Global urbanization is one of the major demographic trends today. According the United Nations 2014 World Urbanization Report, we recently crossed the threshold where over half the world’s population now lives in urban areas, and this will rise steadily to become two-thirds by 2050.
Over half the world’s population now lives in urban areas
This is having large ramifications on our society and lives, and there is a great deal of discussion and research in this area.
Jennifer Evans-Cowley, Professor of City & Regional Planning and Ohio State University offers a free online course on this topic that is starting now called TechniCity. She states:
“My passion really lies in the ways that we can use technology to make our cities better places to live.”
There has been some attention on developing new “smart cities” from the ground up, such as Songdo in South Korea, literally starting with 500 millions of tons of sand. But Prof. Evans-Cowley points to the many ways that technology is being beneficially integrated into many of our our cities today, from infrastructure like smart building systems and solar-powered trash compactors, to public art, which is making public spaces more interactive.
These things shouldn’t happen randomly, they need to be planned for. Prof. Evans-Cowley gives the example of the much-anticipated trend of autonomous vehicles, that is, driverless cars. If they become widespread, what impact will it have? Would it increase the number of cars on the road? If the cars are shared, would it drastically decrease the amount of parking a city needs? This example gets to an important point, which is often overlooked: it is not about technology for its own sake, but how peoples’ behaviors change with the possibilities that technologies offer. This means it depends on our choices and values. Prof. Evans-Cowley suggests the key question we have to ask ourselves is:
“What is it that you want from your community? What’s the quality of life you want to experience, and how can technology enhance that quality and experience?”
There are also concerns to consider: socioeconomic harms, environmental impacts, and, in a data-rich world, issues regarding privacy. We need to weigh these factors too, and so all of us who live in cities should play a role by being informed and shaping our views.
All of us who live in cities should play a role by being informed and shaping our views
This is the primary motivation behind offering TechniCity as a course open to the world. You can learn about some of these issues (there are guest speakers who are experts in different fields) and discuss your perspectives with others (currently, 6,000 people from all over the world are signed up for the current session). All of us who live in cities should play a role by being informed and shaping our views
You can also do a project assignment to develop your own idea for improving cities (you can see example ideas in this gallery).
On a more personal note, we asked Prof. Evans-Cowley what her three favorite cities in the world were. She listed:
1. Budapest, Hungary, for its topography, history, and variance in architecture
2. Shanghai, China, for its example of rapid modern growth alongside a historical city
3. Columbus, Ohio, USA, because it is her home
This drives home an important: there are no objective measures of the greatness of a city, it depends on the person. She explains, “Part of what makes a city so special is why you find it home and feel like it is a great place for you and your family be.”
Whatever your interest, you can take the TechniCity online course and learn and participate along with others. The current session of the course just started, and you can still sign up!