Finding Lost Rivers

In the opening pages of Neal Stephenson’s classic story of a nanotech future The Diamond Age, Stephenson relates

ecosystems were especially tiresome when they got fubared, so they protected the environment with the same implacable, plodding, green-visored mentality that they applied to designing overpasses and culverts


This came to mind when reading about the reclaiming of lost streams. The bottling of streams in concrete and metal is a common practice in development of neighborhoods and cities. This “fubars” the system, to use Stephenson’s parlance, and causes environmental and health issues. New waves of civic planners and infrastructurists are opening up these lost rivers to counter many of these issues. This also calls to mind a story from last year about the redesign of cities that may be possible when a majority of vehicles are autonomous. These two trends could easily dovetail, leading to increased reclamation of natural green spaces and ecosystems in urban environments.

Enter the Drone Swarm

I know I will end up referencing Black Mirror a lot in this blog. In the episode Hated in the Nation, drone robot bees meant to pollinate plants after colony collapse are weaponized through social media. Dr. Stuart Russell, a UC Berkley Computer Science professor, in conjunction with the Future of Life Institute, an org working toward the mitigation of existential threats to humanity, created this video on miniature drones that can kill and work with facial recognition. The video (embedded above) is chilling and presents a future where no one is safe from targeted slaughter.

I am reminded of The Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson‘s novel set in a world with ubiquitous nano-tech. In the book these weaponized drones are more intelligent, more capable, and microscopic. To combat their threat, the various societies develop microscopic hunter drones to seek out dangers to their citizens floating through the air unseen and destroy them. Communities need immune systems to combat this sort of threat. I am afraid that there will be massive death tolls before that fact is realized.

The City as Pedestrian District

Smart city design may lead to the marginalization of the single person car as much as the trend toward autonomous driver services. In South Korea, the two decade development of the International Business District (IBD) in Songdo is nearing a close. The entire area, roughly the size of Boston, is designed to marginalize the car and make it unnecessary. With well designed public transport and well thought out districts meant to facilitate walking and biking, it is possible to grow up without the single user automobile.

I see another digital divide coming. This sounds like a dream city for someone like me, who loves walking and biking and hates the reshaping cars do to cities. But it also seems like a high end sort of city, not a place where the working class can find affordable housing. If the low end and working class jobs are automated, this may be a dystopian vision of the future where the upper class mingle in a well designed and optimal future where poor people are never seen or thought about.

Livable Urban Planning through Anti-Terrorism Architecture

Cities use their architecture and design for societal goals. Paris was redesigned with wide boulevards to prevent a repeat of the Revolution era street blockades. Brutalism combined mid-century modern design with the medium of the age to portray the cities as a forward looking place where mankind can step into its’ own. Today, cities are designed to push our poorest from public spaces.

This article on the 538 talks about this interesting intersection of the safety of anti-terrorism architecture and the ways it can make a city more livable. While tastes evolve and the faults of architectural styles become pronounced over time, making cities facilitate human interaction and safer in an age where terrorism becomes more common (at least in the West) are both good goals. 

The Era of the Automobile is in the Rear View Mirror

Bob Lutz has been a senior level executive at several major car companies. Knowing what he does about the industry and the changes over the last decade, he is prepared to say good-bye to the Era of the Automobile.

I see the system he imagines transforming transportation to merely another back-end service, like power, water, and data. Like most infrastructure systems, it will work better and more efficiently in denser urban areas. I see arguments that it can facilitate sprawl by allowing super high speed individual commutes and that it will fight sprawl by negating the need for broad avenues and ubiquitous thoroughfares.