The Future of New Urbanism: transforming communities, reinventing cities.
A presentation to the City Planning Forum: Seoul South Korea, September 6, 2006
AC/UNU Millennium Project
The Future of New Urbanism: transforming communities, reinventing cities.
This paper will focus on the future of Urban Regeneration, specifically, one leading edge movement called New Urbanism. Through the lens of Future Studies Perspectives and Scenarios, we will show that as successful as New Urbanism is, it will require additional insights and conceptual breakthroughs if it is to become the strategy of choice for re-generating our cities.
Starting from the existing backdrop of issues Korea is facing, not the least of which is it’s declining birth rates, we will draw on the latest Futures Research, to describe a possible Future New Urbanism. Based on todays resources, we show that with an overlay of new social inventions a dramatic and creative reinvention of the city and many of its previous functions becomes possible. We then explore the implications for planning and allocation of resources to realize this preferred future.
Korea is at a turning point, as is the planet if we are to believe in many of the latest books futurists are producing, such as Ervin Laszlo’s “Chaos Point: The World At The Crossroads.”, or Ray Kurzweil’s, “The Singularity is Near”, And it is not only Futurists, the great commentator on the life and history of Cities and Urban Development, Jane Jacobs’ last book entitled “Dark Age Ahead” indicates the serious choices facing not only cities and countries, but civilization as a whole at this particular crossroads of evolution.
Since the concept of the Pacific Shift emerged in the 1980’s, perhaps best characterized in William Irwin Thompson’s book entitled “ Pacific Shift”, asian countries and Korea in particular have become leading indicators of the coming changes. Korea, may indeed, be the leading indicator with it’s ability to adapt quickly and innovate effectively, distinguishing it from other less agile countries in the region. Having attained a certain economic success and momentum on the global stage, Korea is now in a position to be the first to react to, and take advantage of the “Macro-Shifts” needed to successfully adapt to entirely new emerging paradigms for a sustainable future.
Insights, answers and solutions at this scale of change cannot come without first adopting a completely new world view or perspective. Throughout futures literature this new world view has variously been identified as: “Images of Man”
, Paradigms, Cognitive Maps, and most recently the Integral View. What all these attempts to gain a new overview perspective reflect, is the basic insight Albert Einstein formulated in the early 1950’s, that “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” This insight was actually later formalized in a mathematical proof by one of Einstein’s close friends, mathematician Kurt Godel
, in the form now known as Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem, or simply, Godel’s Proof.
Godel’s theorem came like a splash of ice water in the face of the reigning positivist outlook that science could completely understand, explain and predict the natural world around us. Combine Godel’s insights with the very bizarre image of man in the universe emerging from Quantum theory, and suddenly the sea anchor of rational analytic thinking was set adrift on an ocean of uncertainty.
The problem this creates is, that for as much as we can intellectually appreciate the need for new images, maps and paradigms, which could redress many of the pressing issues and problems of the day, such as Korea’s declining birthrate, they seem forever just beyond our grasp. The reductionist legacy of the industrial age is a bit like quicksand, the more you struggle to get out, the deeper you sink into the old perspectives. This however, does not have to be the case.
There are now many good insights and methods to help us bridge these gaps in imagination and understanding. I addressed some of these new tools in a Futures Methodology workshop earlier this week. In that workshop I used a book written by Margaret Wheatley called “Leadership and the new Science.”
which is an excellent introduction to this new kind of thinking. In this book, Wheatley, a management professor from Brigham Young University, examines the tenacious images, and metaphors from past paradigms that effectively keep us from escaping the quicksand of old frames of thinking.
She also introduces many easily adopted perspectives derived from the emerging world view of the new sciences, that allow us to more effectively begin building our own versions of new maps and images while developing an integrated view of new possibilities and strategies for the future. Emerging from much of this new thinking across disciplines are new more Integral approaches to existing Futures Methodologies and the beginnings of entirely new Futures Methodologies for assuring better more creative and more resilient innovation and planning for the future.
How we can apply these new tools and perspectives to the issues of Urban Regeneration, is best illustrated by specific example. We will first explore their application to Urban Regeneration in Korea generally, using the issues of the day as a way to unmask the fixations we have in older models, and metaphors and ways of thinking and behaving. And then examine more specifically how new perspectives can help us understand the role “New Urbanism” might play as an element in the construction of an entirely new strategy of Urban Regeneration.
Korea’s issues in perspective
Among Korea’s top social and economic issues, is the declining birth rate and all the ramifications this holds throughout Korea’s society and economy. When you combine the currently lower than replacement birth rate of 1.08, with immigration trends, we will show how it is quite possible to see Korea fading away in the next 100 years, if this challenge is not successfully addressed in the near future.
But it is not just Korea’s declining birthrate that needs addressing, it is an array of complex interdependent issues; from a critical dependancy on exports (approaching 80% of GDP), to the coming devaluation of land from the inevitable bursting of the real estate bubble in Seoul, to a plethora of technology driven social issues stemming from disruptions to basic family and community structures.
If we step back to the regional level we can see many of these same trends affecting other countries in the region. From one perspective, namely stability and continuity of the present, they are clearly issues and problems. Yet from other perspectives they could as likely be opportunities as not. A fairly Integral (inclusive) summary of issues affecting the region is described in an article in the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs titled: “Population, Society and Power: East Asia’s Future.”
“The region is entering a radically new era. Key developments will include: (1) decreasing population and labor force growth, leading to eventual declines; (2) an unprecedented increase in the proportion of the elderly; (3) a significant decline in the proportion of the working ages; (4) increased migration; and (5) a steady increase in the number of women among the elderly, the employed, and migrants. In short, the region is shifting from a period of declining dependency ratios to a period of increasing dependency ratios, from a period when the population was quite young to a period when the population is becoming older. These trends will produce major changes in East Asian societies over the coming decades.”
The paper goes on to show that both China and South Korea, can still benefit for the next 2-3 decades from the added savings derived from the birthrate decline “achieving a high capital-labour ratio, improving their human capital and, consequently, labor productivity.” this is only a temporary boost to the economy however, and will end as we can see in the example of Japan taken from the same article:
“[these trends] will eventually result in a shrinking labor force, as long as male-female participation rates in economic activity remain unchanged. In Japan, the percentage of the population in the working age group has already begun to decline. In China and the Republic of Korea, it will begin to do so soon.”
One interesting interpretation of what is happening in Korea would be to say that the unequivocal entry of female participation into business and governance is actually an example of acting “Resiliently” in response to changes, rather than being a contributing factor in declining birth rates. Korea is adapting as needed to expand the workforce in the face of declining population, and could further delay the effects of declining birthrates . These “Chicken and Egg” paradoxes seem to always crop up around evolutionary growth crisis. Korea’s is no different in this regard.
From Global to Local
In order to see how these Global trends can inform and inspire Local action, let’s focus for a bit on the family unit and the immediate community they inhabit. The neighborhood, your neighborhood, your home, your family. What new lens, or futures methodology, will help us to see these very familiar parts of our life in a new light. This is really diving into the deep part of the pool, in the sense that the things we are closest to are often times the ones most difficult to see beyond. Psychologists call this “Fixedness or Fixation”. Fixation keeps us locked into one way of seeing things, oblivious to opportunity or innovation beyond the familiar present.
A perspective that can help break us out of some of these fixations is also implicit in the new Integral Futures methodologies
. Integral Futures borrows heavily from the transpersonal philosopher, Ken Wilber. His uses the term “Integral” simply to mean comprehensive or inclusive. He attempts to bring back into the frame of thinking, issues that may be considered now as externalities, or soft, non-analytic areas of study irrelevant to the present situation. Applied to our current example we will look at the areas of psychological health and well being of the individual and their immediate and extended family members, as it impacts and is impacted by their home and it’s immediate neighborhood.
But to see clearly through this new lens and to use this methodology most effectively, we have to go beyond the typical faceless demographics currently used in planning, and ask some deeper more unsettling questions about meaning and purpose in our lives. Some of you will recognize this lens as inspired by Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Maslow studied the Psychology of Motivation and Personality and was one of the founding members of both the Association of Humanistic Psychologists and the Association of Transpersonal Psychologists. A corrupted version of Maslow’s hierarchy (see diagram on next page) is at the heart of most modern marketing and organizational motivation tactics. You can see immediately where we are stuck by looking at how modern life has conspired through management, marketing and political manipulation to take the bottom half of Maslow’s original hierarchy and turn it into the safe to consume, readers digest version below.
This version of Maslow’s heirarchy, completely eliminates transcendence needs, and presents a kind of “bait and switch tactic”
of playing upon the top level self actualization needs, but substituting more attainable goals for them, which are better able to be addressed within an industrial corporate management world view. What is now labeled as “Self Actualization” namely: “challenging projects, opportunities for innovation and creativity, learning and creating at a high level”, in truth aspires no higher than belongingness and esteem needs on Maslow’s original scale.
So why you might ask is this important, and how does it apply to the situation in Korea today. Just one example of how this perversion of Maslow’s hierarchy has impacted the world should suffice. Take the automobile industry’s use of ego and belongingness needs to create markets for the vastly resource intensive process of manufacturing new models of car every year. If you take a close look at the marketing and advertising that drives the economics of the auto industry, you will see that cars are not marketed as functional tools only, primarily because who would care about buying a new model when your current model is still perfectly functional. Instead, cars are presented as adjuncts to our ego and symbols appeasing our needs to fit in and belong to a group. The new models proffer power and style in order to bestow ineffable experiences of climbing mountains or racing across vast desolate salt flats…
The litany of how the marketing of cars falsely appeals to our higher needs of self actualization and transcendence in order to manipulate us into buying a new model every year never ceases to amaze with the range of creative images and appeals they make year after year.
The problem comes because very few people ever do have their self actualization and transcendence needs fulfilled by their cars. So unfulfilled higher order needs continue to eat away at the facade of fulfillment the marketplace claims to offer. And unfulfilled higher order needs lead to dissatisfaction with existing structures, setting the stage for the inevitable breakdowns of the social, cultural and economic fabric of life that Jane Jacobs’ describes in distressing detail in her book “Dark Age Ahead”.
The following quote from a discussion board on population issues, although from an american, is very revealing of the effect seeing through the markets shallow attempts to manipulate our higher needs and purposes has had and it’s impact on the procreation urge.
“I am 44, on the very end of the baby boomer curve. I decided not to have children at age 9. American consumer culture seemed so dysfunctional to me I couldn’t bring myself to subject other innocent human beings to it. When family togetherness amounts to watching your parents watch television, and the definition of success is the brand of car you drive, hopelessness about the deeper meaning of human experience and potential can snuff the procreative urge out of anybody.”
Emerging Metaphors for the Future
As hinted at in the previous quote, meaning and purpose pursued through self actualization has emerged as one of the key main issues as we accelerate towards a new era. Many commentators across as many disciplines have zeroed in on this one issue as a kind of make or break variable for humanity. Larry Prussick, director of the IBM Learning Research Group, when asked, after his keynote address to the Hawaii International Conference on Systems Sciences,“what is the next frontier beyond the Learning Organization,” answered unequivocally, that the “Pursuit of meaning and spiritual fulfillment” was clearly the next agenda if we are to successfully navigate the enormous changes ahead.
As young Korean adults increasingly choose to not marry and or not have children, or even worse fall victim to a kind of self imposed autism through addiction to online games and the internet, you must begin to look beyond the quick fix of incentives and legislation to a much more fundamental shift in world view for the solution. Korea is already well ahead of many nations in this respect, in that existing strategies and experiments such as uCity already point in the direction of an openness to integrating technologies in new ways to create experimental new models of communities of the future.
In the next section we look at New Urbanism as one possible template to use in integrating all these insights into a viable strategy for the design and implementation of new experimental communities for the future.
New urbanism is a fairly recent phenomena in urban planning stemming from the work of Andres Duaney in the late 1980s. New Urbanism addresses issues of livability, diversity, and density of urban spaces managed and optimized for a sense of community with a minimum of reliance on automobiles. This seemingly simplistic approach to planning has proven itself time and again to be a surefire success, building strong and vibrant communities of people who truly enjoy living in them. If anything, these developments have been a victim of their own success, through rapid gentrification and price appreciation due to the desirability of living there.
While New Urbanism is an excellent building block from which to start in the re-conceptualization of the City, it must be remembered that it is also lacking in several vital features.
Problems with New Urbanism
To be sure, New Urbanism has it’s failings, ironically one of which as indicated above, is due to it’s popular success. Housing units in a New Urbanist development average $20k more than a similar unit in a regular development. While not the rule, many typical New Urbanist developments happen in small segregated communities usually apart from other working and living areas, so while within the New Urbanist enclave, automobile use is minimized, travel elsewhere still relies on the auto. It is also unclear the degree to which New Urbanism will scale beyond the small town or village center at which it excels. There is an excellent critique and rebuttal of these and other issues to do with New Urbanism on the “Planning and Development Network web site: Planetizen”
But there are two most serious problems with New Urbanism that will need addressing, if it is to become the template of choice for Urban Regeneration. Firstly, it has not gone far enough into the “softer “ qualitative side of incorporating meaning and purpose into their visions of sustainable community, and secondlly, they have also failed to explore sufficiently, or embrace adequately, the “harder” technologies of sustainable community infrastructure on the other end.
Because of these failings, New Urbanism still borrows almost exclusively from the old industrial templates for the jobs, businesses and social inventions from which it conceives and builds out its developments. Rarely, if ever, has it ventured into the realm of redefining basic relationships of commerce, community or governance. And while it has lightly touched on and incorporated energy efficiency as a goal, it has steered clear of the more radical goal of total energy and resource self sufficiency.
To address these two failures of New Urbanism we introduce two new tool sets emerging out of many different disciplines, but coalescing into defined disciplines in their own right. Social Architecture and Soft Technology.
As our models of what constitutes a job, and how we define work continue to be virtualized into self organizing layers of network protocol, and fields of ubiquitous access, our communities no longer will be defined by their proximity to work, but rather by the ethos of being that they embody. The shared meaning and purpose, the “story” of the community. Social Architecture helps you write the story of your new community, and the purpose of Social Architecture is perhaps best explained in the words of one of it’s pioneers, Jim Channon
“For the first time in history nearly the entire citizenship of the globe can be in direct contact. Every thread of tradition is present at the table. A grand new set of choices is available. We can now build the very first planetary culture. We don’t want to just grow up to be a global economy or a new web of technology, or worse, another bigger more pervasive government. These are important foundations to build upon. But what we really want is to build a new civilization. While, building a world that “works” we can aim at a world that ennobles the grand state of life that is possible on Planet Earth.”
So we see that Social Architecture is not just the art of assisting a community in it’s own local redesign, Social Architecture also places your community in a context as a contributing and vital part of a planetary civilization. As New Urbanism is informed by the templates of successful villages and towns throughout history, Social Architecture has harvested many of the most important social inventions and tribal templates for surviving change, maintaining order and continuity, and renewing the human spirit in a planetary context. Adding a design layer of Social Architecture to the front end of any application of New Urbanism will ensure that the development is responsive to the deep meaning and purpose the community holds at the core of it’s vision.
There is a revolution brewing in our approach to science and engineering research and development, and one term for this new approach is called Soft Technology.
In her own words one of the pioneers of the field Zhouying Jin describes how Soft Technology embodies “the intellectual technology of creation and innovation centered in human thought, ideology, emotion, values, world view, individual and organizational behaviors, as well as in human society. And how it represents the “skills, tools and rules that are employed by humans to alter, accommodate and manage nature for human survival and development.”
The need for this Soft Technology perspective becomes obvious when we realize that the unrelenting chain of unintended consequences of technologies and their impacts on the environment has resulted in a planetary ecological crisis, summarized extraordinarily well in Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth”, and more specifically from the population perspective in the following quote from Australian ecologist A. R. Jones.
“The last century has seen extraordinary growth in human populations and economies. This growth has imposed huge and ever-increasing pressures on Earth ’s ecosystems, prompting fears concerning the integrity of their life-supporting functions and the high rate of extinction of species. Quite simply, ecological degradation threatens the interests and possibly the survival of future human populations. By the criterion of ecological sustainability, and given our current consumption rates and technologies, Earth is now overpopulated. In such times of great and threatening change it is important to reconsider human goals and enabling strategies. A fundamental goal is the sustained quality survival of human populations. Achieving this requires new paradigms of understanding and management,especially the realization that the human economic and social spheres are dependent on healthy, functioning ecosystems, and that most forms of growth are unsustainable. Socioeconomic development must become ecologically sustainable with the maintenance of Earth ’s life-support systems assuming priority.”
“Cities with Purpose” A Normative Scenario for Korean Urban Regeneration
It’s 2011, and Korea has taken an enormous chance on developing the first Global Advanced Prototype City of the Future. It was simply referred to locally as GAP City. What otherwise might be interpreted as something of a pejorative nickname actually came to signify an insight of one of the worlds great scientist / futurist, John Platt, who believed that in spite of all the ways economists and political scientist’s have of defining gaps. that the only truly relevant GAP in the world was the GAP between what is and what might be. GAP city was probably better described as the “bridge” between what is and what might be, but at the time this insight emerged, there was no time for semantic arguments.
After struggling along for a year or more and careening dangerously close to failure before it even had a chance to break ground, the speed and momentum of it’s turn around still amazes and befuddles even those closest to the GAP City project. It was like a bolt of lightning struck when the simple slogan described above electrified the planet’s most creative thinkers and doers, almost literally over night.
As those same people closest to the project would later agree, almost casually, it was simply the power of the right MEME at the right time, although the support of a major economic power both in spirit as well as in deed, did not hurt the projects credibility. But it was still one of the first really global demonstrations of a new kind of self organizing community based economic development strategy, or SOCBED for short. SOCBED uses the power of unfulfilled higher order needs to seed the community with a MEME. A MEME in this context, is a simple but compelling idea presented as an open source project that any and all who are powerfully and passionately attracted to, can join in and contribute where inspired. This part of a SOCBED strategy typically replaces traditional project startup strategies starting with business plans, and staffing and time spent on selling funders on investment.
Once the SOCBED strategy reaches a critical mass of participation, the process looks much more like traditional project management on the surface, but a deeper reliance on flexibility in planning, a Taoist’s attitude of Wei Wu Wei, in dealing with uncertainty and patience in dealing with chaos on the job prevail to good effect in allowing a rapid but intelligent expansion of the project.
Practically overnight GAP City became the destination of choice of all who had pieces of the puzzle. Skills, resources technologies and networks of expertise could be marshaled almost at will to address challenges or to brainstorm new opportunities. GAP City was like a cross between a Manhattan project for sustainable futures, a Global Marshal Plan for re-igniting the spirit and passion of innovation, and all in service to an newly emerging sense of a Planetary Civilization, and of course a major part of it was just literally beyond explanation and just had to be experienced in order to be understood.
Physically GAP City produces everything it consumes, from energy to food, nurtures the highest aspirations of it’s population, and in a straight forward way demonstrates the potential of the Economics of Increasing Returns.
GAP City is the launch pad for what the Danish Futurist Rolf Jensen has called the Dream Society with an emergent new economy based on wisdom, and whose currency is Story Telling
Watching first time visitors to GAP City became something of a cross between a new art form and a sport, but in addition to the sheer entertainment of watching the initial disorientation of new visitors, there came the challenge of discovering how the new visitor could contribute best within GAP City. Prizes were awarded for weaving individuals and networks of new visitors into creative patterns of participation, indeed on occasion, a full blown new trans-institutional entity might be born from the shear synchronicity and complementarity of participants present both physically and virtually. Entirely new skills, roles and job descriptions evolving around the artful crafting of temporary autonomous zones emerged combining unlikely skill sets ranging from showman and carnival barker to project manager and producer to feung shui space sculpting master, and these only scratch the surface of what was evolving there. The temporary Autonomous Zones were arguably the heart of Gap City serving as the nurturing medium for innovation and creative growth.
After the initial disorientation from the sensory bombardment of the entirely new interactive multimedia buildings and spaces built to support new social inventions, such as public “information parks and marketplaces”, semi public “temporary autonomous zones”, mobile “communities of practice”, “resource swarms”, and new private “flexible enterprise zones” begins to wear off, the uncanny feeling of nurturance and comfort emanating from the holes between the chaos, draws in the new comers next. Feelings of euphoria and transcendent connection to nature and the planet are not uncommon. And for those that take up residence in GAP City they usually describe the feeling as one of coming home to a neighborhood that fits like a glove, and a community of individuals and families whose boundaries are sometimes indistinct and amorphous, but which like the Hawaiian Ohana, is always there to care for any family member in need.
Living and working are just as effortless as most of the chores logistics and busy work of traditional jobs becomes subsumed in an automated intelligent layer of, active packet driven network protocols. Living becomes much more about being and becoming, and the principal metric of work is the degree of fun and creative absorption you can experience in any given day.
To put in perspective the sheer scope of the differences between GAP City and other cities, you have to go back to the last great but tragically flawed shift in epics, the industrial revolution, whose plethora of unintended consequences nearly resulted in the extinction of the species and the destruction of the planets ecology. Before the industrial revolution there was an agrarian life style and craft and artisan ethos, an economy based as much in barter as currency and led at a slow and measured pace. Life was relatively simple and there were not too many more categories of work than you could count on two hands.
Compare this to the explosion of job descriptions, new hectic work schedules paced at the speed of the factories which restructured life on the planet from rural agrarian to urban industrial in almost the blink of the eye on the historical time scale. A creative explosion of form, style, substance and process somehow reminiscent of the Cambrian Explosion of unicellular organisms to a mind boggling diversity of multi cellular creatures, also in the relative blink of the eye from a geological perspective. So too, an attempt to describe the new jobs, roles and relationships operating in GAP City to someone from a traditional post industrial post modern world would be somewhat like taking a rural agrarian farm worker or artisan from his village and dropping them into the middle of early industrial London.
About the “Cities with Purpose” scenario
A Normative Futures Scenario describes some ideal state or preferred future. The preceding“Cities with Purpose” scenario assumes the building block of New Urbanism can be combined through the skilled teamwork of world class Social Architects and Soft Technology pioneers, with new social inventions and creative combinations of existing and emerging new technologies to lead the way to the development of Model New Cities of the Future, and the Creative Re-Invention of existing Cities.
“Cities with Purpose”, builds off of past examples such as Japan’s Technopolis Strategy in the 80′s, from current trends in computer gaming, web 2.0 and 3.0, and most recent examples such as Korea’s approach to “Themed Cities” such as “Open Source City”, “uCity”, and the english language themed village of Gyeonggi. This scenario also points out the radical discontinuity that can occur when emergent social & economic inventions apawn a multiplicity of new roles, jobs and expectations that replace the old templates of life and commerce in the Industrial and post industrial city.
Hinted at throughout the scenario are the speed and effortlessness of the self organizing methodologies used to develop GAP City. One almost gets a sense of a new kind of spontaneous combustion that demonstrates how this scenario is perhaps, far less complex than one might at first assume. The New Urbanists maintain that the best building codes are the shortest, for example the 7 page code for the city of Paris France. “Cities with Purpose” shows that the key ingredients for reinventing the city can also be quite simple, starting with a compelling “Purpose” or as Social Architects say, the core “Meme” which then forms the heart of a self organizing, self selection process through which the city will naturally grow.
In addition to this core “Purpose”, the scenario shows that several new social inventions need to be added to the existing New Urbanist template to nurture and promote such self organizing processes. In some cases these are simply a technology upgrade to existing elements such as the community center, the town hall, and other public gathering spots like the neighborhood post office. In other cases entirely new buildings and spaces are suggested to support these new social inventions, such as public “information parks”, semi public “temporary autonomous zones”, mobile “communities of practice” resource swarms and new private “flexible enterprise zones”.
Perhaps most importantly, “Cities with Purpose” shows that far from being a tedious, and complex task, reinventing the city can become an energizing adventure of exploration of a new frontier, giving new meaning and purpose to daily life and national vision.