Feral Cities

A trawl through del.icio.us links today led me to a blog that was new to me at least, Varnelis.net, run by Kazys Varnelis, director of the Network Architecture Lab at Columbia University.

Of particular interest was the latest entry, on the emergence of feral cities written by Richard Norton of the Naval War College in 2003.  Norton defines a feral city as one that has a metropolitan characteristics in terms of size and population, but exists in a place where social order and civil authority have essentially broken down. It may have some commercial and technological linkages to the outside world, but in effect is a vacuum and in decay and disorder. Interestingly, Norton writes the article about the future emergence of such a city (though one could argue places like Mogadishu were already in this phase), but in the intervening years between 2003 and now, we have essentially seen the emergence of several--Baghdad outside the Green Zone for example.

This is an interesting counterpoint to the focus this blog takes on the emergence of cities and other places as "smart" environments, either in the positive aspect providing a better quality of life and social value to its users and inhabitants, and the negative, where smartness is directed largely at command and control of users and inhabitants.

In the 21st century, we are seeing cities moving in both directions - some toward decay and lack of control, and some toward a higher level of sophistication. One could argue that focusing on the latter leaves an opportunity for the former to be created.