MIT historian of urban computing, Jennifer Light, and Clemson Architecture professor and Jane Jacobs historian Peter Laurence joined the Berkeley Center for New Media, the Center for Science, Technology, and Medicine in Society, the Center for Technology, Policy, and Society, and the Global Urban Humanities Initiative to host a masterclass around how technology functions in relation to Jane Jacobs’ notion of community in cities. An interdisciplinary group of graduate students and faculty from the School of Information, Geography, Engineering, Architecture, and History joined the conversation, discussing how the historical conditions of Jane Jacobs’ period equally relate to and inform our own city planning processes in the current day.
Highlights included a conversation around the implicit biases of our time period that inform our urban planning decisions — such as our reliance on data and technology to solve social issues. Although, it was stressed that technocracy itself has a long and storied history. Moderator and BCNM director Nicholas de Monchaux also underlined how the balance between the public and private at the forefront of Jane Jacobs’ period is being renegotiated again in the hybrid real/virtual space of our time. Students were particularly interested in navigating the inherent messiness of politics in urban planning, which cannot be sidestepped even with technologies that all contain their own inherent biases. As a geographer said, “we have to embrace the messy, inefficient, and contentious ways of humans living together.”
Jennifer and Peter also offered graduate students thoughts on their own PhD journeys and tips on generating research agenda. Jennifer in particular highlighted the interdisciplinary as a source of inspiration: placing different fields on the same topic beside one’s own discipline to generate a new lens on a problem. She also noted the value of tracing the history of our current media. Peter, meanwhile, noted the revelations that finding unconventional source material often provides.
It was a fantastic conversation and we’re so pleased we had the chance to engage with these two fantastic authors and professors.
Check out the photos below: