2:30 to 4:00 pm
As the retail culling continues and the reconfiguration of office buildings gives way to more substantial retrofits, the commercial landscape of New York City’s neighborhoods is undergoing multiple, successive waves of change. How can new digital technologies make cities and urban systems productive again? What new sources of data on business, consumer, and workforce activity could be tapped to better inform both economic relief efforts and more resilient long-range planning? Urban Tech Hub Director Michael Samuelian will lead a conversation with local real estate, transportation, and economic development organizations on the future of enhanced urban systems and the future of New York City’s neighborhoods. Register here.
Transit Innovation Partnership
92nd Street Y
As cities face the biggest fiscal crisis in a generation or more, technology and innovation programs are among the first on the chopping block. Yet as European cities’ experience over the last decade has shown, it is possible to push an urban tech agenda forward under austerity. Cornell Tech Urbanist-In-Residence Anthony Townsend led a conversation with Sascha Haselmayer, the founder and CEO of CityMart and a New America Foundation fellow, discussing how cities can empower social entrepreneurs to co-produce government innovation.
Key takeaways from the discussion:
A special joint session with the Cornell Tech Digital Life Initiative Seminar
Much of urban tech exploits today’s most ethically-charged technologies and business practices—such as indiscriminate location tracking, facial recognition, and gig work to fundamentally reprogram how urban systems function. As these failures become clearer, and broader awareness of systemic injustice in society grows, how can the emerging field of urban tech clarify choices between right and wrong? Cornell Tech’s Helen Nissenbaum and Anthony Townsend co-host a panel discussion featuring Molly Turner from UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, UNStudio’s Ren Yee, and Gary Johnson, Director of Strategy and Operations for the NYC Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer.
Key takeaways from the discussion:
Read a discussion paper by Cornell Tech Urbanist In Residence, Dr. Anthony Townsend, “What is urban tech? Definitions, aims, and ethical tensions” (PDF, 924k)
How do futurists and their clients make sense of the intersection of emerging technologies and socioeconomic trends? What’s the difference between a prediction and a forecast? In this roundtable Anthony Townsend and Benjamin De La Peña take us on a guided tour of A Planet of Civic Laboratories: The Future of Cities, Information, and Inclusion (PDF • Miro), a ten-year forecast commissioned in 2010 to inform philanthropic efforts to use big data as a tool to help the urban poor. We’ll discuss how the map was made, what we got right, what we missed, and how this experience informs the Urban Tech Hub’s ongoing horizon scanning work. We’ll be joined by futurist Scott Smith of Changeist, author of the new book How to Future: Leading and Sense-Making in an Age of Hyperchange to hear about some of the changes in tech forecasting over the last decade.
Special bonus topic: We’ll also discuss Benjie’s ongoing work mapping the tech stack for informal mobility in the Global South.
We all expected that reopening cities would be harder than shutting them down. But few appreciated just how challenging it would be. In New York City, transit, housing, schools, retail, tourism, and office life are all still severely disrupted.
But even if, and when, day-to-day activities return to their pre-pandemic routine, the virus has permanently reshaped our urban future. It exposed striking inequalities in large cities—migrants, racial and ethnic minorities, the poor, women and the elderly were all hit hard. A full recovery means systematically dismantling the biases and blockages that created so much isolation and vulnerability. City governments, many believe, need a full reboot, running a new batch of code.
Digital technology has rapidly transformed how we live, work, and play in cities. With software in our pockets syncing everything from taxis to takeout and tango lessons, we’ve squeezed more desks, beds, and restaurant seats into the same old street grids than ever before. And created astonishing dynamism and untold wealth in the process.
Now, many of these dreams are on hold. Technology is being used mostly to flee cities rather than flock to them. And the toxic fallout of the “surveillance capitalism” gold rush is still being calculated. Even so, technology will certainly play a role in building better cities for the future. New data is needed to choreograph the post-pandemic urban ballet. But the next generation of urban tech must be built on a solid ethical foundation, so it doesn’t create new problems or exacerbate the ones it is trying to solve.
…will set a proactive path for effective, ethical urban tech. The launch of the Urban Tech Hub, housed within the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech, provides an ideal venue to simultaneously assess the future of cities, and the future of urban tech by convening a diverse range of discussions about the definitions, aims, and ethics surrounding urban tech.
In the fall, we’ll probe the foundations of urban tech, asking fundamental questions: