The Future of Cities Community Launches at the Institute for the Future

Anthony Townsend's picture

Some readers may be familiar with the TELECOM-CITIES listserv that I've run for the last ten years, sharing discussions about how information and communications technology is transforming cities and the process of urbanization. Once upon a time back in 1998, 1999, TELECOM-CITIES was an active community of researchers trying to figure out what fiber optics and cell phones and dot-com startups meant for the future of cities. Over the years, the list has maintained that focus, but growth of readership has been stagnant for years. My own postings to the list are, often as not, an afterthought or a rudimentary form of clipping. I've started to realize that the scope of the list is too narrow. Really what I'm interested in, and I think many of us are, is the future of cities in a world of advanced computing and telecommunications. I've also started to realize there are much better ways to share content and build community on the web today than there were 10 years ago when I chose the listserv platform.

For these reasons, I've launched the Future of Cities site at the Institute for the Future. The goal is to continue to share the kind of information we have on TELECOM-CTIES for the last 10 years, but to broaden the conversation beyond just information technology - though that will certainly remain an important driver of urban futures. The site will offer blogs like Planetizen's Interchange (in fact, it uses the exact same technology platform), but will also offer an array of other tools for sharing and publishing information:

  • links (tag stuff "futureofcities")
  • Subscribe to RSS feed by email through FeedBlitz
  • Post by email (just like the old listserv)
  • RSS feed aggregator of global urban development news sources

My long-term goal is to connect these conversations to other work we're doing at the Institute for the Future, particularly our
Ten Year Forecast Program's Global Ethnographic Network, which is tracking families in Brazil, Russia, India and China over a decade-long period. I also see this site as complementing the community here at Planetizen Interchange in three ways:first by focusing more on trends outside of traditional planning issues that have big impacts on cities (consumer trends, technology trends for example) and looking a little further out in time, second by being more global and bringing in many voices (both planners and others) from all corners of the world, and finally by developing a knowledge base of resources for students and researchers.

I also want to try to bring the Institute full circle to one of its founding goals - to improve the study of the future of cities. Ironically, I've discovered that during the first decade of the Institute for the Future, from 1968 to 1978, we received funding from the Ford Foundation and Wesleyan in Connecticut to create a center that would apply computational methods to urban problems and the study of the future of cities. (Urban simulation was the rage in the late 1960s, led by people like operations research pioneer Jay Forrester at MIT)

You are all invited to join the conversation, and please share thoughts on how to make the platform more useful.

The URL is

Anthony Townsend is a research director at the Institute for the Future (IFTF) in Palo Alto, California.


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