After generating those initial ideas, I used this provocation exercise to think through my problem space with a fresh set of constraints — and chart a course forward with some concrete next steps.
- A time warp. My thesis idea involves leveraging technology to reimagine how we use cities, but it’s grounded in a foundation that isn’t highly technological. Really, it’s not about way-finding, and it’s not about Jane Jacobs, and it’s not even entirely about cities. Rather, it’s about a constant thrumming tension I’ve observed between our need to socialize, and our need to be alone. Our need to develop communities, and our need to keep out strangers. Our need to extend an open arm, and our need to close ranks around our own. This juxtaposition is critical to living in a dense environment. And it’s one of the things so deeply and painfully challenged by gentrification. So as I think about tools to build a more mindful city, I’m running up against this concern about unintended consequences. In other words — do you want me building an app that will send strangers down your block?
- A reality check. Having identified this stressor, I reached out to some distant friends to speak with me about gentrification. I put out an open call on Facebook to speak to folks who’ve expressed frustration about interlopers, and folks who’ve identified as interlopers and possibly about their desire to be good citizens in their adopted neighborhoods. (Certainly this is an inherently biased set, but even with that caveat it’s a good place to start.)
- A modest proposal. Here’s what’s next for me. I would like to pick one neighborhood, ideally one with a lot of very mixed but not well-integrated adjacencies, and interview some folks. I’m thinking Ditmas Park, where I grew up, because it’s a great exercise in contrasts: luxurious Victorian houses filled with families that have outgrown Park Slope, ringed with mixed-income apartment buildings, surrounded on one side by a Pakistani enclave, on another side by an Orthodox Jewish enclave, and on a third side by a West Indian enclave. It also has very well-defined residential and commercial boundaries, countering Jane Jacobs’s proposals for mixed-use neighborhoods.