The New City
An economist Edward Glaeser calls the absence of physical space between people “our species’
greatest invention”. In his words, innovations have spread from person to person across crowded city streets taking advantages of proximity, density, and closeness. According to Glaeser, cities are under constant change – even when the building fabric of a city does not change, urban population is fluid.
A historian Yuval Noah Harari explains this ability of people to flexibly cooperate in large numbers. According to Harari, it is based on human imagination in general and the ability to invent and spread fictions around in particular. The historian states that new technologies destroy even the most successful fictions, in which many people believe, and argues that the invention of a new technology leads to an adaptation of older fictions or their replacement with new ones. In Harari’s words, as soon as a new story is created for new technological conditions, the new technology supports this story.
An art historian and architectural critic Grigory Revzin discusses how cutting-edge technologies will reshape our cities in the not distant future. He considers the concept of the industrial city as obsolete, and the concept of the smart city as not relevant. Revzin sees the concept of the ecological city as contradicting the notion of the city and therefore impossible without inventing a new paradigm that would replace the paradigm of the city; in Harari’s words, the contemporary belief in economic growth makes the issues of climate change impossible to solve; and Glaeser’s analysis shows that the destruction of the paradigm of the city would cause much more harmful effect on ecology.
The three experts agree on the major thread: the future city is not a new city, but an existing city that is reshaped on the basis of new technologies and new fictions. Glaeser states that technological breakthroughs have already caused the death of distance, and argues that transportation technologies define the urban form at all times. Harari sees the development of artificial intelligence, biotechnologies and computer science as the major drivers of change, and forecasts that 50% of current jobs performed by people will extinct in 30 years as machine will replace human. Revzin sees the future city as a complex mix of the today’s consumer city, in which consumption not production is the key factor of life, and the digital city, where – according to Harari – biometric data not behavioural data will predict most efficient decisions. According to Revzin, the Jevons paradox will cause the increased not decreased consumption in the digital city. He argues that digital experiences for mass consumption and physical experiences for luxury consumption will cause further social segregation. But there is a hope that online education, online medicine and online work will allow more people having access to what they lack in the city of today.
In any case, innovative technologies and new fictions will reshape the consumer city of today. Existing forms of institutions in medicine, trade, education, work, leisure, and culture will transform into new typologies. Projects by Sidewalk Labs or Sean Lally WEATHERS prompt what these typologies might look like, but exact recipe yet to be discovered.
Glaeser, E. (2011) Triumph of the City. MACMILLAN.
Harari, Y.N. (2014) Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Harvill Secker.
Harari, Y.N. (2016) Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. Harvill Secker.
Harari, Y.N. (2018) 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. Harvill Secker.
Lally, S. (2014) The Air From Other Planets. Lars Muller Publishers.
Papadakis, A. (ed.) (1998) ‘The End of Innovation in Architecture’, New Architecture. Number 2.
Revzin, G. (2019) ‘Город будущего’, Коммерсантъ Weekend. Number 17, p.18. Available at https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/3982229 (Accessed: 06.06.2019)
SidewalkLabs (2019) Sidewalk Toronto. Available at https://sidewalktoronto.ca (Accessed: 06.06.2019)