Networked Urbanism and the New Citizen

This article was created by a Technology Services student employee. Our student employees attend, engage, and report on campus events that feature technology. Students provide a unique perspective on how innovations in technology affect campus life.

By Meghan McCoy, English, '18

If a city was completely networked, would everyone living there vote?

When you hear the terms “Networked Urbanism,” “Intelligent Cities,” and “Intelligent Infrastructure,” what do those make you think of? For many people, they would probably first think of a city from a futuristic film, where buildings are so advanced they could almost seemingly communicate with each other.

While not quite on this track, the way people think about how cities are designed and how that design shapes how information is shared is beginning to change. And those changes, as futuristic as they may seem, are being fueled by more practical concerns than you might imagine.

In the talk “Networked Urbanism: Geographies of Information,” offered at Illinois earlier this fall, Thérèse Tierney (left), Associate Professor in the Illinois School of Architecture, explained that this change is both global and deeply collaborative, spanning multiple fields and dividing lines.

“If we’re going to build a city, it’s going to be an inter-disciplinary project,” she said. Unlike past decades of city design and building, how cities are formed is going to have to use a “holistic approach in intelligent infrastructure.” This approach will focus on designs that structure a city with the goal of increasing civic participation in the city’s design, governance and decision processes, and improving the living style of Urban Networks.

It’s a city by the people, for the people. And technology is its heart.

Since you would be hard-pressed to find a person today who doesn’t own at least some version of a mobile phone, this still recent change in society is also changing how cities, and the millions of people who live in them, interact with technology on a daily  basis. Tierney explained how Sweden is rapidly turning into a cashless society where people pay for goods using their phones, and in Paris you can now reserve and pay for a rental car by phone.

However, as cool as those possibilities are (particularly for us car-less members on campus) reserving cars and paying for your Starbucks latte isn’t the only thing people who design cities are focusing on.

Used for disaster emergencies, the Digital Humanities Network (DHN) is able to coordinate aid, information, and quick responses, all through the use of mobile phones. This program helps the millions of people in a city know the most current and up to date news and events, that in turn fosters a sense of connection and shared experience which can be difficult to create in a city environment.

One of the best advantages of how cities are being redesigned is the focus on making cities a place where it is easy for people to participate in decision processes and network usage, like voting. While technology will always have its downsides, architects and city planners are focusing on how to use technology to the best of its ability by working to include all citizens in the data-rich information world. This change would let people exercise their civic rights and responsibilities to their greatest extent, and would help those who normally can’t access technology find ways to be more involved in the technological circle.

In its loftiest goals, technology is designed to improve people’s lives and make information-sharing  and civic responsibilities easier.  Through changing how information is shaped and shared, the spaces that people and technology occupy simultaneously can be designed to be open to everyone. Striving to meet these goals would also mean being better at addressing the ever-changing concerns of today, which after listening to Tierney’s presentation, is something I’m convinced we are more than capable of doing.