia reciente de la ciudad; en una primera etapa (2003-2007) como Concejal de Ciencia y Tecnología, entre otras responsabilidades; como Director de Ciencia y Tecnología desde 2007 hasta julio de 2015.

Lejos de hacer un balance particular de logros y frustraciones durante este extenso periodo, en el que ha habido de todo (ahí queda para la valoración individual de cada uno, mucho más objetiva ésta, aunque suene contradictorio), prefiero exponer dos o tres ideas de carácter general y que bien pueden asociarse a cualquier ciudad de tamaño medio.

Una legislatura de gobierno da para bien poco, sobre todo si se pretende iniciar un camino inédito. Tres legislaturas es, quizá, un poco más de lo que consideraría razonable para dirigir y ejecutar un proyecto de ciudad; por frescura en el desempeño, por incorporar nuevas ideas desde diferentes perspectivas, el relevo es esencial. En el ámbito de la modernización de la ciudad esto último se me hace todavía más evidente.

Lo que se entiende por “modernizar la ciudad” puede cambiar sustancialmente de significado en función de quien lo expresa. En mi opinión modernizar consiste en utilizar todas las herramientas a nuestro alcance para vivir mejor en términos generales, lo que nos conduce ineludiblemente al uso intensivo de tecnologías de la información y de la comunicación (TIC), puesto que son las herramientas que tenemos a nuestra disposición hoy en día. Como punto de partida, la ciudad que conocemos es digital de forma creciente e inapelable porque lo es también la organización que presta los servicios de ciudad, el ayuntamiento, bien sea de forma directa o a través de concesionarias.

Sin embargo, se hace cada vez más evidente que la condición digital “genética” no es suficiente para hablar de esa ciudad modernizada. Sigue leyendo

Sharing big data: the next frontier in civic innovation

SharedSpaceIn an era of increasing urban concentration, the multiple risks that our society faces at the environmental, social or economic spheres can be better addressed by adopting innovative and well-informed urban policies. Those policies can not ignore the potential offered by the set of processes and technologies grouped under the generic ‘big data’ buzz-word.

If we take an historical angle, after the ‘big bang’ explosion of data, the new ‘dataverse’ is experiencing a quick inflationary phase. An inflationary expansion that is everything but homogeneous. Clearly, Internet businesses are leading the way fueled, first, by the inherent use of big data related technologies, some of which are even powering the development of the general concept of big data itself, and, second, by the highly competitive and innovative markets in which those companies operate.

However, the use of big data that those Internet giants make is only serving the purposes of their internal business development. In some cases, those companies are disrupting local economies in areas such as transportation or accommodation while bypassing local regulations. Über is a good example of a new paradox. The serious blow that they afflict to the community of local cab drivers not only affects self-employment in the city but also leads to a reduction in the overall local tax collection. To aggravate the bleeding, their systems may very well use, for instance, the data about road outages that the city hall releases in open data formats for routing optimization purposes, while the company locks the vast amount of valuable information gathered through their daily trips around the city. Sigue leyendo

La colonización del dato

roman-aqueduct-bn

Fotografía de planetware.com. Original en http://www.planetware.com/tourist-attractions-/segovia-e-castl-seg.htm

El pasado 28 de Mayo fuimos invitados a hablar sobre nuevas infraestructuras de ciudad en el “Meet & Talk Congress 2015” que, organizado por la Wonderware, congregó a más de 200 especialistas del sector de la automatización industrial y las Smart Cities.

Empezamos hablando de la relación entre urbanismo y tecnología, una relación tradicionalmente de subordinación. Los urbanistas echaban mano de los ingenieros para completar su obra: decidido nuestro lugar de residencia, trabajo o entretenimiento, los ingenieros civiles pusieron asfalto para movernos, los eléctricos iluminaron las avenidas, los ingenieros de producción organizaron las industrias, los telecos nos echaron encima una capa ubicua de conectividad. Hasta ahí todo en orden.

Sin embargo, algo se torció para los urbanistas e ingenieros clásicos el día que decidieron hacer caso a pensadores como Manuel Castells y Richard Florida y crear las condiciones para que en las ciudades florecieran las llamadas clases creativas. Con el viento de popa gracias una disruptiva infraestructura, Internet, y al creciente atractivo de lo urbano, la generación de nuevos emprendedores tecnológicos que empezó a despuntar en los albores del milenio hoy ha desembocado en gigantes como Google, Amazon, Facebook, AirBnB o Über. Sigue leyendo