Highlighted Selections from:

The Future Cities Agenda


DOI: 10.1068/b4002ed

Batty, Michael. “The Future Cities Agenda.” Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 40.2 (2013): 191–194. Print.

p.191: Suddenly, ‘cities’ have become the hottest topic on the planet. National research institutes and local governments as well as various global agencies are all scrambling to get a piece of the action as cities become the places where it is considered future economic prosperity firmly lies while also offering the prospect of rescuing a developed world mired in recession. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.191: Many of the largest information technology (IT) companies are doing the same: as, for example, in Birmingham and Belfast which have recently won funding as part of IBM’s Smarter Cities challenge. The UK Government Office for Science has embarked on a ‘future cities’ think-piece, while various London-based initiatives, such as the government’s Tech City are providing a focus for high-tech start-ups in the fashion that a generation ago were called ‘science parks’. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.191: Yet the most powerful force in this revival of interest in cities is undoubtedly the transition from a world based on energy to one based on information: from an industrial to a postindustrial world where the majority of pursuits are information based and where many previous occupations involving agriculture and manufacturing will be entirely automated. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.191: Most of our cities still reflect the built environment shells that were appropriate to a previous era, one wedded to the internal combustion engine, to an industrial base that in many places contained over half the workforce, and to patterns of living that tended to reinforce localities rather than more distant places. However, what takes place in our cities is now very different from the economic and social activities that defined them at the end of the 19th century. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.192: If you want evidence that our cities no longer function as part of the physical form they manifest, just consider the City of London, the financial quarter or square mile which still exists on a street pattern that was established before Christopher Wren began its rebuilding after the Great Fire of 1666. Since the end of the Second World War, the ‘City’ has been more or less rebuilt three times but on the same street pattern. It looks the same as it was, but in fact everything has changed; everything that goes on within these streets is different from seventy-five years ago. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.192: In this mix, cities are of course the crucibles where information is produced and disseminated through invention and discussion and this has always been the case. All informed commentators from Jacobs (1961) to Glaeser (2011) make this point and argue that cities are not necessarily places where material goods are produced—notwithstanding that many cities do grow around such production centres—but they are places for bringing people together to innovate, to interact socially, which in turn leads to various forms of production, which are by no means exclusively material. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.193: All this focus on cities getting bigger will be predicated on their getting richer, but the climate in which this is happening is one of increasing polarisation and disadvantage. Population growth through natural replacement will slow in comparison to migration which will continue to increase as population becomes more mobile globally and as cities compete for the brightest and the best. Although the world’s population might stabilise, migration will become the really significant determinant of local growth, and this is already happening as evidenced by recent global patterns of population change. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.193: The key issues onthe agenda involve: automating cities which is an inevitable consequence of networking and the decentralisation of all aspects of computation across the globe; the dominance of migration as a force for local change; globalisation where everyone who uses the net is in some way part of a world city of sorts (with the implication that every city, no matter what size, has elements of ‘world city’ within it); the consequences of aging which will change the way we physically move around the city combined with the automation of transit and the private automobile; the rise of health care as a basic urban function; the demise of physical retailing and the ‘high street’, as much through online activity as through physical decentralisation; and, of course, the general automation of all sectors of the economy. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.193: Many problems confound this agenda and it is worth noting these as they are likely to dominate the extent to which we are able to build resilient and sustainable cities that are smart enough to enable them to function better than any of those we have created in the past. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.193: First, the issue of automating the city is highly problematic. Our experience with IT systems at every level is somewhat mixed, with integration being a major problem not only of organisation but also of best practice and the physical limits on how information might be linked. It is by no means axiomatic that the data that the smart city will provide will be any better than those we have generated in the past using conventional, manual means. In fact, these data will be different and our experience to date in adding value by merging big data indicates many problems. Much of the smart city will be built like all cities from the bottom up, not from any top-down mandate or plan for the information city, and those that have been proposed by the big IT companies are more like ideal types, like new towns once were. Practice will be very different. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.193: The second feature which will distort the agenda is the notion that large cities will provide massive numbers of new jobs. It is already clear that information technologies have by and large not generated the kind of increases in jobs that previous technologies based on energy achieved. Productivity increases have slowed everywhere during the last fifty years and increasingly this is seen as being due to the fact that the technologies now being produced tend to be complementary to existing practice: they do not disrupt in quite the same way that industrial technologies did, for they do not replace or substitute but simply add new behaviours in parallel. Moreover, the number of jobs created from these appears smaller than the number generated in industrial society, so like for like (if ever a comparison can be truly made), it looks at though the quest for providing new jobs through start-ups in large cities is the icing on the cake, rather than the provision of a new cake which will generate a new labour market. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.194: This agenda is inevitably incomplete and it is not well mapped out, but what is very clear is that the repercussions of information technologies on the future form of our cities is very hard to figure out. As with all innovation, there is little to go on from a study of the past; other than to say that the diffusion appears to be ever faster and the polarisation and segregation that emerge from this take us increasingly by surprise. There is, however, one clear message in thinking about future cities: it is that such analysis and study should concentrate on the multiple repercussions over time and space that now characterise change in the contemporary city. There is little doubt that getting a grip of what our future cities will be like must be based on the information and communication technologies and urban analytics that make the greatest use of the data and models that use these technologies to study the impact of the same technologies which are changing and transforming the very system of interest that we are studying. The fact that we use these technologies to explore how these very same technologies are changing the system we are studying is part of the paradox that a future cities agenda must grapple with. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014