Brett Hudson: How is technology impacting social and economic divisions in cities?

By Brett Hudson

Brett Hudson is a consultant to the Knight Foundation’s Tech for Engagement initiative.  This post reflects solely his views.

Apr 5, 2013 | Smart Cities | 0 comments

This post is a response to a group blogging event organized by Meeting of the Minds and Tumml.

Ubiquitous information and communication technology (ICT) holds overwhelmingly positive promise to bridge social and economic divides within cities.

How?

The rise of ICTs has diminished the role that long-standing institutions play in many parts of society.  Institutions have traditionally provided a structured and cost-effective way for individuals to meet their needs and goals.

As ICTs became pervasive, they inspired a “do-it-yourself” (DIY) culture that encourages people to tap into their own innate potential and immediate networks rather than relying on institutions to accomplish those same goals.  DIY culture is a natural result of ubiquitous ICTs; these technologies have dramatically lowered the cost for individuals to accomplish far more of their respective goals using far less time and resources, which rewards the individual with an unprecedented power that can exist entirely outside of any institution.

Many traditional institutional structures simply cannot compete with the DIY culture, which forces them to adapt, become irrelevant or simply be supplanted through disruptive innovation.  Consequently, the modern economy’s DIY culture is pulling power away from embedded institutions and delegating it to individuals—particularly networks of individuals—leading to an inevitable transition from an institution-based society to a network-based society.

Why is this transition so important?

A network-based economy provides a fundamentally new power structure that rests outside of the traditional institutional structure.  Tapping into the DIY culture has become increasingly commonplace, even essential, for forward-thinking business models.  In recent years, ICTs have dramatically expanded the potential of network-based tools like crowdsourcing, crowdfunding and crowdspeaking (crowd-anything, really).  The pervasiveness of these models indicates the potential power that an individual can exercise when tapping into a broad network versus going through a confined institutional structure.  Why raise capital through institutional finance to seed your idea when you can engage an entire network of individuals with a greater likelihood of success?

This transition to a network-based economy also creates a challenge.  While private sector institutions are built to adapt or be innovatively disrupted, many public sector institutions are not.  This obstinate institutional structure could indicate why the public is becoming increasingly disaffected with government, particularly among Millennials that tend to be entrenched in DIY culture.  Government is slow to adapt to technological changes and fundamental shifts in society, but given its nature, cannot be innovatively disrupted or supplanted with more effective ideas.  When government loses its ability to solve problems, the public becomes disengaged, angry or both.

There is hope.

While the rise of ICTs are making it difficult for governments’ institutional structures to stay relevant in the DIY economy, embracing technology and DIY culture at the local level of government may also be its savior.  The tech-driven DIY culture is forcing private sector institutions to identify business models that cede or share power with individuals.  City governments can do the same to re-engage and unleash a latent creative potential in their citizenry.

For example, new network-based civic organizations are coming to fruition, like civic crowdfunding platforms neighbor.ly and citizinvestor, which could expand the role in which citizens play in their city’s financial decisions.  As more of these kinds of platforms come online, it will continue to shift the influence away from the institution and into the hands of the individual, which expands the influence that she can exert over her community.

A transition away from institutional-based governance into network-based governance holds promise to overcome economic and social divisions within our communities.  When cities embrace ICT and DIY culture, it opens up the potential to engage and empower new voices that have not participated in government’s traditional institutional structure.  A shift in the power structure can equip underserved communities, which have not traditionally had the voice, power or resources to influence the institutional structure of government, with the necessary tools to create change.  Over time, citizens that are closest to their community’s challenges could ideally overcome persistent social and economic structural problems that traditional institutions of government simply could not solve.

Discussion

Leave your comment below, or reply to others.

Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org

Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology

Optimization Tools to Help Transit Agencies Recover

Optimization Tools to Help Transit Agencies Recover

I spoke last week with Krishna Desai from Cubic Transportation, and we discussed three big problems facing transportation, and the ways that Cubic is approaching these challenges:

1) If (or when) more workers return to traditional on-location jobs, but feel a lingering distrust of crowded spaces, people who can afford it may opt for private cars instead of using public transit for their commute. This will create a massive influx of cars on roads that were already crowded, and more financial woes for transit agencies already dealing with budget shortfalls. Krishna told me about a suite of optimization tools Cubic is deploying in places like Mexico and San Francisco to make public transit more efficient, more transparent, and, overall, more attractive to riders.

2) For the time being, though, we’re dealing with the opposite problem. How can transit agencies find ways to influence user behavior in a way that complies with social distancing and capacity requirements? How can you incentivize riders to wait for the next bus? (In a way that doesn’t alienate them forever – see #1). Cubic has deployed a loyalty/advertising program in Miami-Dade County that was originally intended to increase ridership, but is now being used to help control crowding and social distancing on transit.

3) Transportation infrastructure, in generally, was not built to accomodate 6-feet of separation between riders – or between workers. Little things like, for example, opening gates, requires workers to be closer than 6-feet to riders, and there are examples like that throughout every transit hub. Technology can help, but creating and implementing software/hardware solutions quickly and efficiently requires experience with innovation, deployment, maintenance and more. Cubic has a program called Project Rebound that shows the possibilities.

Need to Improve Your Transportation Plans? Try Inverting the Order of Planning

Need to Improve Your Transportation Plans? Try Inverting the Order of Planning

Advanced Urban Visioning offers a powerful tool for regions that are serious about achieving a major transformation in their sustainability and resilience. By clarifying what optimal transportation networks look like for a region, it can give planners and the public a better idea of what is possible. It inverts the traditional order of planning, ensuring that each mode can make the greatest possible contribution toward achieving future goals.

Advanced Urban Visioning doesn’t conflict with government-required planning processes; it precedes them. For example, the AUV process may identify the need for specialized infrastructure in a corridor, while the Alternatives Analysis process can now be used to determine the time-frame where such infrastructure becomes necessary given its role in a network.

Life is a Highway: Embracing Intelligent Transportation Systems

Life is a Highway: Embracing Intelligent Transportation Systems

The introduction of intelligent transportation systems, which includes a broad network of smart roads, smart cars, smart streetlights and electrification are pushing roadways to new heights. Roadways are no longer simply considered stretches of pavement; they’ve become platforms for innovation. The ability to empower roadways with intelligence and sensing capabilities will unlock extraordinary levels of safety and mobility by enabling smarter, more connected transportation systems that benefit the public and the environment.

The Future of Cities

Mayors, planners, futurists, technologists, executives and advocates — hundreds of urban thought leaders publish on Meeting of the Minds. Sign up below to follow the future of cities.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This