"Conscious Cities proposes a radical shift away from the last few decades’ prioritisation of efficiency over more people-centric considerations" argues Itai Palti in his editorial to the first issue of the journal Conscious Cities. He is a practising architect and urban designer, as well as a researcher, and over the past couple of years has been the driving force in building the idea of conscious cities as what he calls "a platform for those working at the intersection of architecture, cognitive science, and technology." As befits the age, his editorial comes complete with a snappy three-minute animated video that sumarises his argument better than I can with words. In essence, conscious cities is about using insights from neuroscience and psychology to inform urban design and architecture, and by so doing to make places more people-friendly.
In his contribution to this first issue, Peter Ellerton asks "Could you love a city?" He suggests that planning should consider what kind of consciousness we want cities to have, while recognising that there are no established principles to guide such design. He suggests some desiderata: we would want the consciousness of the city to be widely distributed, like an internet not a command centre; we would want the running of the city to be for the benefit of its citizens; the intelligence should be able to anticipate and avert problems, and to learn and be able to adapt; lastly, it should be able to coordinate and prioritise.
A team of authors from Studio Huss discuss how we might better understand the human experience of public spaces. They are exploring ways of measuring how the physical environment affects peoples' comfort and emotional state. What triggers fear in a place? Can we design public spaces to elimiinate anxiety? What is likely to stimulate our enjoyment of where we are?
Space Syntax has long been a favourite approach at the Bartlett School of Architecture, and Kerstin Sailor and Sam Griffiths in their paper return to that theme. Andrew Renninger is also a UCL Urban Studies graduate and his article explores the ideas of Thomas More and of Machiavelli in a modern context.
Frederico Botta asks Can We Understand Crowds Using On-line Data? His research has analysed mobile phone and Twitter use at football matches, so build an understanding of the relation betweent their use and the total size of a crowd. The findings suggest that these digital tracers can give quite an accurate measure of crowd size. The challenge now is to extend this analysis into other fields.
I have blogged about conscious cities, describing examples of using urban design to make places easier to navigate for people with dementia. I have also contributed a short article to this inaugural volume. In it I point to how rapidly transport and land uses are being changed by things like Uber and AirBnB, which did not exist a decade ago. I raise some questions about the design and location of schools and hospitals, point to the potential to enrich our understanding of historic environments through connecting to the emergent conscious cities concepts and methods.
Conscious cities represents a new frontier in thinking about planning, urban design and architecture. It offers the potential for new cross-disciplinary insights into how we feel about places, and what places can learn about us!