How We Will Live Tomorrow

This week I attended the TEDx conference in Hamburg. The subject: City 2.0. Speakers approached the topic with a wide angle, showing a wild mix of observations, theories, and ideas on how humankind will live (together) in the future.

This will not be a precise report of Tuesday’s talks (you’ll find the videos here in a while, I guess), but more of a wrap-up of all the impressions I got that day. Consider it an Idea Remix.

What stuck in my head was something Sam Hill, himself an experience designer, said. He believes that, although retailers on world’s high and main streets might cry out in pain on that thought, that city centers are not necessarily needed for retail anymore (mobile and online shopping numbers suffice as indicators). So why not transforming the city centers into experience spaces? Think zombie hunting in abandoned malls (ok, not appealing to everybody), or empty shops used as little greenhouses and gardens. This way brands could offer customers the one thing, technology can’t adequately replicate: proximity. (It is able, of course, to give you a sense of proximity – yet, anybody who lived through a long distance relationship knows that it’s just not the same.)

Another interesting theory came from Steffen Braun. He showed how technologies shaped cities during the last 200 years and argued that we’d develop kind of urban cells. Taking this, combined with the space saving ideas mentioned from Kent Larsen in a video from TED Boston in 2012, and you get urban micro cells with a radius of roughly a mile, walking distance from on side to the other about 20 minutes. Some relatively autonomous entities that could supply for themselves and that are connected through a smart grid of infrastructure. If you think about the vehicles maneuvered through such a landscape you probably don’t see a traditional car (and I’m not only talking about the engine but also material and shape).

Though such entities will surely be highly efficient in use of space and waste, there’ll still be a lot of trash. And maybe all of it can be recycled or re-used. Either through companies like Lanzatech (they basically make airplane fuel from waste materials), or creatives like Katell Gélébart (who reuses trash to design things for the everyday).

The interesting thing will be how those modern urban micro cells develop; how they are planned. That is, where Fabienne Hoelzel calls for a very interesting approach: let the people do. Give them tools and let them create. Otherwise there won’t be a wide acceptance of the results. (That sounds really idealistic and a lot like an approach to digital marketing.) She actually recommends this approach for developing slums around the world, which she calls the “gates to our future”. She’s probably right if you consider Robert Neuwirth’s observations on the economic power and importance of, what he calls, System D: in my understanding the combined purchasing power of the poorest but emerging people. The number mentioned was quite astonishing: 10 trillion US dollars.

In the end it wasn’t a day of big numbers but of big visions and optimism. Yes, cities will grow ridiculously fast and we will probably all live in cities – but we will handle it. It will be a huge effort to fight poverty and to include everyone into modern city life – but there’s ways to do so. And it was quite enjoyable and refreshing that brands and advertising didn’t play a huge role that day.

Please share your impressions (and any additions to mine) in the comment section.


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