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Thread: User Based City

  1. #1
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    User Based City


    Here follows a very long post, with -at first sight- little relation to coding. I hope some of you take a moment to read trough it though.

    I'm an architecture student working on my final project. The project is called 'User Based City'. I'm exploring the possibility of making a city that isn't planned centraly, from above. Instead it grows automatically (organically?) from the input of its users.

    You could compare it to User Based Content on the internet, for example in Wikipedia. The creators of Wikipedia didn't have to create any conent. They just created a framework, wich almost automatically, lead to the encyclopedia. The difficulty of creating the encyclopedia wasn't the content, but the framework in which the content was added.

    Ofcource this is all virtual and the question might be, can this be applied to human behaviour in real life? Well, I think it can and it is already being done. The free market economy is sort of a User Based Economy, where anyone can start a bussiness, compete with others, etc. The governement merely controlls the framework (Central bank intrest rates, taxes, infrastructure, legislation, ...) in wich these companies have to work.
    Contrary to a centrally planned economy (communism), the free market allows individual input, can solve local inbalances and can find answers to complex situations. The complexity of a free market exceeds that of a centrally planned one by far.

    Take modern urbanism now. It is usually centrally planned by on of a few persons. The result is that they always need to use very simple patterns; such as a rectagular grid for street patterns. Any more complex solutions would, in the end, become far to complicated to comprehend and organise.
    The question is ofcource, if these simplistic patterns are the best ways of organising our cities? Probably not.

    If we take a look at old Middle-age cities, we see very different street patterns. These patterns weren't planned from above, but slowly grew in a certain way. Yet there are many examples of these cities still functioning very well or even better then the modern ones.

    Ofcource we can't remake the cities of the past, because the sort of informal organisation that might have worked in small communities, isn't possible in our current metropolises.

    But would it be possible to create such self-organising cities in modern times? Can we create a system where there is no need for urban planning and the cities grow from them selves? Maybe we could create some basic framework (such as the basic structure of Wikipedia; or the basics of the free market economy) for urbanism?

    So this is basically my starting position. What I am trying to do now is develop some basic rules which I believe could serve as a the framework for the User Based City.

    But just like in Wikipedia you can only see if the framework works, when you actually let users create the content. But this kind of real life test isn't really an option when it comes to Urbanism.

    That's why I have to find some other way to model or test this framework. First of all I need to be able to produce something with which I can test the framework, learn from the results and make changes (-> a designing tool). Secondly, I need to be able to prove (to a Jury) that it might work (-> a presentation tool).

    The possibilities I was considering:

    Computer Simulation:
    + Simulation of the real world
    + Possibilities to fast forward, try different settings, etc.
    + Handy as a designing tool
    - Very complex, difficult (I know nothing of computers and even for people that do, this is probebly very complex)
    - No real persons: unintelligent and predictable (The result of the simulation will be more like an advanced fractal. If you run it 2 times with the same settings it will produce 2 identical results, unlike with humans)

    Board game:
    + Simulation with real persons --> possibilities of human creativity, surprising actions, ...
    + Handy designing tool
    + Relatively easy to make
    - Simplified world: Not enough complexity possible?
    - Physical limitations: Not a possibility to fastforward, run many tests, etc.

    Combination: Computer game (board game in computer)
    + Real persons
    + Handy design tool
    + More complexity possible than board game
    +- A little less physical limitations as in a real board game
    +- Less complex than simulation, but much more difficult then board game

    I hope you guys can tell me what you think. All comments are welcome, about the theory as well as the practical approach. Also if anyone thinks of altenative I could use, dont hesitate to tell me.

    If there would be anyone interesting in working with me on this project, I'm completely open to some sort of cooperation...

    Also if anyone knows more of better places where I might find some response as well, please do tell.

    blog (in Dutch): userbasedcity.blogspot.com

  • #2
    UE Antagonizer Fumigator's Avatar
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    The first question you have to ask with any project is "What problem is this going to solve?" And I can't answer that question with regards to your project.

    If you really think an organically grown city can be "better" than one that is organized and planned, your first step will be to demonstrate this with "proof of concept" -- that is, a simple example that shows an obviously better city. I don't think you need computer models to establish proof of concept-- in fact, your concept is weakened if there's no way to prove it with a simple example that doesn't use fancy computer models.

    Personally I'd rather see effort spent on ideas like Tokyo's sky city.

  • #3
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    Well just look at all the Middle-Age cities in Europe. Most of them function very well, often better then the modern parts. The last 200 yesr there has been constructed a lot more then all years before. If we wanted, we could have just trown down our old cities and build new ones. Or the centre of the cities could have moved from the old centre to new parts. Yet we see that in many countries, the old cities attract most people, and the hearts of these cities still hasnt moved. Apparently, they arent so bad.

    MIT once did a simulation trying to determine the optimal pattern for a city. They finally got as a result a pattern that closely resembled Midieval cities. So it took our modern society years of work from top scientists to find something that automatically came to existence a 1000 years ago.

    The problem is that there aren't many modern situations where it worked out that well. Just look at the informal organisations of the slums in south america. So my question is if we could come up with a framework (a set of rules, economic incentives, ...) that would result in, in this case, a self-improving slum?


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