As the research spanned many months, it’s a strange hybrid of pre and post-Covid concerns – a stark reminder that pandemics are just one of the many heightened threats facing humanity over the coming decades.
We’ve just published issue 06 of The Possible, a magazine about the future of cities that my company Wordmule produces on behalf of global engineering firm WSP. And although much of the content was finalised before Covid-19 struck, the topics it covers remain just as relevant: the spread of the disease and its impact on different communities has been directly influenced by the way our cities are governed, the quality of the spaces we inhabit and the air we breathe.
This issue explores the future of healthcare in an age when pandemics are just one of the growing threats to humanity, and looks at the ways in which urban designers can deploy “nudge theory” to encourage healthier behaviours – just how far should we go? Our future health will be increasingly about data too. The mind-bogglingly enormous quantities generated by smart city technologies will be invaluable for creating healthier, more resilient places – but only if it is accessible to us, rather than hoarded and monetised by tech companies. So we have an in-depth feature about the vital but under-explored topic of data governance.
There are some inspiring solutions too: planned properly, micromobility could replace cars and plug gaps in public transit systems to bring about permanently clearer skies and more equal streets. And I love Nick Rose’s vision of how urban agriculture could deliver a secure, sustainable source of food, while making cities greener, more pleasant places to live.
Of course, climate change will continue to exert a major pressure on population health over the years, decades, centuries to come. The embodied carbon in buildings can account for one-third or more of their total greenhouse gas emissions, so we urgently need to get to grips with that too. We have a 12-page article about what we know, what we don’t and what designers can do to make a meaningful contribution to the fight against climate change.
Frustration drives some people to anger, some to despair, and some to write manifestos. It is into this last bracket that the British-Israeli architect, researcher, writer, speaker and idealist Itai Palti falls. The Conscious Cities Manifesto he co-authored with neuroscience professor Moshe Bar in 2015 was born of frustration, he says – though he usually prefers to put a more optimistic spin on it.
“I think the manifesto came out of this realization that we have so much more potential to put humans at the centre of the design process, and that it’s not being actualized. As a profession, architecture can have a lot of positive social impact but in practice there’s sometimes a laziness and an arrogance about it. I guess I can say that because I’m speaking from within.”
For all Palti’s readiness to criticize his peers, his ideas seem to have struck a chord. Over the last four years, he has rallied many of them to his cause of science-informed, human-centred design, alongside a diverse group of scientists, researchers and technologists. Palti was not the first to spot the synergies between neuroscience and architecture – San Diego’s Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture (ANFA) was founded in 2003 – but in marrying it to the opportunities of smart cities, he’s tapped into the zeitgeist. The Conscious Cities movement resonates with an array of current concerns, from wellbeing and mental health to techno-optimism and our darker fears about the unseen agendas we are hardcoding into an AI-driven world …
Harvard professor Bill Kerr argues that global talent migration is a ‘gift’ that helps societies to flourish. But cities need to get over the idea of being the next Silicon Valley and make the system work for everyone. I interviewed him for issue 05 of The Possible, and made a vain attempt to condense his entire book into a single infographic… Most startling statistic: One in every 11 US patents is granted to a Chinese or Indian inventor living in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The latest in my series of infographic opuses on the future of the built environment. This time, it’s about airports: how they’re expanding, how they’re being automated, how they’re becoming cities in their own right – and how urban aviation could very soon make cities themselves more like airports.
One of the great things about living in Cambridge is getting to hear top academics talk about really interesting things in pubs. And one of the great things about being a journalist is that you get to ask them loads of questions.
I went to see historian Poornima Paidipaty speak at the Pint of Science festival about how the metrics we use to measure society influence the interventions we make. And then I interviewed her for issue 04 of The Possible magazine about what this means for cities: how new data streams can give us a much more nuanced pictures of how places work, and the reasons why they fail.
In this issue: making cities resilient to terrorist attacks, and to climate change, a bird’s eye view of the future of airports, the lost art of drawing makes a comeback, and how we change things just by measuring them.