TEDx talks cities

Keller Easterling, architect, urbanist, writer and teacher, was one of four speakers at TEDxYale’s first event of the year.
Keller Easterling, architect, urbanist, writer and teacher, was one of four speakers at TEDxYale’s first event of the year. Photo by Rishabh Bhandari.

In its first event of the year, TEDxYale hosted four speakers who explained their visions for the future of cities.

TEDxYale — the University’s chapter of the global TED program — hosted a conference Saturday on the theme of “Cities 2.0.” Four speakers discussed for over an hour total how the audience could shape the cities of tomorrow, briefly participating in a question and answer portion after they finished.
TED awards a $100,000 prize each year to an individual or idea that can best use the prize money and inevitable accompanying media attention to further one cause. This year’s winning idea was “Cities 2.0,” and TED recommended that TEDx chapters should “pursue the topic of the future city” to celebrate the idea, said Grier Barnes ’14, who co-curated the conference.

This year is TEDxYale’s second on campus, and the organization wanted to “start the year with something pretty big” that would not overshadow their main conference in February, according to Paul Fletcher-Hill ’15, the other co-curater.

Yale Sustainable Food Project Director Mark Bomford, the first speaker of the afternoon, spoke of how today’s cities are “alarmingly disconnected” from where their food comes, explaining that society’s food “comes from a global everywhere and nowhere.” Urban agriculture is one way we can combat these issues, Bomford said, adding that reconnecting to farms can “avail us of all the social ills that have been plaguing the urbanized environment.”

The second speaker of the afternoon was architecture professor Keller Easterling, who said that “repeatable formulas” of urban systems make most of the urban environments we are accustomed to in the world. Architecture and urban planning can design systems to handle systems, she said, citing the example of a “free zone” that has been utilized across the globe.

Madeline Yozwiak ’14, the third speaker, spoke about her frustration with small-scale activism.

“Our generation knows what it’s like to grow up scared. With all our problems in our world, we have this sense that our future won’t be as bright as those of our parents,” Yozwiak said. “The worst part is that even when we stand up, we can end up feeling more hopeless than when we started.”

Her frustration ended, however, when she came across a magazine article detailing the UN’s Millennium Villages Project. She realized the project could be used as a scalable model. As the president of Project Bright, a group that promotes and actively installs solar panels across campus, she said she sees the group as a way for students to get involved for the sake of getting involved.

The final speaker, Carnegie Mellon Professor Norman Sadeh, explained how technologies like Twitter and Foursquare are helping society better understand cities. By tracking where people tweet from and check-in on Foursquare, Sadeh’s research team “can better understand the social dynamics, structure and character of cities.”

After the talk, three students interviewed said that they liked the conference, particularly the final speaker. One student, though, did not agree with the breadth of the talks.

“I understand that [the TEDx talk] was about the city of the future, but it didn’t seem particularly coherent,” Paul Froese SOM ’13 said, adding that the four speakers didn’t address one another’s concerns. He also said that most of what the speakers said was “generic” knowledge, but he added he was impressed with Sadeh’s talk.

Organizers, however, said they were happy with how the conference went, selling over 150 tickets, according to Fletcher-Hill.

“I think attendance was a little disappointing but we scheduled this event during Parents’ Weekend,” TEDx Yale graphic designer Glorianna Tillemann-Dick ’14 said. “Nevertheless I think we did a great job of getting this together and we’re really pleased with how this went.”

TEDxYale will host their major conference of the year on Feb. 23.

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