June 13, 2011

Four Things I'm Thinking About

Ben Hammersley is on fine form at the moment. Go read his latest blog post about society and thinking about what government should be doing. And then watch the video of his talk in Derry for the British Council:

British Council Annual Lecture 2011: The Internet of People from British Council on Vimeo.

This is all feeding into the maelstrom that is my thoughts on society and cities and the future. It's proving hard to pin down into any sort of narrative, so I figured I'd stick some of it in my blog as a work-in-progress, helping think things through sort of thing. Showing my working as it were, and hopefully at some point in the future I'll blog about it more coherently.


What should society look like? What would a good society feel like, sound like, look like, taste like? Pulling in bits of Julian Dobson's recent post about separating ourselves from poverty, and wondering how we persuade people (myself included) that it's a good thing to encounter some dodgy characters in your neighbourhood; that the alternative is creating no-go ghettoes and then having to live with policing and trying to help people escape from them.


Mostly using Liverpool as a lens through which to view and try to shape what the city should be. Lots of this from the discussions I had while walking round the Baltic Triangle, waterfront and Liverpool One with Owen Hatherley.

Whole sets of contradictions: we should encourage a more mixed occupancy of the city centre - families and old people as well as "young professionals", but the 1980s suburban housing estates of bungalows with their backs turned to the surrounding streets don't feel like the right solution; the problems with the private land and big-chain commercialism that is Liverpool One - summed up perfectly by Hatherley as "a bad idea done well", compared to the revitalisation of that part of the city and a better linkage to the Albert Dock; the need to get around the city easily contrasted with the damage done to the walkability of the city with the six lanes of traffic that cut the Pier Head and Albert Dock, and the northern docks and Everton off from the city centre...

"Smart" Cities

This is my professional interest, given that I run a company which, in part, builds some of this stuff. So thinking about what is useful, bella, life-affirming about the possibilites... from a citizen's perspective rather than that of the state or big business. None of which is to say that it can't, or shouldn't, be of value and benefit to business or the council, but that there needs to be more than just that narrow group who benefit.

And thoughts of who benefits from a city that's easier and more enjoyable to inhabit reach into thoughts about how to implement systems so that everyone benefits - not just the iPhone-wielding "city is my battlesuit" types.

Adam Greenfield is the go-to man for this sort of topic. There's very little I disagree with in his take on the issues, and I particularly agree with his opening sentences in this video about "smart cities" being an abhorrent term for the subject...

The Future of Work

So once we've worked out how society should function, what the city should look like, and what technology will be in it, we'll need to build that...

I'm (half) kidding - I don't think the big top-down vision works, it's more a case of choosing a general direction and heading off that way, correcting as we go. However, I think we need more making things and less selling services and fancy financial confections; and we need to tip the balance back towards the North some more to stop the South East from becoming a paved-over, gridlocked hell of offices.

And while we do so, we'll hopefully get beyond the tired arguments of us versus them and realise that we are the ragged trousered philanthropists, particularly with the capital required with the latest digital manufacturing possibilities.

The Sum of the Parts

This is already too long and too dis-jointed, but I'd be interested in other people's take on the subject, or further input for me to mull over. It feels like there's some sort of commonality to all of this, and it remains to be seen if I can tease it out. Posted by Adrian at June 13, 2011 10:12 PM | TrackBack

This blog post is on the personal blog of Adrian McEwen. If you want to explore the site a bit further, it might be worth having a look at the most recent entries or look through the archives or categories over on the left.

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