So I’m down in DC this weekend, not for the cherry blossom festival (although the cherry blossoms are quite nice), but for a board meeting of the Urban Communications Foundation (UCF). We’re meeting today primarily to discuss the nature of the “communicative city.” The question is: what does it mean for a city to excel at communication? Digital infrastructure? Innovative use of public spaces? Safety? Neighborhood cohesiveness, perhaps? The question is important because the foundation is keen on creating another framework by which to judge urban health and prosperity, beyond the typical economic factors. Upon first blush, the concept is nebulous. But with further contemplation, it is seems perfectly logical to insert communication in amongst issues of design, flows, and markets. Of course, communication is implicit to those issues, but by making it explicit, it potentially foregrounds the humanness of each. Designs, flows and markets, while operating within their own internal logics, have an external logic of communication. There is a grammar and syntax to each.
So, what does this all mean? What can an organization with a little bit of money do to alter the course of urbanism? It can lobby local or federal governments to promote healthy communication in cities; it can fund innovative, interdisciplinary research, that can translate to policy white papers; it can promote a certain brand of scholarship through establishing a journal or web presence. It’s an interesting dilemma, really. There is lots of great work being done on issues of urban communication, urban semiotics, etc., but there is a great need for an umbrella organization to mobilize that intellectual work towards real changes in political or cultural priorities. There are some great organizations that currently exist: most notable is the Project for Public Places. They promote place-based growth in cities. Their Great Cities initiative is making great strides to work with actual communities in promoting a certain philosophy of development. The UCF is working towards similar ends; it’s really a matter of how it can compliment work already being done.