I’ve just returned from participating in the second annual Festival of Conscious Cities, hosted by the Pratt Institute in New York, one of the top 10 schools globally for design of the built environment. Conscious Cities is an international think-tank promoting the use of science-informed design, technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to address contemporary urban issues.
Over 4 days of the Festival we listened to a fascinating range of speakers from diverse backgrounds – architecture, social work, technology, anthropology, neuroscience, urban design, landscape architecture, psychology – share their insights and research about building resilient communities, family-friendly cities, ageing in cities and mental health in cities. Conversations and debate continued afterwards, at receptions and dinners, or post-event in neighbouring Brooklyn bars (which sparked further interesting conversations with adjacent fellow customers!).
This is a topic I’ve been fascinated in for many years. Initially this came from talking as a child to my aunt, a Professor of Neuroscience in the USA who specialised in neural pathway mapping and early AI. But it had been triggered again more recently by my involvement in developing housing and public spaces for dementia-sufferers; and the growing awareness of the importance of the ‘forgotten’ senses in how humans experience the urban environment, inspired by former colleagues & friendship of people like the much-missed Dr Victoria Henshaw (https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2014/oct/19/victoria-henshaw ).
But for years I felt inhibited by my lack of scientific knowledge to try to connect directly with neuroscientists or behavioural scientists. It felt like I was trying to communicate with people in a language I didn’t understand, and in a cultural context that was alien to both of us.
However, thanks to organisations like Conscious Cities, and the insights gained at their Festival, those important new connections and conversations between urbanists and neuroscientists are now happening. It’s a tremendously exciting area, with current work surely only the tip of the iceberg in the progress that we can jointly make in remodelling cities to be more humanscale.
I’ll be sharing some of the key things I learned at the Conscious Cities Festival and my reflections in later blogs, but here’s one of the fascinating facts I learned, this one thanks to Kathy Hirsch-Pasek, who is an expert on the role of play in learning: