Many designs for the workplace have used the urban metaphor to describe and envision ways of use and behavior – "Main Street" as the major circulation aisles through a space, "Town Square" as a way to envision and activate an atrium space, "neighborhoods" to imply component scale and identity of smaller groups within the whole. We've been skeptical of the benefit of this kind of terminology. Applied formalism overlooks the purposes and activities of people in the organization and overlays a lazy fantasy about the organization of the workplace.
When designing for the workplace, we seek ways to allow or support a significant amount of self-organization. The idea is that people, given certain resources or freed from specific constraints, will find way to organize and to use space that best supports what they are trying to achieve. The workplace we design is neither a blank slate nor a fixed and defined thing, but is a set of well-described and designed resources that can be used and arrayed as needed. For example, we like the concept of a resource-rich platform to support people in projects focused on purpose.
Now, in something of a reverse flow, thinking about the workplace may influence thinking about the city. Y-Combinator, the famous Silicon Valley startup accelerator, has initiated a project to design new cities. Recognizing that the supply of cities is dwindling, or that many cities will simply become too large, or that the natural resource basis for cities is not linger essential, Y-Combinator seeks ideas for the design of new cities. (Link)
Its question set sounds a lot like our workplace programming themes –
What should a city optimize for?
How should we measure the effectiveness of a city (what are its KPIs)?
What values should (or should not) be embedded in a city's culture?
How can cities help more of their residents be happy and reach their potential?
How can we encourage a diverse range of people to live and work in the city?
How should citizens guide and participate in government?
How can we make sure a city is constantly evolving and always open to change?
The concept of starting with the idea of a city that is not constrained by an authoritarian master plan, not regulated by single-purpose zoning, not promoted as a marketer's vision but instead originating from thinking about the purposes and experiences of space seems like a great idea.
(Y-Combinator's quick disclaimer is interesting: Just to get ahead of the inevitable associations: We want to build cities for all humans - for tech and non-tech people. We’re not interested in building “crazy libertarian utopias for techies.”)