Featured in Wired Magazine’s ‘Smart List 2012: 50 people who will change the world’, the world-renowned innovator Carlo Ratti will deliver his keynote address on the topic of the future perspectives for public transport in a changing technological, organisational and market landscape for urban mobility.
PTI Magazine editor, Rose Kelleher caught up with Ratti and asked him some questions about his view on the future development of cities and smart cities, and how public transport will impact these and be impacted by these changes.
Start a digital city from scratch or add layers on top? What kind of city is best suited to smart wiring? Large, small, new, old, underdeveloped, poor, coastal…?
New technologies are light and invisible, they work as an imperceptible layer that can adapt to any city (although every context needs its own systems). I believe that in most of the world we do not need new metropolises - but new ways of experiencing our existing, beautiful cities.
To what extent does human movement inform design, and vice versa? Which one should be the dominant influence?
During the second half of the 20th century, urbanist William H Whyte used on-site cameras to capture human flow inside New York’s buildings and public spaces. His methods were insightful but labour intensive.
Today, with the diffusion of hand held electronics, data collection is becoming effortless. The ensuing knowledge of human movement could radically inform design. If architecture is a kind of “third skin” – after our biological one and clothing – it has long been a rigid one. Perhaps with better data, the built environment can adapt to us: a living, tailored architecture that is moulded on inhabitants.
Some industries are exploring such implementation. Many banks, for example, are downsizing their physical presence following extensive digitisation. Knowledge of occupancy patterns allows them to rebuild in a leaner and more efficient way. One bank is optimising the spatial distribution of branches in Milan based on mapping the commuting flows of its workforce. This has a potentially significant impact on citywide logistics, ecology and wellbeing.
What do you think about the notion of behaviour change?
Behavioural change is crucial to address current urban issues. Data is very important as it helps us make more informed (and perhaps different) decisions. I should tell you a little story, which happened during our project Trash Track: we tagged trash in view of making the removal chain more transparent. People involved in the project were able to follow their trash and this prompted several of them to change their habits. One participant told us: "I used to drink water in plastic bottles. Them I would throw them away and stop thinking about them. However, now I know that they go to a landfill a few miles from home and cannot stop thinking about them - so I stopped drinking water from plastic bottles.”
What about data gathering?
Writer Italo Calvino imagined this mnemonic condition in a short story titled The Memory of the World, written well before the "digital revolution." In it, Calvino creates a society – a gently terminal dystopia – in which every detail and every moment of humanity and of the world is recorded for posterity. It is the greatest document ever conceived, blending scholarly knowledge with the mundane details of life. The end of the story is a mix of intrigue and paradox, and puts an uncanny spotlight on the importance of discussing this very topic: how will humanity remember itself? And how will it act when it knows that it is being recorded?
- Carlo Ratti will be the keynote speaker of the 61st UITP World Congress and Exhibition. For more information and registration click here.