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Imagining the future of cities at Ars Electronica

Updated: Sep 29, 2021

How would humans live when 100% of the planet's population eventually becomes urbanised? When there are no such things as 'cities', because urban processes have taken over the entire planet?

To ponder this question, the Future Catalysts programme invited artists, scientists, entrepreneurs, activists and educators to the largest digital arts festival in the world hosted annually by Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria.

Image 1. The Ars Electronica 2015 digital arts festival focuses on life after "cities".

I was selected as one of the Future Catalysts who spent a week in Linz discussing the sub-theme 'Future of Resilience'. As the only Catalyst from the Global South in the cohort and drawing from my work as a humanitarian after Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), I raised resilience issues revolving around inequality across countries, poverty, and climate change and disaster.

Image 2. Our diverse Future Catalysts cohort.

We had the opportunity to hold vibrant conversations in breakout groups and as a plenary group. Our programme's venue was the old post office of Linz, which the organisers transformed into a marvellous garden-exhibit hall. The spaces assigned to us were well-designed and perfect for imagining post-city futures.I had an immense time brainstorming urban scenarios and possible human futures in the decades to come with an interesting and diverse group of people.

Image 3. One of our breakout sessions... not sure why I Iook so serious! Photo credit: Ars Electronica.

We culminated our programme with plenary group presentations addressing individual challenges. Our group introduced the idea of a 'Post-City Bar', which is both a physical and virtual space that would encourage socialisation and hopefully foster empathy not only among people living in the same area but with those in Post-City bars across the world.

Image 4. Our plenary hall, where we hold our major individual and group presentations. Photo credit: Ars Electronica.

Image 5. Our group's final presentation on our Post-City Bar idea. Photo credit: Ars Electronica.

Image 6. Myself and bio-artist Maja Smrekar [Slovenia] sharing a light moment in a plenary session. Image credit: Ars Electronica.

There were SIX warehouses full of exhibits -in addition to Ars Electronica itself- for multiple fields: human rights, fashion, theatre (kabuki robots!), 3D printing, food technology, architecture, mobility, etc. I would try to suss out a new exhibit in between the day's last session and festival closing time, but there was just so much to see. I don't think I even managed to see 10% of what was there. The ones I did catch that were within or close to our exhibition and conference venue were amazing.

Image 7. This robot can do kabuki. Image credit: Pamela Cajilig.

Image 8. The rights of refugees was a common theme across several exhibits. Image credit: Pamela Cajilig.

One of my favourite features of the festival hub was a large wall where fellows and visitors could post random ideas for future habitation. I would visit it everyday to see how the collection of ideas expanded as more visitors arrived.

Image 9. A wall overflowing with ideas for 21st Century habitation. Image credit: Pamela Cajilig.

I will definitely go back to the Ars Electronica Festival- this time as a visitor so I can see all the exhibits!

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