Technology and The City

Technology and City

We live in an age of technological marvels and these are constantly changing urban life and changing cities. 20 years ago, no one had a single Facebook friend and no one could repay lousy service with a bad Yelp review. Now, urban revolutions are guided by Twitter.

In this section, we’re going to explore how technology is changing cities and how cities are changing technology. For most of human history, technology moved at a pretty glacial phase. One farmer hoed and reaped pretty much the same way that his grandfather did. When technological change did occur, it tended to be in cities where incremental improvements in urban tasks like weaving would occasionally emerge. But then in the late 18th century, things started to change.

First machines revolutionized cloth manufacturing. Then James Watts’ separate condenser steam engines brought power to factories, and to cities, and to transportation and then the trickle of innovation became a torrent. Cars, and radios, and air conditioners, and television sets all radically changed the way humanity lived. They also enabled and changed cities. Try imagining the rise of Sunbelt metropolises like Atlanta without the air conditioner.

Cities Enable Technological Change

If new ideas come from combining old ideas, does the diversity of old ideas in cities make innovation easier, as Jane Jacobs once argued? Does urban scale make it easier to find a market for new innovations? Do new ideas spread more easily in cities, or have these forces become irrelevant in the Internet age? The second big question is how will future technological change impact cities?

Self-driving cars, maybe Uber in the air, a more user-friendly version of Twitter, some of these technologies may improve urban life. Others may just exacerbate old city woes. Autonomous vehicles could easily lead to a lot more driving, which might only make urban traffic worse.

The final question concerns the interplay between technology and urban government. Some governments have tried to use technology to improve the delivery of city services. Others have tried to regulate innovation and entrepreneurship more generally. How can cities balance the benefits and costs of change? We can be sure that technology will continue to mold urban life, but I’m less sure that we’ll know exactly how to get the most out of that technology.


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