Herr Prof. Dr. Voesgen, what changes are taking place in the relationship between the physical city and its inhabitants, i.e. the relationship between body and city?
HV: New technologies are bringing about major changes to the relationship between us and our physically constructed environment. It began with the Walkman and the ability to create one’s own personal aural space. The aural space of each Walkman user is different. The next step is happening today as digital technologies emancipate us from the space we physically occupy, individualising our visual perceptions of the city. Thanks to GPS, people seeking to orientate themselves in the city do not require physical orientation references. The logic of spatial interrelationships, whether applied to cities organised around a historical centre or planned model towns, is becoming less and less significant. All destinations can be located regardless of their position.
The state capital Potsdam is cooperating as a partner; is Potsdam a digital city?
HV: Potsdam’s urban development policy puts a great emphasis on the analog city. The historical city centre is being newly constructed based on its old form. Potsdam’s policy derives its legitimacy from tradition. This asserts that historical plans, key buildings and visual relationship are so important that they must be re-constructed. All of this is based on the concept of a city as an analog space encompassing necessary interconnections between history, beauty and perception. So one topic of discussion will be the implications of building a digital city on the foundations of a contrasting analog design.
Are digital technologies changing our perception of mobility and property?
HV: The private property construct dominates the daily organisation of our lives. One has to possess everything: own an apartment, own a car, own various other items. In terms of resource usage and living practicalities, this approach cannot in the long term function to assure quality of life. Owning a private car in a major city does not make sense, and on the digital level there are a great many alternatives. Car sharing services offer optimum functionality if they are digitally managed and coordinated. A car is always available and my usage options are hardly limited at all – that means I don’t have to rely on my private property, and that is extremely smart. Digital technologies offer me the chance to experience urban mobility in a different way. On the analog side of things, an urban district also needs people who are prepared to take on responsibility for social-spatial factors and who are reachable rather than just interacting with each other anonymously online. These things belong together.
Which functions does the contemporary city have?
HV: In the digital city, the relationship between private and public environments is mixed up, and new possibilities for public life emerge. Digital co-ordination of services, goods distribution, work and leisure lessens the functional impact of social-spatial factors. This can be seen as a chance for the pressure of economic exploitation to be removed from the city and for us to win more scope to determine exactly how we want our cities to be and what is important to us. Consider movements such as urban gardening: this is an example of a broadening of the city to allow activities that have traditionally been very limited, or only possible at the city’s borders. Once again, the debate on which functions a city should have is open.