The soft technologies of urban development – the need for a broader technology concept
Conference contribution, 2018
Given current challenges of both social and environmental character in urban development, there is urgent need to not only improve our understanding of urban processes but also scrutinise the tools and skills necessary to successfully intervene in them. In this paper, central examples of such tools are identified in discourse, institutions and urban form, in turn relating to major practices in urban development: governance, planning and design.
These tools are moreover identified as ‘soft technologies’ with many similarities to regular technologies but also critical differences. Based on the definition of technology by Brian Arthur: “technology concerns the capturing of phenomena for a purpose”, the conclusion is drawn that if regular technology typically captures natural phenomena for a purpose, soft technologies capture phenomena related to human abilities, such as perception, cognition and emotions. In simple terms: discourse captures cognitive abilities related to rational thinking in the purpose to convince, institutions emotional abilities related to fear of shame or sanctions for the purpose of abidance and spatial form perceptual abilities for the purpose of navigation.
These three broad technologies are scrutinised by identifying the human phenomena captured in them and discussing how a deeper understating of these may improve the technology. The aim is to contribute to a theoretical foundation of these tools as technologies, that also may bring a basis for their knowledge development, which ultimately may lead to improved practice. In extension, such a discussion opens for a broader conception of technology, important for issues of sustainability.