Nov 30, 2012

What planners of urban environment can learn from online environment?


Radical possibilities if they get it right!


The single largest advantage of online environment over urban environment is that online environment is spontaneously morphing and mutating. It’s a spontaneous collaborative environment with user generated content, individually conceived collective community efforts, within a larger set of easy to understand rules with basic governance and minimal intervention. Best part is that it all comes unasked. All you need to do is to create an online platform intuitive and sticky enough to appeal to masses, leaving rest up to user’s creativity. Users are motivated and willing enough to spend their own time and money and whatever it takes to contribute to this global phenomenon, mostly unasked mostly free, they are even willing to pay for it in some cases, be it social or professional networking platform (Sharing/ Facebook/ Twitter/ Linkedin) or cloud environment (Storage/ Backup) or virtual collaborative tools (Building/ Sharing/ Docs), open source programming environment (Building Blocks/ Learning/ Sharing) or just a platform to share their own piece of mind or simply converse (blogs/Forums). Amazingly this ever-thriving virtual environment with apparently intangible inputs even gets translated into tangible outputs. A self-sustainable virtual community environment with little bit of nuisance andchaos which can be managed and currently being managed through series of governing and control instruments! Wonderful!

Let’s talk about urban environment a bit, parallel to online environment. Let’s identify the obvious constraints and major differences. Urban environment is tangible in nature, things like - raw material, physical infrastructure, resource intensive, capital and labor intensive and then there are governance and management issues since resources are limited and stakes are high. Let’s see some common somewhat overlapping traits; both urban and online environment needs basic physical infrastructure in place some of which are common as well (Power, Water, transport VS Telecom infrastructure/ Wi-max/ Wi-Fi etc. with common later part), both environment require serious manpower to build, sustain and grow, they both demand control and security, both need a heterogeneous mix of business models as well and so on. What comes to mind now? What you are thinking right now absolutely makes sense - with so much of similarities while having “people” and “community” at center stage in both cases, why haven’t we explored the mutual learning possibilities and why we haven’t been able to translate the online functional learning experience into building of physical community called “City”.

Can we do it? Think so; at least we can give it a try! By establishing a logical, statistical, mathematical and philosophical co-relation between the two, leaving possibility to weave the city fabric and its functionality further in future! This analogy of physical (urban) and virtual (online) environment presents a model of self-evolving self-sustainable community further translated into urban community where every member of community is contributing to build the “physical environment”, though they are already doing it “Socially” well at present. Can we give a community or region enough flexibility to shape its own environment, customizable up to their personal needs and choices without hampering the public interest, with basic infrastructure built in place to start with, a set of basic rules to play with, some basic building blocks to kick-start, with flexibility to select platform and tools of their choices to build, with a governing, supportive and helping hand, watchful eyes as well as security and rescue mechanism in place, with some kind of layered public, community and personal finance model and so on, all this flexibility within a controlled and transparent environment. Reinforced by supervisory control and incentive instruments! Building with a vision of “sustainable community” and “fairness ofopportunity” at center stage! Fortunately we have analytical tools, informative resources and accumulated experience of mankind today which can help extract and derive and establish useful correlation between the urban and online environment paving a way for better and sustainable future!
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