H+: So what is “Cities on the Edge”?
Waldemar: Cities on the Edge is a sourcebook for the role-playing game Transhuman Space, published by Steve Jackson Games and written by noted transhumanist Anders Sandberg and I. The primary purpose of the book is to give Transhuman Space players good entertainment, but some of the best entertainment also makes you think about important issues. We also wanted to make the book accessible for readers uninterested in role-playing games or the setting.
H+: Tell us a little about the game.
Waldemar: Humanity is now a city-dwelling race, having hastily sped through the Industrial Age into something tentatively titled the Information Age.
In the last century, some cities have died but many more have been born, and yet the future of the city remains uncertain. Like their inhabitants, cities are evolving into something new—but no one yet knows what!
Is the future a wilderness dotted by giant arcologies . . . or a sprawl of meme-tailored metavillages? Will sapient cities be the next step in evolution? Or will messy, inefficient and creative cities adapt to house whatever clades emerge in the transhuman future?
H+: The focus on cities, in this kind of future, is interesting. It’s not clear that cities would even exist, is it?
Waldemar: Indeed our main question is: what are cities actually good for? When economic opportunity is not location-specific and suburbs, metavillages and “new cities” offer pleasant, smaller-scale living without the crowds, crime and chaos, why would humanity still live in cities?
Possibly it’s because cities enable unexpected meetings. The inhabitants of a suburb are typically of the same species, similar social status and share the same memes. Even in an arcology, it would be easy to meet only similar people. In a city, the opposite is true—inhabitants meet people with different lifestyles every day. It is difficult to maintain the illusion that everyone is like oneself. This is both frightening and exhilarating. It generates creative conflicts.
We wanted to cover the conflicts regarding the introduction of new technologies and how ideas will influence the way they are adopted by society. Another central conflict is the theme of sustainability versus resilience. Are we to build perfect systems vulnerable to failure or systems that may fail but have an easier time recuperating?
Cities on the Edge did see some delay. Science and ideas change over time and when we wrote it, we were influenced by New Urbanism and urban studies expert Richard Florida’s idea of the creative class. If we were to rewrite it, we probably would have used more ideas
H+: But you already do explore a wide variety of possibilities, it seems. Rather than focusing on one particular future as most likely, let alone inevitable.
Waldemar: True … in Cities on the Edge, we assumed that there is no straight line to the future. Attentive readers will notice how our descriptions hint at developments, ideas and technologies that fell out of the way during the setting’s development. That leaves out some of the understanding of the present; sometimes the losers do write history.
Straight lines are often assumed in planning, with scenarios being built on examining one factor. Cities have often not been built for the people who will ultimately live there, but for the people the developers wished would live there. Developments might also become affected by ideas such as utilitarianism, with city developers substituting “what works” in place of “what sounds good.”
We try to reflect this in Cities on the Edge, presenting a different take on how scenario planning could be done, by playing it through and allowing for both sufficiently good or merely diverse outcomes.