New Century Cities emerge around the globe
January 18-19, 2005
A small but stellar group of about 150 invited participants and students convened at MIT on January 18 and 19 for the New Century Cities symposium. They hailed from four continents, and ranged from “traditional” city-builders—architects, city planners, and construction firms—to the newest partners in the city development process— high tech (Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, IBM) and media firms, as well as historians, educators, and artists.
What brought them together was a shared belief that the cities of the next century will be radically unlike the cities of centuries past. In these new cities, information, communication, and media technologies will be woven into the fabric of a community’s physical, social, and commercial life. In other words, the “built environment” itself will become a living facility that anticipates emerging life styles, nurtures creativity, and celebrates the experience of "place."
The symposium showcased some spectacular examples of these New Century Cities projects (NCCs). Many NCCs are very large scale developments; all are laboratories for exploring new ways of living, working and learning. In each of them, advanced communications and technology are being used to improve the quality of urban life, promoting both social as well as economic well-being.
The projects that were presented ranged from implementing “wireless” neighborhoods (lower Manhattan) and even whole cities (Philadelphia), to developing entirely new towns, such as Seoul’s Digital Media City, a focus for media technology industry and lifestyles. Projects ranged in size from one-north, Singapore’s 450-acre district for advanced technology research, to the 24-acre Northern Ireland Science Park, a high tech incubator that will also provide “neutral ground for the formerly divided social communities in Belfast.”
Also included on the roster of projects were communities that evolved around major educational and research institutions. The area in Cambridge surrounding MIT, which was waggishly termed the "Republic of MIT" is one. Other MIT initiatives included research on technology-supported homes, streets, and neighborhoods.
Crossroads Copenhagen, an “international center of research and development in the fields of culture and media,” was developed in part by the University of Copenhagen. The developers of Crossroads Copenhagen noted that public involvement was an integral feature of their development process, and emphasized that this was a particular point of pride for them. Public involvement also characterized the development of Helsinki’s Arabianranta district, where the focus is on art and design; in Arabianranta, collective online decision-making was used to bring residents into the layout process for the residential parts of the district.
Welcome to the new age of urban development. New forms of connectivity, which have already reshaped working and living patterns everywhere, are also reshaping the built environ-ment. “In the future,” said William Mitchell, head of the Media Arts and Sciences Program, “connectivity and intelligence will be part of a building, just as lighting and air-conditioning are today.” He described buildings of the future as “programmable devices responding actively and intelligently to changing needs and conditions,” with, say, agile interiors that can be reconfigured on demand into large or small workspaces, and light-sensing exterior “skins” that dynamically block glare.
The various projects were presented during a series of panels. The panels were followed by brainstorming. Attendees sought to extract common ground, not to mention common terminology, from the welter of social, intellectual, technological, and political factors that impacted their projects. In the end, they converged on the phrase "killer environment," an analog of the software industry's "killer app," to encapsulate what NCCs bring to the urban scene.
The symposium closed with the exhilarating sense that a new community of city developers had coalesced. The symposium was sponsored by the Center for Real Estate, the City Design and Development Group, and the Media Lab, all in the School of Architecture and Planning. Symposium organizers Dennis Frenchman, Director, City Design and Development Group, and Michael Joroff, Senior Lecturer, both from the department of Urban Studies and Planning, said they plan to hold future meetings.
More information about the symposium, including summaries of all the projects that were discussed, is available at the MIT Center for Real Estate’s website.
Just-in-time architecture is one of the many new design concepts represented in NCCs that are being made feasible by advances in technology. MIT Media Lab researchers have developed and patented a wall surface that can go from transparent to opaque, or carry text and images. This sketch illustrates how such materials allow space to adapt quickly to various uses and levels of privacy; an office can become, on demand, completely transparent, partially shaded or opaque, or an enclosed conference room with moving images and text on the walls. (From Dennis French's presentation)