Does the Internet Need an Urban Planner?

Physical and digital space share the same problems (and often, the same solutions). So why don't designers from both realms talk more?

Over on the Atlantic Cities today, we meet Chicago’s Chief Technology Officer, John Tolva, who believes that information architects and IRL architects and urban planners have much to learn from each other.

According to Tolva, cities are only just beginning to think about how to integrate digital solutions into their planning strategies, while on the other hand, online platforms are suffering from problems urban planners solved decades ago. He explains on his blog:

There’s the Facebook approach, which is essentially suburbia: a gated network of affinity that disallows chance encounter and serendipity. And there’s the Twitter approach which is all about non-reciprocal engagement and diversity. (It’s no coincidence that the founder of Twitter is a dilettante urbanist.) This is a choice between mall culture and real urbanism and I fear that our information architects and built environment architects have not even begun the conversation.

There are no design standards for how technologies like Wi-Fi and cell phone service should (or shouldn’t) be implemented in cities, like there are for things like street width and zoning. "This is a plea – and I make it frequently – for a discipline that doesn’t really exist yet," Tolva tells Emily Badger, "a merger of urban design and urban planning with urban informatics, with networked public space."

It’s easy to name people from either side of the digital divide who fall into this nascent category: On the design side, there’s data designer Nicholas Felton, (formerly) of Facebook. Or the two urban planners who are building a better interactive bike map using online feedback. On the digital side, there are people like Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, who aspired to be mayor of New York and whose first entrée into programming came in the form of a program he wrote that could dispatch taxis and messengers.

It's an emerging profession without a name. Urban Interaction Designer? Urban developer? City Programmer? [The Atlantic Cities]