Friday, April 25, 2008

A tale of the city

Charlie Broker, the self-confessed nocturnal creature, writes about his amazing journey into a whole new world that he thought was essentially inhabitable – mornings. He is astonished to find real, live people around. He establishes contact with an entirely new species- the commuters.

But, he quotes The Economist that thanks to the ongoing technological revolution, the commuter of yesteryear is gradually being replaced by the "urban nomad" of tomorrow and location is becoming increasingly irrelevant.

“The upshot of all this being that the early morning commute is set to slowly dissipate from a concentrated frenzy of furrow-browed scampering into a sort of fuzzy, laid-back cloud in which worker bees drift hither and thither, sometimes staying at home, sometimes buzzing round town….The very notion of geography has been shattered as surely as if someone had written the word "geography" on a plate and hurled it to the floor in a touristy Greek restaurant. And it'll be a bit less cramped at the bus stop as a result.”

So, can we all work from wherever we are? Does it mean the death of the office as we know it? Will cities be made irrelevant and will people begin the reverse migration to their villages?

Not quite. There are others who point out that the quintessence of a city is its ability to provide the conditions for constant interaction and, therefore, innovation. The amount of interaction and also the intensity lead to mutual learning from one another and offer the potential to combine different types of knowledge that support innovation. Not all cities have been innovative, but most innovations have happened in cities. You need a ‘spatial base’ for innovation systems to flourish.

That’s why platforms such as schools, universities, offices are also necessary. These are enablers of knowledge transactions, by ensuring close proximity.

In his book, “Cities in Civilisation”, ( I just read this review), Peter Hall argued that "great cities are central to civilization because their very size and complexity make them natural sites for “the innovative milieu.” Only the greatest cities can bring together the critical mass of creative people to overcome cultural inertia. Within these urban networks of innovators, new paradigms take shape that transform civilization. Here lies the justification and the salvation of the city."

Hall believes that the cultural centrality of cities will continue and even intensify, despite the success of space-conquering technologies of communication that seemingly have made the city obsolete.
Heck, I need to go back to my office tomorrow.

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