Urban Fold

How Can Techies and Planners Work Together to Create Better Cities?

As Director of Public Policy at Airbnb, Molly Turner has noticed she's the only planner in attendance at the Bay Area's myriad hackathons and conferences. As tech increasingly addresses urban issues, is it doomed to repeat planning's past mistakes?
hackNY.org / flickr

"Here in urban Silicon Valley — and especially in San Francisco — the tech community has begun wading into the realm of urban planning, oftentimes without even realizing it," says Turner. "As an urban planner moonlighting in tech, I’ve been invited to hackathons and conferences,TEDx talks and prototyping festivals — all focused on critical urban issues ranging from homelessness to economic development, public art to public transportation. Through all of these events I’ve noticed one commonality: I’m the only urban planner there."

Why is this a problem? "[T]ech innovators also like to work on a tavola raza, void of constraints, preconceived obstacles or even the benefit of institutional knowledge," she explains. "And while sometimes that leads to genius strokes of ingenuity, other times it means unknowingly repeating mistakes of our urbanist past, such as becoming overly reliant on the wisdom of the crowd or failing to account for important social or cultural divides."

"That is precisely why tech innovators and planners have much to learn from each other. Technological solutions should better account for the complexities of urban ecosystems, and planning solutions should better pace themselves for incremental implementation."

Full Story: Letter from San Francisco: On Being an Urban Planner in the Tech World

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