Will Technology Improve Big Cities – or Will It Replace Them?

Large cities have long been the centers of economic, cultural, and social development.

Interaction has been facilitated among many different groups of people through regular commutes, social events, work environments, and other areas. Even when people began moving to more suburban areas, the urban centers continued to be the focal point of entire regions.

But all that may be changing.

People are moving to online communities now, and the impact of this movement will likely be felt in metropolitan areas in the years to come. With change on the way, the question many have is exactly how the influx of new technologies will affect cities. Does this mean the end of urban lifestyles as we know them, or will all this new tech lead to improved cities? The debate is a fascinating one with no definitive answer but a nearly endless supply of possibilities.

The big worry among many urban planners is that the adoption of groundbreaking technologies will lead to people no longer needing cities. This can be seen in the larger number of people now working outside the office. With advances in cloud and mobile technology, not to mention the internet, working from home has now become a common practice.

Suddenly, having a central area where thousands to millions of people arrive for work is not an essential feature. Advocates of this idea contend that it is a more humane approach that can not only improve people’s health but cut down on pollution that is so often seen during rush hour. In cities where pollution continues to be a major problem, the use of technology to reduce the need of cities may be seen as a major improvement.

But if cities are replaced, what will happen to social interactions? While some may argue that the internet has already fostered an environment where people can get to know each other, others claim social networks are a poor substitute for real life physical meetings with people. After all, how many Facebook friends are considered to be true friends?

If anything, social networks foster weak connections with people, with a simple post replacing the need to truly interact. Of course, social networks always have the potential to improve, but that will take more work and further development.

Technology can best be summed up as a double-edged sword. It’s true that many will view an increasingly online world as a replacement for cities, but others prefer to see it as a tool that can best be used as a way to improve them.

The term mostly used to describe this potential use of technology is digital urbanism. One of the most promising methods to improving cities is big data analytics. It’s actually not as new of a concept as it sounds. Starting in the 1960s, the city of Los Angeles actually used information from databases, infrared aerial photography, and cluster analysis to help plan out how to tackle some of the cities problems and design new areas. That concept has been supercharged in recent years as cities now have huge amounts of data to work with. With the help of cloud big datatechnology, the hope is to make cities more efficient and capable of meeting people’s needs and demands.

Much of this is seen in the phenomenon of smart cities—cities that use the power of the Internet of Things to more effectively measure the activity of those within its boundaries. With the help of sensors located around the city, officials can get a better picture of traffic flows, environmental impacts, energy consumption, and many other factors crucial to the smooth operation of an entire populace.

From this data, urban policymakers can better define where problems are and how best to solve them. In this sense, technology is the key to an improved city rather than its replacement.

It’s true that the world is more connected than ever before due to internet activity, and the lure of online communities has caused many to withdraw from physical interactions. The possibility of the online world replacing cities is real, but technology shouldn’t be viewed as the enemy. If anything, it’s the key to helping cities return to the place of prominence they used to hold—as the centers of human society.

More time and advancements are needed for technology to be fully intertwined with city development, but it’s a direction that many cities are already headed in.