Episode 45: The Future of Cities w/Bas Boorsma

16 February, 2021 / Host: MAGNUS BILLGREN

Exploring the Transformative Power of Technology and Design

When reflecting on my journey in product management, one moment stands out vividly in my memory, leading a company's digital transformation. This experience opened my eyes to the power of product management in shaping the future; it became apparent that simply developing exceptional products wasn't enough, we needed a paradigm shift in our approach to product management. Through this transformative journey, it dawned on me that product management is more than just problem-solving in the present; it is about building bridges to the future.
One individual who exemplifies the profound impact of future-oriented thinking is Bas Boorsma. Boorsma, a professor at Thunderbird School of Management and former director for smart cities and innovation at Cisco, is at the forefront of planning and creating the cities of tomorrow. His expertise and insights provide invaluable guidance in navigating the future of urban landscapes. With his unique perspective as someone straddling the line between an industrial past and a digital future, Boorsma sheds light on the profound changes that cities have experienced throughout history and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

The Ever-Evolving Role of Cities

Cties have always been epicenters of progress, cultural exchange, and economic development. They have served as melting pots of ideas, where diverse communities converge, shaping the destiny of societies. However, the advent of each industrial revolution has brought about seismic shifts in the urban landscape. It is not merely technology that defines the trajectory of cities but the way these technologies enable new products, services, design models, cultural values, and societal changes.
With the ongoing fourth industrial revolution, often referred to as the "Digital Revolution," the concept of the smart city has emerged. However, the term "smart city" has become somewhat of a buzzword, encompassing a wide range of ideas and innovations. Boorsma argues that it is crucial to revisit and redefine the role of cities in our future. 

The Power of Networking and Distributed Systems

Boorsma emphasizes that the evolution of cities is not solely driven by technology but by the fundamental transformation of relationships and the way society organizes itself. He points to the early roots of the internet, originating from a decentralized military communication network designed to withstand attacks. This resilient grid network eventually gave rise to the internet as we know it today and the pervasive influence of networking and distributed systems; extending their impact beyond technology and into various domains such as education, transportation, and energy.
Drawing from examples like the transition from traditional encyclopedias to Wikipedia and the disruption caused by ride-sharing platforms like Uber, Boorsma illustrates how these shifts have affected cities. He notes the transformation of energy networks from centralized power plants to smart grids that integrate renewable energy sources and enable more efficient consumption. These advancements foreshadow the emergence of an "internet of energy" and the potential for fundamental changes in how cities manage resources.

Distributedness and its Implications for Urban Life

The trend toward distributedness is not limited to technological advancements but permeates every aspect of urban life. Relationships, power structures, trust dynamics, and even the concept of reputation have experienced significant shifts. For example, Uber drivers whose reputations influence passenger decisions, highlighting the potential for digital reputation systems to reshape the economy.

Moreover, the increasing virtualization and simulation of urban experiences have brought elements of city life to individuals regardless of their physical location. Entertainment, shopping, and even work have become more distributed, enabling people to engage with urban environments remotely. Boorsma suggests that this trend toward virtualized cities will continue to progress, transforming the way we think about spatial planning and redefining traditional concepts such as commuting and parking.

Cities: Timeless Hubs of Connectivity

As technology continues to reshape our world, the boundaries of urban influence are expanding. Cities are becoming increasingly untethered from specific locations, blurring the distinction between urban and non-urban environments. Boorsma introduces the idea of "placelessness," where the essence of cities can be experienced regardless of physical proximity.

He highlights the emergence of the 15-minute neighborhood concept during the COVID-19 pandemic, where critical services and amenities are within a 15-minute walk, promoting sustainability and enhancing quality of life. Additionally, he envisions a future where buildings incorporate residential notations, transforming the way people live and work within urban environments. Urban farming also takes center stage, as he predicts a shift toward industrialized models that integrate green spaces into the fabric of cities.

As cities continue to evolve, a blend of adaptive, resilient, and regenerated cities will define the urban landscape of the future. Boorsma acknowledges the hybridization of capitalism through platform economies and as-a-service models, highlighting the transformative potential of these models in shaping cities. He also emphasizes the importance of sustainability and green initiatives, asserting that environmental consciousness must be an integral part of urban planning and design.


  • The concept of cities is evolving in the digital age, with technology and design playing a pivotal role in reshaping urban landscapes.
  • Distributed systems and adaptive planning approaches are transforming cities, enabling greater resilience, sustainability, and livability.
  • The future of cities lies in creating connected, inclusive, and environmentally conscious urban environments that prioritize the well-being and happiness of citizens.
As we explore the future of cities and the transformative power of technology and design, it becomes evident that innovative solutions and forward-thinking approaches are essential in shaping the urban landscapes of tomorrow. This paradigm shift extends beyond cities themselves and into various fields, including the realm of product management. Just as cities need visionary leaders to guide their transformation, so too does the world of product management require professionals who can navigate the ever-changing landscape of technology and consumer demands.

With a focus on real-world case studies, industry best practices, and hands-on exercises, The Productbeats Product Management Certification Program covers a wide range of topics essential to mastering the art of product management. From market research and product ideation to agile development methodologies and effective product launches, participants will gain a deep understanding of the entire product lifecycle.

just as cities are undergoing a transformation to meet the demands of the future, the field of product management requires individuals who can lead innovation and drive success in a rapidly changing landscape. The Productbeats Product Management Certification Program offers the tools, knowledge, and community needed to thrive in this dynamic field, empowering you to make a meaningful impact and shape the products and services of tomorrow.
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