Books on Urban Technology

This is a selection of books that helped me better understand the relationship between cities and technology.

Last updated: March 29, 2020.

Smart Cities

Amazon

Smart Cities is the first comprehensive book dedicated to urban technology that I’ve come across. In contrast to common utopian or dystopian fortune-telling, Anthony creates a balanced portrayals of cities and technology. I really appreciate that he grounds relative success of urban technologies in better understanding people and human nature, something that is at the core of my personal interest in urban fundamentals.

“If the history of city building in the last century tells us anything, it is that the unintended consequences of new technologies often dwarf their intended design…

…We need a new set of principles to guide us. These principles need to build not only on our growing scientific understanding of cities and how technology shapes and is shaped by them but also a broader appreciation of human condition and how it is changing in this first predominantly urban century.”

Rethinking Real Estate

Rethinking RE, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

This is a must-read book for people interested in the past, present, and future of cities and the real estate industry: “this is a book about the present and the future. But while writing it, we found ourselves constantly drawn to the past, particularly to the second half of the nineteenth century”.

Dror explores the evolution of retail, office, housing and lodging, logistics and industrial segments with particular focus on ways in which technology is reshaping the business. “The question during a time of rapid change is not whether value will be created, but rather how will value be created, and who will capture the bulk of it.”

Dror gracefully combines an explanation of timeless principles that has guided real estate over centuries, while providing numerous examples of emerging and yet-to-be-proven business models.

Professional Real Estate Development: The ULI Guide to the Business

ULI Bookstore, Amazon

I wish that this book was part of the curriculum when I was studying urban planning. For planners and architects alike, developers appear to be essential partners and/or clients, but they are also somewhat mythic creatures that exist in a parallel universe. There’s little conscious effort to deeply understand them and their world. Also, “them” is an inappropriate generalization, as there’re so many different types of real estate developers and approaches.

This book is written in a surprisingly cheerful and easy to digest way for beginners and experts alike. Today, it may also be useful to most urban tech and proptech startup founders and employees who want to get a better grasp on the whole industry and their partners.

How Buildings Learn

Amazon

Personally, I find How Buildings Learn to be a frustrating book. Not because I disagree with it, quite the contrary: I believe that the built environment should become reconfigurable and reusable, and buildings should seamlessly adapt to changing user needs. What frustrates me is knowing that this book has been available to every architect, developer, and researcher out there since 1987 (all my life!). Yet this approach is still considered to be novel and radical instead of common sense and practice.

Robot-Oriented Design and Robotic Industrialization

Cambrige University Press, Amazon, ThriftBooks, VitalSource

The five-part series by Bock and Linner is essentially a bible of construction robotics and industrialized construction. Where Robot Oriented Design presents a high-level overview of history and speculates on the future of construction robotics, Robotic Industrialization dives into various models of successful prefabrication implemented around the world.

With the recently increased interest in industrialized construction in the U.S., this book may be required reading for all founders and venture investors in the space. In Robotic Industrialization, the authors present detailed information about the building systems, factory set-ups, and business models that have been successful in Japan, Europe, and other parts of the world since the ‘80s.

It’s stunning just how much catching up the U.S. has to do in this regard. Reading this may help the local industry to be more humble and optimistic in knowing that all this has already been done and is possible to implement.

What Technology Wants

KK.org, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound

This book is not about cities, but it helped me change my perspective on dealing with technology. I happened to read it at a time when seemingly every urban administration was publishing “smart city masterplans” while fighting the then-nascent Uber and Airbnb. There was a prevailing sentiment that urban technology should be developed according to a top-down plan. But the reality was far from it.

Kelly examines the traits of collective humanity’s inventions (technium) across technology, arts and culture, and societal institutions as a kind of autonomous organism that we no longer fully control.

“The technium is now as great a force in our world as nature, and our response to the technium should be similar to our response to nature. And to do that successfully, we first need to understand technology’s behavior. In order to decide how to respond to technology, we have to figure out what technology wants.”

I think this book can help us learn to be more at peace in dealing with and adapting to the inevitable technological or societal changes in cities.

Co-founder Apt Buildings, Inc., previously Airbnb Samara and Asmbld