Building Responsive Cities: Technology, Design, and Development

Urban sustainability requires new models for city planning that embrace digital technologies, which hold the key for designing urban forms that respond to varying conditions. For the most part, cities are composed of static infrastructure that require costly retrofits to adapt to new conditions. The cost of adaptability is exacerbated by fragmented and convoluted administration regimes, which depress a city’s ability to maintain an adequately sustainable form. In the video below, a panel of four city planners at MIT discuss how updated city models might embrace digital technologies to afford more agile infrastructure that respond real-time to changing conditions.

An MIT Lecture Provide by MIT World

Current models that governments and developers use in Western-centric cities still thrive primarily off of early 20th Century technology such as the automobile. To a large extent, cars have been a principle driving force for function and form of modern cities and continue to widely influence city planning today. Allowing people to travel independently has encouraged vast urban expansion and economic growth, so providing an adequate physical infrastructure that accommodates automobile traffic has been a priority for city design. As noted by Dennis Frenchman in the video, this priority to focus primarily on the physical framework of a city is being met by the equally important need to develop a digital framework that addresses 21st Century needs and emerging sustainability values.

The purpose of developing a digital framework for a city is to instill mechanisms that allow city infrastructure to change, or respond, to feedback provided by people or the environment–like equipping a city with a nervous system. Similar to how the human brain adapts, or any other complex adaptive system, the form and function of city infrastructure will change according to the feedback that it receives. For very interesting examples of such systems, watch Dennis Frenchman’s (the first speaker’s) talk in the video above.



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