Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tech futurist sees "supercities" on the rise

As Charlotte digs out of the recession and banking crisis, one of the nation’s leading digital-age thinkers is headed to town to talk about how the city can survive in what he sees as a world dominated by rising “supercities.”

Richard Saul Wurman, an architect who taught at N.C. State University in the early 1970s, rocketed to fame as founder of the TED conference, a high-profile thought-fest in California that draws big-name speakers ranging from Microsoft’s Bill Gates to “Avatar” director James Cameron.
In advance of his scheduled appearances in Charlotte on April 7 and 8, Wurman spoke to the Observer via Skype call Wednesday from his Rhode Island home. He wanted to talk about what he sees as one of the biggest trends of the 21st century: the notion that a handful of large, increasingly connected cities are dominating global affairs.
Nations, he believes, are shrinking in importance compared to huge “supercities” like Los Angeles, New York, Moscow and Toyko, where an increasingly large percentage of the earth’s population lives. He’s working on an international project called “19.20.21” that uses 19 major cities as case studies of the impact this urban population boom is having on the planet.
(The rest of the project’s title refers to the fact that some 20 million people live in these cities, and they are dominating the 21st century).
“Fifty-two percent of all the people on earth live in cities. That little tipping point happened about two years ago,” he said. “The world, basically, as far as marketing, education, culture finance, invention, healthcare, is made up of 40 cities in America, 16 in Europe and 48 in Asia.
“Those cities are the world. Charlotte’s a city and they should join the non-existent league of cities.”
He was a little less clear about how that happens.
He says leaders of any government need to give the public truthful, easy-to-understand information so they can see the contours of the challenges ahead. That’s difficult, he added, because cities around the globe don’t have a uniform way of defining themselves or sharing information.
He’s working, through his “19.20.21” project, to change that.
“Understanding precedes action. Right now we’re taking action without understanding,” he said. “I’m not trying to make better cities. I’m trying to understand them.”
He no longer runs TED, having turned it over years back to the nonprofit Sapling Foundation. He said while he tried to make it the best conference in the world, the foundation expanded its vision in hopes of changing the world.
Both, he said, are good objectives, and he’s proud of what’s happening with TED.
He’ll give two talks in Charlotte in association with Salum International Resources, a Huntersville consulting firm run by his friend Carlos Salum. His talk topics: “Charlotte as a Learning Community” and “Understanding is Power.”
“I will enjoy coming back to my old state,” he said. “There’s been a tremendous amount of expectation built by Carlos. And I sure would like to come and see the person he has hyped. I hope people don’t have awkward disappointment.”
If his audience on Wednesday is any guide, I doubt it. The small group of people who sat in on the conference call lingered afterward, discussing the ideas he’d raised.
That’s exactly what Wurman aims for, his friend Salum said.
For more information, visit Salum's Web site.


Anonymous said...

And this is news for Charlotte?

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The very first dirty bomb will change the landscape or the cities forever.

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