Monday, February 20, 2012
John D. Landis (U Penn--Planning) has a thought-provoking article at Planetizen called A Brave and Better World? The iPad and the Future of Planning:
Most of my graduate planning students and several of my colleagues have iPads. And many of them have iCloud accounts. I never much saw the value of the iPad, but then just recently, I read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Apple founder Steve Jobs, and in it, Isaacson noted that as early as 2005, Jobs was thinking about how people’s digital lives could be made completely mobile and placeless. Several of us were talking about this idea over dinner recently, and it struck me: if this vision were truly to come to pass—which is to say that aspects of our everyday activities and preferences are seamlessly recorded and collected in the digital cloud—it’s a short hop, skip, or jump to not needing most planners.
Seen from the perspective of the iCloud, what is it that planners do? Mostly, we aggregate individual preferences about the uses of space and location; mediate among competing spatial preferences and demands; and use spatially-tagged data to make projections and plans about local futures. With good input data, a cloud-based preference aggregator, and a bit of forecasting intelligence, might it not be possible to write a set of Internet-based algorithms to do exactly the same thing? And do it more quickly, cheaply, and without the sturm and drang of today’s elaborate planning processes? Could it be that the iPad, the iCloud, and a series of planning algorithms might make many human planners redundant? This is a rhetorical question.
Landis then offers some crazy but not-improbable potential scenarios involving planning information aggregated and communicated through apps. He suggests that based on the rate of recent technology advances, this could happen in the near future. But rather than lament a diminished cachet for the traditional information-aggregating role of the professional planner, Landis suggests that they get on the wave of the future:
The best way to restore planning’s luster is to make it more efficient at its tasks, and the road to efficiency is paved with automation. So, instead of planners worrying about the long-term solvency of our current employers—principally local government—we should be busily writing the types of Internet-based applications identified above. The advent of travel websites like Expedia and Orbitz decimated the travel agency industry, but by making travel easier and cheaper, led to an increase in travel itself. So too, would the creation of useful, easy-to-use planning apps lead—I hope—to greater societal value placed on planning.