June 5, 2008
Stewart Brand, Co-Founder an President, Long Now Foundation
Venue: San Jose City Hall Council Chambers, 200 E. Santa Clara Street
Cities are remarkable organisms. They are the most long-lived of all human organizations. The oldest surviving corporations (Stora Enso in Sweden and the Sumitomo Group in Japan) are about 700 and 400 years old, respectively. The oldest universities (in Bologna and Paris) have lasted a thousand years. The oldest living religions (Hinduism and Judaism) date back about 3,500 years. But the town of Jericho has been continuously occupied for 10,500 years. Its neighbor Jerusalem has been an important city for 5,000 years, though it was conquered or destroyed 36 times and it suffered 11 conversions from one religion to another. Many cities die or decline to irrelevance, but some thrive for millennia. Perhaps one cause of their durability is that cities are the most constantly changing of organizations. In Europe, cities replace 2 to 3 percent per year of their material fabric (buildings, roads, and other construction) by demolishing and rebuilding it. This means, in effect, that a wholly new city takes shape every 50 years. In the U.S. and the developing world, that turnover occurs much faster. Increasing urbanization is accelerating the economic development of the world with remarkable speed. The consequences are going to be profound, particularly for the institutions that serve people — government agencies, corporations, and the creators of infrastructure. Although a growing number of people have noticed the change, few civic and corporate leaders are prepared to deal with it.
Throughout his career, Stewart Brand—editor, author, lecturer, and futurist—has focused on such subjects as digital media, education, and architecture. He's perhaps best known for founding the Whole Earth Catalog in 1968, and the WELL, an early precursor of MySpace, in 1984, among other pursuits.