As an architecture student, I am interested in using digital technology to push the boundaries of urban design. I was able to attend the Bits and Bricks forum, hosted by the Senseable City Lab at MIT, with a 5CollDH microgrant. The forum aims to change the ways in which architecture and urban planning projects (the “Bricks”) can intersect with technological infrastructure and digital data (the “Bits”). This was part of my independent study on the intersection of digital humanities, the internet, and slum studies with Ann Leone of the landscape studies department at Smith College and Jeffrey Moro.
It wasn’t a big forum, but it was clear that I was the only undergrad student in attendance. The forum featured a lot of people, from mayors to urban planners and technology companies. A few seats in front of me were the director of UN-Habitat, the Global Mobility Policy Lead of Uber and the mayor of Boston. Each speaker expanded on the different ways technology can and has enhanced their perspective of the built environment.
The conference was central to my studies as it gave me a glimpse to real-life projects that encompasses everything I’m interested it. For example, the City of Calgary tracks drivers through bluetooth sensors drivers for traffic information. A panel with speakers from Uber and Massachusetts Department of Transit expanded on how private ride-sharing companies can work together with public transportation infrastructure.
Yet, it seemed like technology was a solution for the inefficiencies of city and urban planning. Whom do these technologies benefit? What happens when there is too much data and not enough urban planning projects? After taking Jeffrey Moro’s j-term class “Media Archeology, Climate Change, and the Digital (Non)Humanities,” we read books about media archeology and climate change. It gave us a critical viewpoint to digital technology, especially its production and disposability. When I mentioned digital humanities at the forum, many gave me a blank stare.
At the end of the forum we were divided into five different groups and asked to create a speculative project about what our “common urban future” would look like. It was an interesting end to a formative experience. Whether I agreed or disagreed with the speakers, it’s obvious that digital technology in the built environment can be beneficial for the future of urban planning: if we approach it in an inclusive and critical manner.