Wild Cities
Wild Cities

For the last few months I’ve been working as creative director on a new urban rewilding project. I’m not going to write about that project here (it’s still in development) but instead I’ll discuss some of the research I’ve come across and how I’ve started organising my thinking.

Participatory urban (re)wilding combines three distinct phenomena that have their own complexities and characteristics. Participation and cities, I know a thing or two about; rewilding less so. I’m interested in how to combine the three — in my view, doing so is one of the fundamental tactics we have for surviving the 21st century. But that gets pretty complicated. And messy, in a delightfully difficult way. …

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Below are notes from my introduction to the FutureFest18 session ‘Are smart cities broken? Reimagining urban technologies’ on July 16, 2018, a debate and discussion with Francesca Bria, Alison Powell, John Tolva. The session was recorded, so if video is released I will add it later.

Broken Smart Cities

  • Are smart cities broken? Yes! But the real question is how we do better, by our cities, by our technologies and by our communities?
  • We won’t try to define smart cities — the concept is too amorphous, too insubstantial, and founded largely on marketing crap from technology companies with short names.
  • There have been plenty of attempts at ‘smart cities’ that you will be familiar with already: Songdo, Masdar, here in UK we have Manchester (quote: “We are planning to seriously ‘productise’ CityVerve. We will milk the branding and the findings”), Glasgow. Even Alphabet (f.k.a. Google) is getting in on the act in Toronto; also hundreds of initiatives in India and China. By many accounts, if not all, these leave a lot to be desired (especially when they become ‘surveillance cities’ rather than ‘smart cities’). …

Notes on participatory design from the introduction to my talk at re-publica 2017

I’m going to talk today about designing participatory systems. I’ll talk about some of my work over the last 15 years, some of the things I noticed along the way, and some of the things I’d like to work more on in future. In particular I’ll talk about a design strategy I’m calling mutually assured construction.

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But first a reminder: in the 1970s and 80s the idea of ‘mutually assured destruction’ was pretty central to cold war conflict management. It was a doctrine that essentially said that, since I will fire my nuclear weapons if you launch a nuclear attack on me, and since you will fire yours if I attack you (and since either outcome results in total annihilation), therefore, neither of us has any incentive to attack the other (or, for that matter, any incentive to disarm of course!). You could spend thousands of game theory hours examining this dynamic, but the essential point was that the condition helped bind together our futures and assured that we didn’t destroy each other. …


Usman Haque

Founding partner/creative director @Umbrellium • @Thingful • working on engaging cities • haque.co.uk

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