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New Century Cities emerging from New York to Seoul

A computer-generated night view of Digital Media Street in Seoul's Digital Media City.
A computer-generated night view of Digital Media Street in Seoul's Digital Media City.
Image / Donyun Kim and Archiplan, Inc.

Some 150 invited participants convened Jan. 18 and 19 for the New Century Cities symposium. They hailed from four continents and from disciplines ranging from traditional city-builders--architects, city planners, and construction firms--to high-tech (Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, IBM) and media firms, and included historians, educators and artists.

What brought them together was a shared belief that the cities of the next century will be radically unlike the cities of the past. The symposium showcased some spectacular examples of these new-century cities (NCCs) that use advanced communications and technology to improve the quality of urban life as they promote social and economic objectives. Many NCCs are very large-scale developments; all are laboratories for exploring new ways of living, working and learning.

The symposium was sponsored by the Center for Real Estate, the City Design and Development Group, and the Media Lab, all in the School of Architecture and Planning.

The projects that were presented ranged from implementing wireless neighborhoods (lower Manhattan) and whole cities (Philadelphia), to developing entirely new towns, such as Seoul's Digital Media City. Projects ranged in size from Singapore's 450-acre district for advanced technology research to the 24-acre Northern Ireland Science Park.

Still other projects were academically oriented, including Crossroads Copenhagen, an "international center of research and development in the fields of culture and media." Public involvement in the development process characterized Crossroads Copenhagen, as well as Helsinki's Arabianranta district, devoted to art and design, where collective online decision-making brought residents into the layout process.

Welcome to the new age of urban development. Connectivity is reshaping the built environment. "In the future, connectivity and intelligence will be part of a building, just as lighting and air-conditioning are today," said William Mitchell, head of the Media Arts and Sciences Program at MIT. He described buildings of the future as "programmable devices responding actively and intelligently to changing needs and conditions," with agile interiors that can be reconfigured on demand into large or small workspaces, and light-sensing exterior "skins" that dynamically block glare.

Project presentations were followed by brainstorming. Attendees sought to extract common ground, not to mention common terminology, from the welter of social, intellectual, technological and political factors that impacted their projects. The symposium closed with the exhilarating sense that a new community of city developers had coalesced. Symposium organizers Dennis Frenchman, director of the City Design and Development Group in DUSP, and Michael Joroff, senior lecturer in DUSP, said they plan to hold future meetings.

More information about the symposium, including summaries of the projects, is available at the Center for Real Estate's web site.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 2, 2005 (download PDF).

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