I visited the Future Everything 2013 conference, a ‘Summit on Ideas and Innovations’ between Creative Code, Future Cities and The Data Society taking place on march 20th – 21st in Manchester/UK. As so often when talking about Smart City the approach on the topic, bottom-up versus top-down was a major discussion point during the conference. Dan Hill (http://www.fabrica.it/) as first day’s keynote speaker mentions bottom-up neighbourhoods on one and top-down government regulations on the otherside, and in a later Tweet discussion their relationship’ @MAVhugs Yes. Except my message is top-down as well as bottom-up. The answer is “both, and” – not “or”. Active both sides x synthesis.’.
Hill mentiones five examples of failures he’s worked on:
Failure 1 – ‘The Cloud’: A proposal for an observation deck for the London Olympics 2012 developed by the MIT and Arup, that was intended to be a civic scale feedback devise [smart meter display] for London.
Failure 2 – ‘UTS Broadway’: Following the ‘opaque buildings’ idea, the project is a university building that displays on the outside what’s going on on the inside.
Failure 3 – ‘Barangaroo’/Sydney: Same kind of idea as UTS, just displaying data via different sized interfaces on cityscale
Failure 4 – ‘Masdar’/Abu Dhabi: Lightning pods on a piazza collecting light during the day and enlight it during the night, announcing in that way urban events.
Failure 5 – Sydney Metro: How do you use data to convey what’s going on in real time? How do we design trains and stations in order to serve as ‘third places’?
These projects failed not because the ideas weren’t great, but what was missing was the sense of why they were there, or to quote Cedric Price: “Technology is the answer, but what’s the question?”. According to Hill the answer can be found in the bottom up approach and the cultures of decision making, because yesterday’s institutions can’t produce the necessary outcomes for tomorrow (‘We have 18th century institutions facing 21st century problems.’ M. Steinberg). He mentions the London riots in that context and their relationship to technology: The condition of physical urban space and digital social media enabled what happened, at the same time the cleaning up process organized by the government via Twitter used the same technology themselves. A more peaceful example are the ‘Open Kitchen’ restaurant days in Helsinki [http://www.facebook.com/helopenkitchen] where food pop ups sell self-cooked food out of their windows or on the streets. Those pop ups don’t have any licencse and can be considered therefore as illegal, but as far as they are organized via social media in a highly flexible way there is nothing much what the government can do about it. Citizens become active and engaged, as result the street come alive: Active citizens = smart citizens.
With all this very ‘zeitgeist’-y public actions there’s a danger thou of being distracted by ‘Hipster Urbanism’ when we talk about networked movements. It’s
important to understand the bigger picture behind such actions from the crowd, what consequences they bring up. It’s not only about selling food on the streets, it’s about the change of codes (laws!) that are hidden in the dark. In that sense, the significant change that is happening now with this bottom-up process is that government has now a competitor to it’s top-down approach to which it needs to react. The reaction can be seen in the general open-data movement that is currently going on all over the world. The act of measuring is therefore a very important part within the Smart City context: we measure and produce data for efficiency and security, to understand the city as Usman Haque points out. This situation assumes that if we have enough data, we can make the city perfect. The open-data movement leads to the assumption, if we have enough data available someone will solve the problem.
However, Haque mentions that available open data like transport or PM-salaries is just for people to let off steam, but the problem with this is that we don’t know who stands behind the data and therefore it is far from being opaque.
Anthony Townsend mentions in his keynote on the second day that there is a different notion on smart cities and that the topic is not only about design, but big business. in this relation he mentions IBM that equipped Rio de Janeiro with a top of the line control center, in order ‘to be prepared for the World Cup 2014 and the Olympics two years after’. In respect to that the question comes up, if Latin America’s largest screen can be considered to be a good measure for good government… these technologies that are implemented into government are the same that have globalized economy. In that sense government works like business. Townsend mentions the assumptions of global technology players that you can cut/paste smart city systems from one city to another on one side, and the organic, subjective bottom-up DIY approach on the other. He draws parallels to the relationship to Robert Moses’ concepts for New York from the 1950’s and the Jane Jacobs actions happening at the same time. Moses suggested building superhighways through New York (top-down) as
solution towards urban optimization that got stopped by Jacobs’ crowd-sourced approach of activating people to protest against those (bottom-up). As result New York didn’t get the highwaysystem, whereas other northamerican cities like Atlanta or Houston did (copy/paste). These actions emasculated the whole process of urban planning: it stopped planners in thinking of optimization, but more towards human designs.
In this ‘battlefield’ as Townsend calls it, mayors are actually the real heroes managing difficult tasks to get things done. They have to decide what people need and what the consequences are. It’s those mayors who get presented those ‘smartcity-packages’ developed and designed by big computer firms like IBM, Siemens, Cisco and Intel as the ultimative solution for every problem they face in their cities – but Townsend worries if technology can offer value offers in that case. In the parallel a lot of DIY, open source and crowd sourcing projects are being developed by a lot of creative inventors towards sociability, the expandation of the the range of human experience and fun. Looking back into the 1970’s we had similar kinds of movement that can be found in the”People’s Computer Company”, a computer club in California towards decentralizing computer power, or in filmplatforms (pre-youtube) established by Red Burnes in the early 1980’s. As related to smart cities from the past Townsend also mentioned Patrick geddes’ approach towards city planning. As biologist, Geddes saw the city as organic structure that evolved and adapted to its occupation where citizens needed to be mobalized to take action. “A city is not a machine, not a place in space – it is drama in time.” On the opposit Ebenezer Howard described with cutting edge technology his ‘Garden Cities’ that blew away organic structure to make place for the new approach on urban planning.
1. opt-in to smart:
2. roll your own network:
3. build a web, not an operating system
4. extended public ownership
5. transparent models
6. graceful failure – electric power
7. build locally, trade globally
8. cross-train designers (!!!)
Most important point: A new kind of professional is needed within the fields of science and culture. In order to do so, we need to cross train people in those
9. think long-term in real-time
10 crowd source with care
11. connect everyone
12. sound urban science
Geoffrey West ‘solved the city’ – You get double plus 15% of everthing if you double inhabitants of a city.
13. slow data – hipster idea
The copy/paste idea got discussed more at the debate later on. Townsend asks how much of the smart city can we make to measure & how much do we need to leave bespoke? He mentions that setting up the technique is easy (free wifi for New York project), the difficult part is dealing with the community and local conditions. Overall, 20% of the project budget goes towards technical equipment, the remaining 80% to local adaptions -> these 20% we can copy/paste, the rest not. (Lean Doode from Arup mentions the opposit later…).