Planning how cities will grow and change means thinking way ahead. Technology is a huge driver – fridges, cars and of course, digital infrastructure have all revolutionized how we live. And then COVID-19 brought a rapid, sudden shift to remote work. Ken Hollings’ guests in Fast Forward audio documentary episode 3 discuss our changing physical, social and technological cities.

Should the physical rely on the digital?

Shoshanna Saxe, Professor of civil and mineral engineering at University of Toronto says, “For the last couple of generations in high-income countries, technology has done amazing things.” But also, “You can’t found a city on tech. You have to have good solid infrastructure that lasts.”

She warns of the risks of physical infrastructure – roads, buildings and so forth – relying on the city’s digital infrastructure. What happened when companies were forced to shift fast to a work-from-home model might suggest some reasons why.

Security culture left wanting

David Emm, Principal Security Researcher at Kaspersky elaborates. “When COVID-19 hit, business continuity was uppermost in people’s minds rather than security. Our research found 50 percent of companies didn’t have policies for regulating work-from-home devices.”

Emm also notes that when it comes to embedding security into our ways of thinking about digital infrastructure, we’re not there yet. “Security needs to be a cultural thing rather than a training exercise.”

Digital suburban disparity

Single-dwelling, grassy suburbs that spread like wildfire along city fringes from the late 1940s forged a new digital landscape. People expected entertainment, news and conversations to come to them in their homes. Now COVID-19 has brought a kind of digital suburbia to the inner city, as human interaction on commutes and in offices could even approach obsolescence.

Suburbia has always evoked the privilege of the few. Architect and filmmaker Sarah Akigbogun, vice chair of Women in Architecture and a Royal Institute of British Architects council member, thinks our ways of working and living are built for inequality. “If you delve into the history of architecture, it’s linked to the idea and proportions of a white male body. The voices of people of color are missing from the conversation around how we make our cities.”

Akigbogun sees the disparity reflected in digital access. “At the moment we talk about the digital divide. With the pandemic it’s become apparent there’s a huge disparity in people’s access to technology.” She makes some fascinating predictions for how cities will be shaped by the impacts of COVID-19’s arrival at this moment in technology. It might just be good news for those suburbia shut out.

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