Student Research Highlight - UH Manoa DURP - Spring 2023

This UH Manoa Department of Urban and Regional Planning (DURP) Student Research Highlight piece focuses on Manu Mei-Singh's capstone study that explores the role of technology in community planning. A summary Manu prepared of his capstone as well as information on his background are included below. 

Readers may obtain a copy of Manu's capstone by emailing him at

The Ups and Downs of Technology and Community Planning

Capstone Summary

By Manu Mei-Singh, May 2023

Whether you're a community organizer, city planner or a student; technology has changed how we work. It has changed how people live and move in communities with other humans, animals and the environment. It’s also changing the way “little-d” democracy and national “big-D” Democracy are being practiced. To some, the more egalitarian future is already here. To others it’s the-same-ole-situation. We have self-driving cars, yet we can’t seem to solve the crisis of houseless-ness. A.I. technologies have made it easier than ever to be open to change, and yet it seems like we are closing doors all the time. Some of you may disagree with me, others may agree with me. Regardless of your position, technology is part of our lives and helps manage our participation in various societies as well as help us enact our rights as citizens.

For my capstone research, I looked at various case studies like The Progressive Coders Network, NYC Mesh, The Detroit Community Technology Project and others to see how these organizations are using technology to leverage community organizing, community based planning, and building community power against corporations as well as capitalism. I also looked at where the organizations have coupled with state and city authorities to create monopolies on the usage and management of technologies including, Wi-Fi, citizen data and participation tools like Zoom. The organizations that I interviewed are building community-based models of governance and usage of technology. For instance, NYC Mesh is building its own community-based Wi-FI networks in New York City. These organizations also seem to be interested in tools that are open source and community driven – and though they may not be as pretty as other for-profit tools – they have a growing community around them.

Though I don’t have answers to what the future will look like, I hope my work can help us ask questions such as:

  • Do planners and community organizers have the tools and knowledge to understand how to move forward consciously with technology?
  • How do we build tech literacy in our cities and communities when we feel so much intimidation to use these tools?
  • How do we reconcile that the production of these tools are actively shaping and sometimes even destroying communities and their relationships to their ancestral lands? These activities include the mining of rare metals needed in the production of cellphones, tablets, and electric vehicle batteries.
  • Do these technologies give us an opportunity to transform what urban planning and the field of planning could look like? For instance, how can technology be used to further connect the planner to the community and land they signed up to steward?

And finally, what does all this technology mean for you and how you view the stewardship of communities and space?

Manu Mei-Singh

Manu Mei-Singh got their Masters in Urban and Rural Planning from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, 2022. Their planning work is at the intersection of technology and planning to think and help imagine what various binary (such as utopian and dystopian) futures could look like through writing, art and software.

Their website: and their email: