PHOTOGRAPH by Anna Beltri

Towards the -able City: Whose City is it Anyway?

We, Re:public, Inc. (Think and Do tank of innovation in Japan) are pleased to announce the launch of our new magazine “MOMENT.”

MOMENT is a trans-local magazine for people exploring the future of cities.

The following is the excerpt from the introduction of the magazine.

TEXT by Hiroshi Tamura / TRANSLATION by Fumiko Ichikawa

In 2017, Sidewalk Labs, Alphabet’s urban innovation organization, announced an urban development project in Toronto’s East Bayfront neighborhood. In this new urban space, Sidewalk Labs wants to update life in the city by reinventing its infrastructure with the latest technologies of energy, circular economies, mobility, security, education, and health. This project in Toronto is not unusual: today we hear about projects taking place all over the world seeking to create service platforms on an urban scale.

A similar vision of societies and industries in the near future was illustrated in The Zero Marginal Cost Society, a book which became a sensation several years ago. The author, Jeremy Rifkin, illustrated a society in which all additional goods and services would be available at zero cost for providers, thanks to the expanding Internet of Things and the sharing economy. Indeed, if there was a company which owned a system providing goods or services for nearly no additional cost to the company, it would have a catastrophic impact on its rivals. To put it bluntly, it would be a world in which winners take all.

In zero marginal cost cities, what would people become? We could try to imagine by looking at the state of the Internet today. Just as we can no longer imagine our everyday lives without “GAFA” — Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon — if certain companies in the future produced (almost) everything, from consumer goods to urban infrastructure, they would dominate our lives. The more irreplaceable such corporations become, the more people would use their services and products and the more they would become the target of optimization. Imagine a world where goods and services are perfectly matched to your taste, activities, and circumstances, at an extremely low price. The appeal, or perhaps we should say temptation, would be irresistible. Slowly but surely, once this deal is done, we will lose our free will to choose. And thereby we will lose diversity in life. The aesthetics of humanity will be reduced to a standard defined by such corporations.

If you describe this phenomenon in one phrase, it would be “the user-ification of all humanity”. In cities, we would no longer be citizens, but urban “users”. When residents become mere users of the urban infrastructure, what happens to culture? If we’re all users, who are the producers? How would children grow up and what kind of adults would they become?

In this issue, we discuss the -able City. Walkable, edible, playable, hackable, protestable… the -able City is a city that explores the possibilities for humanity. It is a campaign towards sovereignty, in which citizens regain a sense of ownership, and create a dynamic where citizens themselves nurture the urban landscape, using the geography, history, resources, and communities at hand. This is not to suggest that we ensconce ourselves in nostalgia, but on the contrary, that we actively adopt new technologies to continue to reinvent how the city works today.

Or we could put it this way. In the Zero Marginal Cost society, city dwellers are the target of the platform’s “gaze,” which perceives them as little more than urban users consuming the choices put before them. By contrast, dwellers of -able City do not simply graze on offerings laid before them but are instead lively actors in their own right. They develop their own urban lives by fully utilizing the knowledge, technology, and legal frameworks at their disposal.

In this issue, we are introducing pioneering projects and practitioners of the -able City in Barcelona, Amsterdam, Nara, and Kumamoto. From a design intervention that transformed the life of a homeless man to the challenges in revolutionizing the industrial structure of modern society, these cases are living examples of the deep humanity that is at the core of the -able city. I hope that you go through these articles as your interest guides you. This issue is for those of you who find that when it comes to cities, societies, and the future, gazing is not nearly enough.

More info on MOMENT is on the web.

Hiroshi Tamura // Re:public Inc.

Written by

Co-founder of a think and do tank based in Tokyo and Fukuoka that investigates in sustainable innovation ecosystems since 2013.

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