Scott Paterson: How is technology impacting social and economic divisions in cities?
Who will you meet?
Cities are innovating, companies are pivoting, and start-ups are growing. Like you, every urban practitioner has a remarkable story of insight and challenge from the past year.
Meet these peers and discuss the future of cities in the new Meeting of the Minds Executive Cohort Program. Replace boring virtual summits with facilitated, online, small-group discussions where you can make real connections with extraordinary, like-minded people.
When thinking about this question I find I’m focusing on division and how I might perceive how a division of any kind might be experienced. For starters, technology is designed. It gets designed. This design process can be the make or break point when technology is going to become divisive or not. There is a reason your microwave clock blinks 12:00 or car radio clock is off. It’s too hard to adjust it. That’s not user error that’s technology design error. The folks involved didn’t consider how people might use or whether they might even desire such a time display.
It’s all too common in this diagram for people to start with what they know – technical feasibility or business viability. That’s what they’re experts at, where they live 24/7. Innovation can come from anywhere and anybody. You can start anywhere on the diagram, but you will find if you cover off on all three circles by the time you finish you’ll have followed a different path that if you hadn’t.
To bring a kind of tangent to this a bit I want to share two recent stories I’ve come across that highlight someone overcoming division and someone perpetuating division. I don’t think either of them considers what they’re doing as this, but in light of the question, “How is technology impacting social and economic divisions in cities,” you can see their actions in relief to the pressures of a divide.
First is the photographer Olivia Bee. She has an amazing, inspiring Ted talk where she shares her point of view on motivation and dreams. She discusses shooting photos despite pressures to conform, as she says, “you have to do stuff besides the stuff you have to do”. My favorite phrase of hers is, “aspirational compromise is for pussies”. While watching I was wondering about the impact of advertising about technology. How much is that messaging causing a divide? Watch video here:
The second is a blog post from Bernalwood. My neighborhood blog. It’s about a Richard Florida map of San Francisco, specifically Bernal Heights, where the blogger points out, “…if at times Bernal Heights seems a bit divided on itself, well… that’s because in some ways it is…”.
But upon closer viewing you realize it is really the technology constructing the divide, visualizing the divide. The granularity of the data combined with the mapping technique cause generic divisions to be drawn that I suspect are much more nuanced. At issue here seems to be the kind of categorization of data – of people – that Olivia so strongly rejects. And at the heart of it is design. Before I get too far off topic, I’ll close by sharing an article in the Atlantic about this issue of maps and subjectivity.
If we start by engaging and considering people, their behaviors and motivations, we can change the course of the design process – to be user centered, not divisive.
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.
Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org
Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
Housing that is affordable to low-income residents is often substandard and suffering from deferred maintenance, exposing residents to poor air quality and high energy bills. This situation can exacerbate asthma and other respiratory health issues, and siphon scarce dollars from higher value items like more nutritious food, health care, or education. Providing safe, decent, affordable, and healthy housing is one way to address historic inequities in community investment. Engaging with affordable housing and other types of community benefit projects is an important first step toward fully integrating equity into the green building process. In creating a framework for going deeper on equity, our new book, the Blueprint for Affordable Housing (Island Press 2020), starts with the Convention on Human Rights and the fundamental right to housing.
Since the Great Recession of 2008, the housing wealth gap has expanded to include not just Black and Brown Americans, but younger White Americans as well. Millennials and Generation Z Whites are now joining their Black and Brown peers in facing untenable housing precarity and blocked access to wealth. With wages stuck at 1980 levels and housing prices at least double (in inflation adjusted terms) what they were 40 years ago, many younger Americans, most with college degrees, are giving up on buying a home and even struggle to rent apartments suitable for raising a family.
What makes it hard for policy people and citizens to accept this truth is that we have not seen this problem in a very long time. Back in the 1920s of course, but not really since then. But this is actually an old problem that has come back to haunt us; a problem first articulated by Adam Smith in the 1700s.
More than ever, urban transit services are in need of sustainable and affordable solutions to better serve all members of our diverse communities, not least among them, those that are traditionally car-dependent. New mobility technologies can be a potential resource for local transit agencies to augment multi-modal connectivity across existing transit infrastructures.
We envision a new decentralized and distributed model that provides multi-modal access through nimble and flexible multi-modal Transit Districts, rather than through traditional, centralized, and often too expensive Multi-modal Transit Hubs. Working in collaboration with existing agencies, new micro-mobility technologies could provide greater and seamless access to existing transit infrastructure, while maximizing the potential of the public realm, creating an experience that many could enjoy beyond just catching the next bus or finding a scooter. So how would we go about it?