Increased urbanisation will be a defining trend for the world’s population in the first half of this century. As a consequence there will be an increase in population migration, both rural to urban and between urban areas. What is less certain is how cities and their inhabitants will respond to these changes. The aim of the project will be to foreground urban life’s experiential qualities as a method for informing the design of future technology and cities. Central to this goal will be the desire to reflect urban experiences in technology design that will in turn transform these experiences so that new behaviours can emerge. The aggregation of public and private spaces that comprise a city’s identity will form a backdrop to the work and will frame insights of future possibilities.
The project will address the overarching question: How are digital technologies implicated in the aesthetics of everyday practice? This will be achieved through the design, implementation and deployment of a series of design responses that will focus on the issue of migratory flux. The design responses will be deployed in a number of cities across Europe and will form part of a major exhibition at the conclusion of the project. Specifically the project will study how individuals, groups and cities respond to population migration and how subsequent emergent behaviour will be mediated by digital technology.
While increased urbanisation is a vision of the future, it is also something that is happening now. Two statistics from the recent UN-HABITAT report State of the World’s Cities 2008/09: Harmonious Cites, characterise the situation today:
• In 2008 the population of the world experienced a tipping point when, for the first time in history more than half of the population, 3.3 billion people, lived in urban areas. Furthermore, in the last two decades alone, the urban population of the developing world has grown by an average of 3 million people per week.
• By 2050, the number of people living in urban areas will have reached 70%, representing in 6.4 billion people. Most of this growth will be taking place in developing regions; Asia will host 63 percent of the global urban population, or 3.3 billion people in 2050.
Cities have to plan for such growth and its causes, most notably natural increase, when births in cities outpace deaths. The situation is further complicated in many countries where migration is the driving force behind population growth, with the largest movements of population taking place between cities and not from rural to urban areas.
The growth of urban population will focus on Asia and Africa but there is also an interesting departure highlighted in the UN-HABITAT report, the phenomenon of shrinking societies and cities. The populations of 46 countries, including Germany, Italy and Japan are expected to drop between 2009 and 2050. These trends are reflected at the city level where, in the last 30 years, more cities in the developed world shrank than grew. In the UK, Germany and Italy 49, 48 and 34 cities, respectively, shrank in size between 1990 and 2000.
What is clear is that associated with increased urbanisation will be an increase in population movement, both rural to urban but more critically between and within urban areas. The project will focus on mobility and will create a series of responses that will question how digital technology will re-shape the way we collectively make and understand cities. The emphasis of the work will be the embodied personal experience within the urban environment and in particular the work will focus on patterns of movement and flow and how they might be managed in the future.
The urban environment already contains a myriad of different digital technologies and while their operation remains largely opaque what is not in question is the extent to which that our habitual interactions with and through these technologies potentially alter our patterns of behaviour. As technologies become ever more intricately embedded on our daily lives, might growing numbers of people opt out of the conventional idea of the home entirely? A migratory, peripatetic existence between hotels ‘hometels’, friends’ homes and other forms of temporary accommodation is made possible when a fixed location is no longer necessary in maintaining relationships. Will a more transient population challenge community cohesion in cities?
From a methodological standpoint it is envisaged that the project will draw inspiration from Anthony Dunne’s concept of ‘critical design’. In the words of Dunne and Raby, “critical design uses speculative design proposals to challenge narrow assumptions, preconceptions and givens about the role that products play in everyday life”. Subsequently, the goal of the project will be less to design a solution to a given problem, but to provoke public discussion surround a set of issues centred on the question of how digital technologies are implicated in the aesthetics of everyday practice? The project will contextualise everyday practice in light if the increased urbanisation predicted for the first half of the 21st century and the growth of population movement that will accompany this trend.
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