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I spent last week in Amsterdam, enjoying the city as a result of an invitation to speak at an international conference on urban planning: Morgen/Tomorrow: International Urban Planning Congress Amsterdam. I spoke about Pittsburgh; others spoke about Chicago, Mumbai, London, Helsinki, Rotterdam, Berlin, Brussels, Hamburg, and Tirana. We also heard quite a bit about Tokyo, Mexico City, São Paulo, and Lagos. (For details on what I said about Pittsburgh, click on over to my recent “The Story Behind Pittsburgh’s Revitalization” series, excerpted recently, with some very cool illustrations, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)

Little of my experience as a sometime expert on Pittsburgh belongs on a blog about IP, information, and technology law and policy, except for the fact that I’m no expert in urban planning or cities.  Instead, it’s here because, as I explained at the conference, my interest in urbanism stems from the same impulse that prompts my interest in IP.   At a relatively high level, urban design and IP share an intellectual framework.  Both are  organized simultaneously around cultural diversity (different people, different ideas, different goals) and a certain cultural linearity (one population, one goal:  sustainability, even growth and progress).  Both are trying, in part, to understand what diversity and linearity are, whether and when they are good things, and how to stimulate or suppress them.  Both feature balances between public and private interest, expressed conceptually (in IP) and physically (in urban design).  Both feature conflicts between static and dynamic welfare effects.  And so long as IP and cyberlawyers talk in “real space” metaphors, it’s pretty easy to speak about both of them in the same breath.

So, as I think about and read and listen to conversations about the future of urban design, I map that material onto related conversations about the future of information and knowledge-related law and policy.  I tend to frame questions in conceptual terms to begin with, so I’m simply adding another conceptual dimension to what I already do.

Plus, it’s fun.

I’ve written about the parallels here in some earlier scholarship; I’ll get more detailed about what I mean in later posts.  As I’ve explained the proposition in the last paragraph to IP colleagues recently, however, I’ve had two sorts of reactions.

Reaction 1:  I see immediately what you mean.  Very interesting!

Reaction 2:  I have no idea what you’re talking about.

We’ll see what you think.

1 thought on “IP and Urban Design”

  1. As someone who does know a bit about planning law (having taught it for nine years; though knowing planning law is a far cry from knowing anything about urban planning itself), I’m intrigued by the parallels you draw (“I see immediately what you mean. Very interesting!”).

    I wonder if the element of control (and the desire to control others) through the narrative of self-determination/self-control should also be on your list. I think that’s a historical theme that courses through both of these areas and could lead to some interesting insights.

    Looking forward to future posts on this.

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