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Ranga Yogeshwar at the Opening Week 2020: "Cities are not equal“

2020-10-06 The physicist and science journalist Ranga Yogeshwar was the keynote speaker on the third day of the Opening Week. The first-semester students had the opportunity to discuss the future of cities with him online.

Ranga Yogeshwar had a discussion with first semester students. ©Leuphana / Sokolis
Ranga Yogeshwar had a discussion with first semester students.

The darker the squares on the map of Chicago are, the more corona deaths there were in these parts of the city. It is noticeable that the squares are not evenly distributed over the city area. They cumulate in quarters of higher economic uncertainty and show Ranga Yogeshwar above all: "Cities are not equal." The Corona crisis has highlighted differences in various places. The science journalist shows pictures of two houses: a villa with a large garden and an apartment building without balconies. The lockdown may have applied to everyone, but it was probably experienced differently depending on the living situation. 

Ranga Yogeshwar lists the names of Chinese cities that probably only a few of the 1400 first-semester students listening to the physicist online know: Shenzhen, for example, generates the economic output of Sweden; Guanchu is comparable to Switzerland. Pictures of Cairo show the high level of air pollution over the city, while Berlin has many green spaces and only a few high-rise buildings. The Shibuya cossing in Tokyo is different: outside Corona, it is crossed daily by around 500,000 people. But not without observing rules, such as the crosswalk they cross. Traffic lights and road signs are present in every city: "Cities are not places of liberties. Everywhere we have restrictions," explains Ranga Yogeshwar. 

For the physicist, digital innovation is closely linked to urban development: "The digital age is not only changing us, but also our cities.“ He believes that shopping in cities could change dramatically and reports on a store of a large online retailer in downtown San Francisco. Although everything there looks like a normal store, there are no checkouts. All purchases are recorded and paid for digitally via an app. Staff is hardly needed anymore. Even the future of large shopping malls is questionable for Yogeshwar. Since the beginning of the Corona pandemic, even more people would order online. The digital age could therefore influence the topology of cities. Yogeshwar reports on the construction of an office building in Munich, which has now been reduced in size by half. In a digitalized world, it makes little sense for people to lose two hours a day in a traffic jam or on a suburban train, only to sit in an office in front of a laptop. 

Ranga Yogeshwar also discussed the pros and cons of data collection within the population with the students: "Data collection has a lot of good, you can plan a lot of things," the science journalist answered a student's question. On the other hand, artificial intelligence would hardly respect privacy. In China, people accepted a high level of data collection because it made them feel more secure. In Germany, on the other hand, there was already a lot of discussion about the Corona app. However, the attitude towards data collection is changing here as well when it comes to one's own security. Yogeshwar, for example, referred to pub visits that would no longer be possible during the Corona pandemic without leaving your own address. The situation is similar with payment. More and more people are doing this cashlessly in Corona times because it is desired: "We are entering an age where this digital grammer is coming global.”