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Third Los Angeles Project

City on Demand: Technology and the New Shape of American Urbanism

Third LA’s April 26 exploration of how digital technology and the sharing economy may be changing the way cities are designed and experienced raised more questions than it answered – a reflection of the rapidly shifting intersection of urban policy and the modern economy.

Cities like Los Angeles need to take an active approach and integrate technology and its impact into decision-making, said Ashley Hand, transportation technology strategist at the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. “Every city has tons of regulations about taxis, but didn’t know what to do with [ridesharing services] Uber and Lyft. We need to eliminate some of these barriers to innovation,” Hand said.

On the other side of the equation, tech companies want to play a useful role “but are blind to externalities -- blind to the fact that the way [technology] is used in each community is different and the impact it will have is different,” said Emily Castor, director of transportation policy for Lyft. “We won’t always agree, but if there is a baseline of humility and dialogue I think there is a way to get there.”

Engineers seeking seamless solutions that eliminate the messiness of human existence are taking the wrong approach – “We want the mess,” said Maria Bustillos, a Los Angeles-based critic and journalist. “All these conversations seem to revolve around tech and business needs, not human needs. We should be asking, not telling.”

South L.A. community organizer and CicLAvia board member Tafarai Bayne agreed.  “What does it mean to create platforms that everyone can get value from, and that produce equity?” Bayne asked. “Most of my friends, as they try to have kids, have a story to tell about moving out of city core. That’s telling about what’s happening with access.”