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San Francisco's High-Tech Urbanism

Everyday we see how technology is changing the way we live and work, but how is it affecting our built environment? San Francisco is one of the major test grounds for new ideas and technological innovation and it is here that our interaction with the physical world is also evolving. New ways to interact, communicate and travel are redefining the traditional functions of the city and reshaping the way we use it – and soon design it.

Multiple modes of transporation in San Francisco, California

As our social networks shrink from the size of our sidewalk to the palm of our hand, our economy is expanding towards sharing resources rather than owning individual goods. Owning a phone that gives you real-time updates from your friends, events, or even parking availability affects our decisions for mobility, activities, and can disconnect us from experiences. Today, when I need to get somewhere, I ask myself (or really Google Maps) what is the fastest way there – to use bike sharing, tell Uber to pick me up, or maybe take Zipcar? Rarely do I resort to waiting for public transport or a taxi to drive by. In San Francisco there is an option for every route, topography, distance, and preference for transportation that will soon change the infrastructure all together.

Think about what this does to physical space, with similar options available. Programs such as Airbnb or Liquidspace are making our lives less committal. Being able to rent a space to live or work by the hour or by the month creates a temporal society. Try to imagine a city that creates a space for exactly what you need for the exact time you need it and it doesn't come in the form of a hotel. Architects will be designing spaces that adapt to endless possibilities of function to support this transient nature.

The city of Innovation, San Francisco, California

Technology has always been integral to architecture and engineering, but this is growing from a planning technology (AutoCAD) to a user-based technology (Google Maps). People can now read current conditions of their immediate environment and react accordingly. Open urban tools help us interact with the city like never before, using sensors, cameras or crowdsourcing to keep up to the minute. SF Park is one of the most advanced parking management systems, with its demand responsive pricing, however similar mapping technology can also be used for more social and urban issues – like dangers or check-points. Tracking feedback and urban information can inform designers how to better shape the city through the implementation of responsive urban design.

Technology is shaping our built environment more than we know, and as designers we are also giving it shape. San Francisco is altering the way it moves, houses, and even feeds people based on the ease of accessing information. Designers must understand how technology impacts our landscape in order to create more efficient and effective spatial interactions, using technology to extend beyond the virtual realm and be used to maximize our physical one. 

In what ways is technology changing the form and function of your city?

Credits: Images by Tara Whelan. Data linked to sources.