Hi, I'm Colin and I usually write over at Blog Like You Give A Damn. But this month you'll find me here, curating Where's Weekly Reading segment. Brendan has graciously allowed me to break from his standard format for something a bit more casual. Let's call it a stream-of-thought meditation on a theme.
This week -- Near future urbanism: how an ubiquitous and multi-layered network might effect our urban environment. Photo: OiMax (via Flickr)
Moore's Law tells us that computing technology is advancing exponentially – essentially doubling every two years. With Rainbows End, mathematician, computer scientist, and science-fiction writer Vernor Vinge extrapolates on Moore's Law and envisions a near future where the physical world can be reinterpreted through "contact lenses that can overlay what the wearer sees with skins that redress the environment to your taste." [Check out this smallWORLD podcast to hear Vernor talk at length about the concepts and technologies behind Rainbows End] A similar concept is explored in William Gibson's recent novel Spook Country, in which locative artists create incredibly complex site specific geo/virtual mashups, tied to specific locations through GPS and wi-fi technologies [see gpsdrawing.com or this video for some real-world examples].
Both of these authors and their recent works are proposing a malleable virtual/ urban environment where user generated content meshes seamlessly with concrete and grass [see CSI:NY's recent foray into Second Life for a not-so-seamless example]. Essentially, if you don't like the looks of that new condo going up across the street - simply design a new facade, upload, and share with your social network of choice.
In a world where the net is everywhere and we are always online, geographic locations will be linked in as well. It won't be long before we are going about life tagging locations with keywords or personal stories like we would a page on the web (imagine geo.del.icio.us or MySpace taken literally). As technology advances and life-caching becomes more robust, you could feasibly go back to the location of your first kiss, bring up the appropriate file, and project that exact moment in real-time. Hackers and artists will upload pirate landscapes, momentarily hijacking reality for thousands of people at a time. Communities with similar belief systems might organize around a shared perception of reality or aesthetic sensibility - and then actually make that their reality.
So all of this speculation begs the question: in this media-rich user-generated landscape, what role is there for the architect and urban planner? Will cities be reduced to the skeletal equivalent of a wire frame 3D model, designed to be dressed up with an infinite and interchangeable architectural wardrobe? This is to say nothing about questions about privacy or invasive marketing strategies... phew!
As you can probably tell, I've been on something of a futurism kick. Check out futuretalks.com if you're digging it too. They recently started broadcasting an interesting series of conversations with futurists Gerd Leonhard and Glen Hiemstra. Until next week, Happy Friday!