Conscientious Tech in the City

The Fab City is, of course, a lot more than technology in the city. It’s about a future-forward vision of the urban landscape that creates and produces locally while connected and collaborating globally. That being said, it’s no surprise that technology occupies a big space in that vision and that it also now overlaps with more “classical” visions of urbanism and architecture.

The founding Director of the University of Michigan’s new Urban Technology program, Bryan Boyer, co-created a program specifically to address this new intersection. I recently interviewed him and we spoke of the growing importance of technology in cities and data, architecture and design, feedback loops, generalists, and futures. Here are some favourite outtakes from our chat.

Hybrid students.

[M]y hope for our students is that they don’t know there’s a difference. They don’t know you can work in urban environments without applying computational tools. And they also don’t know that you can work on computation without thinking about urban consequences.

Cities as tools for scaling how we care for each other.

In our view of urban technology, we don’t care about technology for its own sake, but we recognise that technology has always been how we scale what we do as humans. In particular, it’s a way of scaling the care that we exhibit for each other. How do we maintain an interest in a very high level of care and concern for our families, the people close to us, our neighbours, those we share the city with while also thinking about how we can still operate at scale?

On data and creating feedback loops to learn and evolve initiatives in the city.

It’s impossible to learn how to do things better without feedback loops connecting hypothesis and action to outcomes and, one hopes, insights about what has worked and what has not. That’s what I’m most hopeful about in the context of increasing data in cities, the possibility of new feedback loops.

On exploring the middle space between government and entrepreneurs.

For me, that kind of middle space continues to be the next frontier, the next area where more focus is needed. It’s a way of being thoughtfully experimental while in real conversation around what an experiment would imagine differently.