Think about how different were most of the things that you have done today just 20 years ago
He is an engineer, architect and he likes to invent the future. Carlo Ratti is the director of the Senseable City Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of the Technology. A short interview with one of the keynote speakers of the Amsterdam Smart City Event 2014.
Will the real Smart City please stand up. There are so many definitions of the city of the future. In which smart city do you believe?
“I strongly believe in a city in which technologies are at the service of people, we prefer to call them Senseable Cities. The term Senseable has a double implication, in means sensible and “able to sense”, I think this definition is a better way of explaining our vision, which is focused on humans rather than on technology.”
As often with new – specially technical – inventions there are also opponents of this ‘new’ connected, sensored world.. What is your response to that kind of criticism?
“The idea is just another consequence of the revolutionary digitization processes that have happened over the past decades. Think about how different were most of the things that you have done today just 20 years ago, without Facebook, without iPhones, without Google Maps – without Google itself. Similar changes are now entering the urban space – we need to study them in order to be able to understand them and guide them!”
Can you tell more about the SENSEable City Lab?
“Senseable City Lab started in 2004. At the time, new technologies were promising exciting transformations in communication, transportation and fabrication. We tried to imagine how these developments could impact urban studies and how the unprecedented interaction of digital and physical would affect the way we understand, design and ultimately live in cities. The convergence of bits and atoms, which is now a reality. Our projects always focus on real city problems, from energy to traffic, from waste to water management. We know that sensors and digital-control technologies will quickly transform our cities into “computers in open air”. The information we can collect from the city around us can help us understand, design and manage it. Through these instruments, we develop strategies to improve people’s lives.”
At the Amsterdam Smart City Event 2014 people from all of the world will talk and discuss about the cities of tomorrow. What is your advice? What should they bear in mind?
“Never try to predict the future!
In the year 1900, on the twenty fourth of December, the Boston Globe newspaper ran an article by Thomas F. Anderson imagining what Boston would look like in the year 2000. The article was titled “Boston at the End of the 20th Century,” and painted an elaborate vision of a city with moving sidewalks, pneumatic tube delivery of everything from food to newspapers, and airships soaring high above the city. Anderson’s predictions were sweeping and optimistic – Boston of the 21st century would be so beautiful that the word “slum” would have been eliminated from the local vernacular.
Such descriptions, in retrospect, are almost comical – notions of the future city vary widely, from H.G. Wells’ grim and dystopias to Thomas Anderson’s shining metropolitan Boston or Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Regardless of its character, Tim Hartford, for the Financial Times, observed that “Nothing ever looks as dated as old science fiction.”
In the shadow such a sweeping graveyard of ideas, an exercise like predicting THE FUTURE OF THE CITY is confronted with an urgent question: Is it possible to escape the same fate? How can we avoid the scrap heap of urban visions? We contend that considering the future is central to the act of design: Alan Kay’s axiom rings true, that “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”
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