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Monday, January 15, 2018

The future city will be enabled by Digital technology

Lucas DiLeo
Contributing Writer, Boston Orange

The future city will be enabled by Digital technology. These was the theme for Prof. MIT's Dennis Frenchman's talk at the Jan 6 MIT- Tsinghua Innovation Summit.

Prof. Frenchman discussed how digital technologies are being increasingly imbedded into cities and how these technologies are affecting life in cities. Back in 2000 we saw major tech firms developing info technologies to make cities smart. But these new digital technologies did not make the cities run any faster.

Now we are in the middle of a second wave, according to Frenchman. Cities are investing in new technologies and sensors - creating an urban intelligence. The most important product of these smart cities is not new technologies but the social changes that the new technologies are bringing about.

And as cities are facing increasing challenges the need for innovation by cities is increasing. 

These new activities are not being designed by engineers or university professors - but are driven by the customers and users of cities - the digital natives who grew up on the Internet, social media and mobile phones.

Millenniums are flocking to cities - they prefer the density, diversity, social networks of cities - and benefit of less commuting. This is where they are locating their new companies. 

And they are bringing their generations' values to cities and their own companies - less consumption and ownership oriented - more social and collaborative. Their networks and communities are global. They are health and environmental conscious in their outlooks and activities. These are the risk takers and the entrepreneurs who are moving to cities. And with $200 billion invested in startups - the proliferation of these innovative commercial models are changing the nature of business itself - and cities.

According to Frenchman, we are living a digital lifestyle where everything is incredibly connected. In the 20th century, highways were likened to arteries; we now have new urban pathways - the Internet and mobile systems creating a nervous system for the city. 

Thru mobile and sensor based applications a new science is developing for looking at how cities behave - and tracking them in real time. The analysis of cities tell us that cities are not doing well - there are inefficiencies, waste and a lot of inequality in the 20th century city. However, big data is creating opportunities to change this, and capitalize on underutilized urban assets.

Prof. Frenchman then discussed the traditional assumption of cities based on hierarchies, separation of spaces and specialization - and that the new work, business and living patters are fragmenting cities and bringing their parts together in surprising ways.

For instance, streets used to define the public vs private realm - at the building lines. With the new digital technologies those edges are becoming blurred. New models for storefronts and digital signs are creating ubiquitous potential for transformation and meeting places and advertising. And the use of media to create new types of commercial spaces.

New models for working are arising: WeWork and other co-working spaces now account for significant square footage in New York and London. And now they are looking to introduce new models for living: co-living space. 

These new companies and their services and production techniques are driving a new model for urban industry - efficient, clean, knowledge based and advanced manufacturing. And mixed into housing to create a new fine grain for living. Making efficient, live networks for community. 

This is the new Tech city. According to Prof. Frenchman, in the old economy we moved to where the factories were located. In the new economy we are moving to where the idea factories are situated.

Prof. Frenchman concluded his talk by presenting his projects for a digital media city in Seoul and a new business district for Jinan China that illustrate these themes.

MIT Prof. Dennis Frenchman's talk at MIT – Tsinghua Innovation Summit on January 6 2018)