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But what was the question?
Letter sent on Nov 15, 2016

Welcome to ‘But what was the question?’

Dear subscribers —

Now there are more than a few of you following this publication, I thought I’d try out Medium’s newsletter option. This will be an infrequent message, don’t worry! But this is a welcome and explanatory message—and to say many thanks for subscribing.

I‘ve set up four publications at Medium. Dark Matter & Trojan Horses focuses on strategic design principles and practice; A Chair in a Room is about designing interactions, and interaction design; whereas I Am A Camera is about places, discussed or evoked through words and images. With each of them, I’m migrating choice posts from City of Sound over to Medium, as well as writing new pieces.

This publication, But What Was The Question?, focuses on the relationship between technology and the city, and takes its tile from Cedric Price’s famous dictum “Technology is the answer. But what was the question?” (framed in 1965, I believe, and still not stated enough half a century later.) The writing is often drawn from my experiences of working on urban tech projects for almost 25 years (frighteningly) and from the wider currents moving through urbanism and technology.

Some starting points would be my original 2008 post The Street As Platform, and the 2014 follow-up, The Street As Platform 2050, where I was asked by AD journal to focus on 2050. (Of course, both speak to 2008 and 2014 as much as anything.) These are attempts at vaguely open descriptions, balancing light and shade and allowing you to forge your own way through some possible futures.

Or, this piece, Clockwork City, Responsive City, Predictive City and Adjacent Incumbents, from a couple of years ago using the manoeuvres in the urban mobility to explore broader issues around tech and the city, including predictive analytics, autonomous mobility, the so-called sharing economy, and civic values. Equally, my visit to Shanghai Expo 2010 was both an intriguing runaround of that bit of the Shanghai of the time, as well the smart city rhetoric at that point.

But enough old stuff. Current obsession is whether certain kinds of decentralised and distributed technologies could have a positive impact on urban communities … or not. I’m calling these different things ‘non-grid’ as opposed to ‘grid’, and here’s a piece unpicking that a bit: Grid, Non-Grid.

They may enable entirely new ways of building places—building community and economy as much as things. This we explored with the Bartlett School of Architecture, as an urban design exercise called The Incomplete City.

And there are interesting implications for the way we live together too, as well as the way we make decisions. That latter aspect meant it was placed in a different publication actually, but a piece that could equally sit here: The Social and the Democratic, in the social democratic European city.

Finally, the advances in autonomous mobility continue to throw many of these issues into sharp relief, and here’s a longer cut of a piece I wrote for Disegno magazine about all that, starting with the first unfortunate death in a ‘self-driving’ Tesla: How should humans really be ‘in the loop’ in cities under autonomous mobility?

Those pieces, new and old, bookend many others you can find linked off the front of But What Was The Question? Do take a look, and click ‘recommend’ or share if you find them useful or enjoyable. That way others may find them too. And do leave a response if you have something to say! Or mail me.

Thanks again,

Dan Hill
London, November 2016.

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