Leveraging Tech for Public Infrastructure


As an urbanist and designer native to San Francisco, I am watching this city turn inside out, literally. The city is spending millions to replace and prepare our immense networks of gas, electricity, waste water, auxiliary water, potable water, and communication threads in order to withstand drastic changes and seismic collapse. The funding for most of this has been leveraged from innovative, well funded tech companies who have embedded their brain trust and coding power into the heart of the city and simultaneously into the surrounding neighborhoods. With this rapid influx of new residents contributing to a newborn industry of micro-technologies, our day to day awareness has been distracted from the very systems of infrastructure that support our livelihood. In fact, the exact technologies that we are developing depend on electricity, our most vulnerable utility network. Can virtual environments be better integrated into our awareness of our physical condition? Better yet, how can our physical urban condition become the new platform for technical innovation moving forward? How can we begin to rebuild our neighborhoods as real, permanent residents? How can we do this in real time with respect to future and past generations? How can tech become a component of long term resilience?

Landscape architects, urbanists, ecologists, architects, and engineers, are grappling with this shifting social and utility network. They are charged with designing new support systems for civic health, and urban fitness in the face of aging and failing infrastructure with very real and pressing threats of natural disaster and climate change. They are working from the scale of the aqueduct to the scale park bench. The street light to the turbine. However, there remains a harsh divide between these physical confrontations and our virtual escapes. Why is tech not our watershed? Why is tech not our power generation? Why is tech not our park system? Why is tech not street? The emerging partnerships between private "tech" and public infrastructure is more necessary than ever and bridging the design of the micro devices and their applications and the macro systems and their distribution. It is crucial for resilient growth, maintenance, disaster preparedness and disaster recovery. Air, water, and electricity are our lifelines and in a city like San Francisco, in a Region like the Bay Area, we as designers and entrepreneurs are faced with creating new working platforms to find the middle ground that can serve the scale of the neighborhood, localize our resources, and profit from our true social capital through all generations, young and old. It would be a shame to think architects and urban designers have been relegated to the fancy facade of innovation. Instead our community needs to assume responsibility for civic innovation and our collective participation. This is culture.

And as always, be prepared. http://www.sf72.org/home