Planning 3.0: The Singularity is Near?
Okay, it’s time I spill out some conceptual notions I’ve been playing with for a bit in my head because they do less good there and it’s really not fun having a conversation with yourself. I’d like to start a conversation with you (blogger, tweeter, couch sitter, professional planner, whoever you are). Some of these ideas may be malformed, misinformed or just plain wrong, but ideas are inexpensive and much better refined. Let’s get to it:
What? Why? We were just getting used to 2.0? Well Google Chrome is on version 18 and Firefox is trying to catch up at 12, and we’re only on 2? All false analogies aside, let me explain myself. A lot of the 2.0 monikers imply the application of web and mobile, networked technologies to a particular subject or field. 3.0, at least in my basic conceit, is about convergence and emergence. It’s not so much a paradigm shift as a way of thinking about things already happening. Now 3.0 plays out differently in different subject areas, but in the planning field we have 2 very basic areas converging: the built and the virtual environments. Instead of one influencing another, they both operate in mutually reinforcing ways. One very simple illustration of this concept is Chris Harrison’s map of the Internet, which reminds us that this virtual network is still tied to geographic location.
But this isn’t just about the infrastructure and where it’s situated in place and subsequently who has access and who doesn’t (although that is important), it’s about the sometimes awkward ballet being played out between the built and virtual environments where one informs the development of another. For example the geographic cluster of Silicon Valley generating billions of dollars in global, online businesses, which have changed supply chains and skillset needs, which have affected the global distribution of labor, which produce our iPhones, which allow us to check in to physical places in the cities more of us are moving to because…my brain could spin in circles on this one forever. Each of these relationships has a set of benefits and consequences that the planning profession ought to consider.
So Planning 3.0 is not about something new. Arguably, it’s something that’s been happening since we started drawing on cave walls (these were very asynchronous ways of communicating, but they’re still around). We see the echoes of this idea today in everything from Richard Florida’s creative class to the work being done by MIT on WikiCity (among many projects from the Senseable City Lab). We also see it in the recounting of the impact of timekeeping monks and later the watch on the “synchronous city” in Technics and Civilization (order here or read more about it here) by Lewis Mumford. Those of you that follow me on twitter may have just noticed something, if not, follow me @synchronouscity. What’s exciting (or scary) now is that we see these relationships among the built environment and the virtual at a faster pace and at incredible scales. And this has ramifications for those of us on the grid as well as those of us off.
An End to False Dichotomies
So where am I going with this? We set up a lot of false dichotomies, one of which I have become increasingly annoyed with: technology: good or bad? To me that’s akin to the topic food: good or bad? I understand the point of that conversation, but we always end up talking about the nuance of technology anyway and coming to about the same conclusion: it depends on what you’re talking about. This food is better to eat with a fork, this one with a spoon. Well then let’s talk about something else. In a convergence and emergence worldview we can start talking about the ethics of the use of social media in civic decision-making (there’s one to chew on) OR how how does government need to change in a world where anyone can hold up the bullhorn, or does it OR will we ever be able to sit and breathe again?
The primary reason I am most excited by this way of thinking about planning’s future is that the conversations get more interesting and we get to peel back layers. It leads to questions that may help us design better interfaces (physical and virtual) for people to interact with civic decision-making and in turn cities that respond better to the needs of her residents. It lets us get at the fundamental issues of technology use among different groups and design solutions that are appropriate to context, place and need. Ultimately, rather than being passive observers of this phenomenon, we, in the planning profession, begin to put theories, words and actions to being progressive problem solvers with ever better tools and perspectives. Planning 2.0 is so 2005, let’s move the conversation forward (sheesh, I know, no patience).
The Shoulders of Giants
These thoughts have been brought to you by many thinkers, far smarter than I. If you don’t know these references, check them out:
Emergence: the interconnected lives of ants, brains, cities and software by Steven Johnson (the book that had the most influence on my perspectives on planning)
City of Bits, e-Topia, and Me++ by William Mitchell
Technics and Civilization and The City in History by Lewis Mumford
Splintering Urbanism by Steven Graham and Simon Marvin (actually a textbook from my Digital City class years ago at Penn State. Very in depth exploration of the impacts of globalization and technology – among other topics – on urbanism)
So what do you think?