Futures of urban tech

Excellent research project on urban tech by the Jacobs Institute’s Urban Tech Hub at Cornell Tech, presented as an horizon scan plotting possibilities in the field of urban tech. Note that these are provocations, not predictions, in other words, ideas to consider, to be used in furthering discussions and reflexions.

They came up with six big stories: Supercharged infrastructure, wild + well, resilient corridors, dark plans, a new screen deal, and urban Innovation industrializes. Each is split into a number of trends, each trend considered according to the time they might appear, how certain (or not) they are to manifest, and on the importance of the impact. Under each trend, the team also presents a number of signals, which are “tangible examples of the future taking shape today,” usually consisting of a short text and linked source.

Finally, the link above is to the intro and explanation but you can also go directly to the Horizon Scan Explorer, which lets you filter a graph according to everything detailed above, as well as along 19 different sectors and domains, like civic solutions, resilience, or urban science.

Below, three specific points I picked out from the graph, with one quote from each, to give you a better idea of what you kind find in the horizon scan, taking some time to click through the graph and discovering some of the details is highly recommended.

Supercharged Infrastructure (forecast)

The opportunity is clear. Achievements to date are unlocking new valuable data streams. We know more than ever about what people do in buildings. We track the flow of energy, water, and waste through cities in real-time. Maps reveal assets and risks with growing precision. But development in key areas needed to leverage the data generated by cities has lagged. We aren’t yet as good at sharing, securing, governing, analyzing, or visualizing data as we need to be. And painstaking progress in robotics limits our ability to turn data into action.

Participatory planning (trend)

That looks ready to change over the next decade as the promise for technology-enabled participatory planning matures. Digital literacy is more widespread, and geospatial technology and data are more powerful and ubiquitous. Citizens will play a greater role in creating and curating data that informs planning processes. This has the potential to cultivate greater trust in the decisions that result. Cities will expand current efforts to co-design digital services to procurement and ongoing management as well. These collaborations mean designers and policymakers will be better equipped to identify and mitigate the risks of new technologies, which disproportionately fall on marginalized groups.

Tech breakthroughs are driving circular economy policy (signal)

In a survey of more than 50 cities and regions conducted as part of a landmark OECD report on circular economy initiatives in cities, more than 40% of respondents identified new business models, technical developments, and R&D as a driver—not merely an enabler—of these initiatives.