Social Cities of Tomorrow 2012 – Project Showcase

Canal Jordaan Amsterdam

Canal Jordaan Amsterdam

The Mobile City and Virtueel Platform organised a workshop and conference titled Social Cities of Tomorrow. The program took place during the week of February 13-17. It was a great event in every way from organisation to the keynote speakers to presentations of different social media projects from throughout the world. Not only that, but it was fun and there were lots of great people doing great work to meet.

This post describes the projects described at the conference. I describe the Social Cities of Tomorrow Keynotes and Social Cities of Tomorrow Workshops on other posts.

Showcase Projects

Cafe 't Smalle Amsterdam

Cafe ‘t Smalle Amsterdam

One of the very nice things about the Social Cities of Tomorrow conference was that there were three blocks of about 20-minutes each for a series of presentations on ideas for using new technology to create communities to solve complex issues (the conference theme). These blocks gave us time to see a wide variety of innovative ideas. It was hard to keep the schedule, but the organisers and presenters did a very nice job with this too.

The projects were chosen from a large number of submissions (I wish I had known about this earlier because I would have submitted my project!). This post presents my summary of the projects presented.

Flying into Amsterdam, buildings.

Flying into Amsterdam, buildings.

Sorry for not mentioning all the names of developers, many of these projects were developed by several groups, my goal is to simply give a quick overview (and my opinions!), all developer information is available on the Social Cities of Tomorrow Workshops page).

  • Apps for Amsterdam, a program similar to those organised in many cities that encourage independent application developers to create applications to help improve the city. Like Vienna (German) one of the most popular applications was designed to help people find the nearest public toilet. The program faces many of the same issues as other cities, such as how to keep these applications updated. More at appsforamsterdam.
  • Instant Master Planning, Vollsmose Denmark – A very large social housing area built during the 1950s needs to involve their community in planning for the future. The area’s population is very  young and diverse (over 80 countries represented), and it seemed to be less affluent than the neighboring city. The project consisted of using GPS tracking of activities to identify activity patterns (voluntary) and using SMS to send ideas for improving the area planning. Both ideas were designed to increase participation by people not normally involved in the planning process. It’s a work in progress but lots of interesting results and it seems to have succeeded in increasing social participation.
  • Network Lab, a combination of several partners including TU Delft (which must have an exceptional program in social media given the number of excellent projects and staff attending the conference), ARCHIS and Smart in Public. The project they described was to help increase participation in developing ideas for the NDSM area of Amsterdam (where the 2011 PICNIC conference was held!). They have developed a system for tagging all types of objects (physical, human, environmental, etc.) to help organise information in the planning process. Another work in progress, but seems to have real potential.
  • URBANIso, a really interesting idea developed by Joshua Noble and Mac Oosthuizen that is designed to help explain what data urban sensors are collecting and where the sensors are. These are little signs that are placed on the sensors or nearby (with indication of where the sensor is in relation to the sign) that tell people what data is being collected and a barcode that takes you to a website with the sensor data feed and/or more information. This is a great idea for increasing the amount of sensor data available to developers and making the city more legible for everyone.
  • Amsterdam Wastelands, there is a surprisingly large amount of vacant land in and around Amsterdam (partly delayed redevelopment due to the economic crisis) and Amsterdam Wastelands wants to encourage temporary use of this land in a very crowded city. They sponsored one of the workshop efforts (Team 1 project). One idea is to use social media applications to identify and implement temporary uses for currently vacant space. They have developed a common database of this information and geocoded it on a google map. Others can add information and ideas. Here’s the website, it’s in Dutch but you can get the idea.
Cafe de Pels in Amsterdam

Cafe de Pels in Amsterdam

  • Give me back my broken night, the title is from text in the Leonard Cohen song Future, this “thing” was an interactive theater performance (in London), where the audience assembled in a theater, were given a small video projector to hang around their neck and a blank piece of paper, they left the theater and then each received a phone call on their handy (cell phone) from one of the “actors” who told them where to walk giving them information as they went, and then images of the future were projected on the blank piece of paper they held in front of them. At one point audience members described their ideas for the future and an artist in the theater drew this on a tablet and this image was also displayed via the projector to the audience member. Everyone returned back to the theater and compared ideas and drawings. Really, really cool use of technology and art. My description does not do justice to it, check the video: Give me back my broken night 2010 video.
  • HomelessSMS, another project with multiple developers including Ohyoon Kwon (TU Delft) and Will Brayne. Quite a neat idea: use SMS to try to help homeless people. It surprised me to learn that 70% of homeless people in London have cell phones (at least that’s what this team found in a quick survey). The team worked with social services agencies in London and a small group of homeless people to test several ideas for using SMS to help homeless get help and information. They used twitter to broadcast information four times a day to everyone in the program and then responded to SMS posts from the homeless persons. I talked with Ohyoon after the conference and as we talked I just began to see more and more potential for the idea: perhaps a way to connect homeless people with those who would like to help, but have trouble connecting physically due to being turned-off by hygiene etc., use the system to send vouchers for services (e.g. like money transfer via SMS in Kenya), etc. There are several similar projects underway in one of them a homeless person was able to re-connect with a child they had lost contact with. I think that this idea really has potential and plan on sending it to colleagues in San Francisco where it might be really useful. (By the way Ohyoon told me he will need a visa to stay in the EU after graduating from TU Delft, he’s exactly the type of innovative guy we should be encouraging to stay!) More on the HomelessSMS website.
Amsterdam Tulip Museum

Amsterdam Tulip Museum

  • Urban Revitalization with Social Capital, Karli Scott, a student at Cornell University, presented results of several projects she worked on in upstate New York, a region hard hit by economic problems over the last 50-years (especially interesting for me since I grew up in another Rustbelt city Buffalo NY). Karli talked about the techniques she used to identify problem and opportunities in Utica and Rochester NY. The quite awful economic conditions in these Rustbelt cities were starkly illustrated when Karli described a natural waterfall (!!!) on a relatively large river in an underutilized area near the center of Rochester which was being considered for redevelopment: how many cities and developers in other places would jump on such an opportunity?
  • Koppelklek, Kars Alfrink from Hubbub presented this urban game. The project consisted of asking people in this economically depressed neighborhood of Utrecht to participate in a game where they needed to take photos (with their mobile phones) with another person. Points were give for the number of different people they had photos with, and extra points were given for photos in different situations (e.g. photo with a number in it). The game ran for three weeks and was designed to get people in the neighborhood to socialize with each other. Photos were shown on line and displayed in vacant shop windows. The project had an office in a vacant space in the neighborhood and held a series of real events too. It sounds like a neat way to generate some activity in a neighborhood. Kars presented some lessons learned including: (1) finish the game design before you start marketing it, and (2) they marketed the game generally, it might be better to have targeted a special group and then used them to market it more generally. More details on Koppelklek.
Playing with water in Amsterdam

Playing with water in Amsterdam

  • Screens in the wild, Ava Fatah from The Bartlett School (UCL) described this project which consists of working with a London neighbourhood about programming for a series of large display screens which are being installed for the Olympics and will be a legacy of the games. It’s a work in progress and she described the problems of working with people like shopkeepers who think the screens should just be for advertising, others who think they should be just like large iPads, and she described the various ways people passing by interact with the screens (most pay no attention!). More details on the Screens in the wild project.
  • Urbanflow and City Tickets, Mayo Nissen from Urbanscale presented these two projects via a video that made him look like big brother from 1984 … but it really looked cool. Urbanflow is a project for using large screens in cities to provide information, again the idea is that the applications and display information is designed specifically for the large screens in the urban environment, rather than a generic large iPad experience. It’s been implemented in Helsinki and Urbanscale continues to work on the idea. City Tickets is a project designed to use the infrastructure provided by on street parking ticket printers to print other types of information, e.g. information about the area, or suggestion forms for people to identify problems in the area (which they fill out in writing and mail to the city). Urbanscale is a really innovative design studio doing great work, it was really nice to learn more about these two useful projects.

More Social CIties of Tomorrow Keynotes and Social Cities of Tomorrow Workshops.

Social Cities of Tomorrow 2012 – Workshops

Flying into Amsterdam

Flying into Amsterdam

The Mobile City and Virtueel Platform organized a workshop and conference titled Social Cities of Tomorrow. The program took place during the week of February 13-17. It was a great event in every way from organisation to the keynote speakers to presentations of different social media projects from throughout the world. Not only that, but it was fun and there were lots of great people doing great work to meet.

This post describes the workshop results. I describe the Social Cities of Tomorrow Keynotes and Social Cities of Tomorrow Project Showcase on other posts.


The workshops consisted of four groups of people from throughout Europe trying to apply social media techniques to real world planning problems. The format of placing 5-7 people from different backgrounds, who don’t know one another beforehand, together to solve real problems can lead to some interesting ideas and this was also true here. The teams presented their projects at a special presentation on February 16 (and also an abbreviated version at the conference).

Amsterdam Runstraat canal bridge

Bikes on the Amsterdam Runstraat canal bridge

Three of the four projects were essentially redevelopment projects that needed help in one way or another. The workshops are described in detail at Social Cities of Tomorrow Workshops.

Team 1: TEMPLot

Team 1: TEMPLot took up the challenge of what to do with land that was scheduled for redevelopment but the redevelopment was delayed due to the economic crisis. The city of Amsterdam owns the land and the “client” wanted to find a way to do something with the empty land temporarily (5 – 10 years) while they wait for the economy to bounce back. Team 1 developed ideas for a series of applications that the client could use to auction off land parcels and create a community out of the temporary settlement (bulletin board, messaging, land auction, etc.).

Team 1 also developed several interesting on the ground planning ideas such as the idea that 25% of the rented land must be devoted to some sort of “community” purpose. For example four parcel renters could pool their community land shares and create a common swimming pool area. This idea was designed to foster a sense of community, a key goal of the entire social cities of tomorrow project.

Team 2: The Hague Industrial Area

Team 2 had the challenge of involving the public in redevelopment planning of an old industrial area in The Hague. Many redevelopment plans have been prepared for this area, but the economic crisis has prevented them from being built. But also, most of these plans simply bulldoze the area although it current houses lots of small businesses. Of course the people living and working in the area don’t trust the planners anymore and there is little dialogue. Team 2 developed a series of ideas for building trust and improving communications. Importantly they came up with ideas for real as well as virtual platforms for discussion (quite important here since many of the people are not into high tech social networking, some don’t even have internet service).

One quite cool idea developed by Team 2 was the “Lunch Bus”. This would be a bus that served lunch and allowed people to discuss plans for the area in a real and non-formal way. For example the latest plans could be drawn on table cloths, people could mark them up etc. The information would later be placed on line for everyone to see. Local government planners would also attend these lunches to answer questions and provide assistance. Since I am a big lunch fan, this idea really appealed to me!

More details for teams 1 & 2 from the Social Cities of Tomorrow workshop reports part 1.

Team 3: Endhoven Phillips Plant

Team 3 had the challenge of a redevelopment area in Endhoven which was a former Phillips Electronics plant. The area is being redeveloped into a mixed-use area for creative types, but they want to increase the amount of social activity in the area to make it more attractive and interesting.

Team 3’s idea was to make the area a “play space” (my word) using games to encourage social engagement. They developed ideas for an application that would allow people to:

  • propose ideas for projects in the area
  • negotiate with others about the projects
  • get support from others about the projects<
  • assist in implementing the projects

The basic idea was to apply gamification techniques to the process of holding events and projects in the space. The idea needs development, but the client is interested in working with the team to explore the option further – a real success I would say!

Team 4: Amsterdam Civic Innovation Network

Team 4 had the least concrete challenge: how to help the Amsterdam Civic Innovative Network increase participation by residents in suggestion innovative ideas for improving the city. The team explored many ideas and identified many problems with the current structure. For example the difficult in sustaining programs that provide feedback to project participants and updating of applications developed through things like hack-a-thons.

Team 4’s products were less developed than the other teams, but they succeeded in raising the important issues and I think that their work will be helpful to the city of Amsterdam as they work to improve their social media and involvement process. By the way, it seems to me that Amsterdam has an excellent program already, and just the fact that this type of conference and work is being done in Amsterdam says a great deal about the city’s openness to new ideas.

More details for teams 3 & 4 from the Social Cities of Tomorrow workshop reports part 2.

Social Cities of Tomorrow Conference 2012

See also Social Cities of Tomorrow Keynotes and Social Cities of Tomorrow Project Showcase.

Social Cities of Tomorrow Conference 2012

Cafe Rooie Nelis in Jordaan District in Amsterdam

Cafe Rooie Nelis in Jordaan District in Amsterdam

The Mobile City and Virtueel Platform organised a workshop and conference titled Social Cities of Tomorrow. The program took place during the week of February 13-17. It was a great event in every way from organisation to the keynote speakers to presentations of different social media projects from throughout the world. Not only that, but it was fun and there were lots of great people doing great work to meet.

See also my posts: Social Cities of Tomorrow Project Showcase and Social Cities of Tomorrow Workshops.

Keynote Presentations

Keynote presentations at the conference were given by Martijn de Waal from The Mobile City, one of the conference sponsors, Usman Haque developer among other things of Pachube, Natalie Jeremijenko, an engineer and artist, and Daniel Hill, an interactions designer from SITRA (Finish Innovation Fund). More details on the keynote speakers is available at the Social Cities of Tomorrow Keynote Speakers page.

Introduction – Martijn de Waal

Martin’s presentation was an introduction to the idea of the conference and overall project. I am pretty sure he worked on it closely with Michiel de Lange, his colleague at The Mobile City, who did an excellent job as moderator of the conference.

Starting with the title, it’s a take on Ebenezer Howard’s book “Garden Cities of Tomorrow” which was designed to address the problems of turn of the century (1900) industrial cities through improved physical design. The idea now is to use new technologies to create communities that can solve today’s complex issues.

The goal is to have highly technical cities, but focused not on technology, but on people. People living in cities should feel an ownership, meaning not that they exclude other people, but rather that they feel responsible for improving their cities.

  • engage and empower
  • publics (groups of people)
  • to act on
  • community shared issues

These are, of course, key aspects of all community-based planning efforts, but what’s important is that new media and technologies are changing how we can perform these activities. Some examples:

  • Open data and data analysis tools can be used to bring out new communal issues and to inform the public (e.g. SensibleCity visualisations like TrashTrack);
  • Applications designed to help users provide planning input or even develop their own plans (e.g. Biketastic at UCLA, and the New York bike share location crowdsourcing map developed by OpenPlans, etc.)
  • New media allows us to organise people in new ways, e.g. collaborative consumption (e.g. car-sharing, airBnB).

Lots more ideas from Martijn’s presentation available at Social Cities of Tomorrow Background and his presentation is on line at: placeholder.

Cappuchino at Cafe de Pels in Amsterdam

Cappuchino at Cafe de Pels in Amsterdam

Usman Haque

Usman started by reminding us that cities are a place for encountering things you don’t understand, and this is a very good thing.

Pachube, the website started by Haque, is an organised list of data feeds from throughout the world. Anyone can add a data feed. The goal is to be a broker for the data from the internet of things. The site serves to promote discovery of data feeds and to begin conversations about what the data means.

The growing number of sensors and feeds means that we are flooded with data, but how does this lead to action?

The first step is to enable people to make sense of the data. Two ideas: (1) we need to have/encourage people to have conversations about the data; and (2) we need to develop applications to make sense of the data.

Haque also described a project where architecture students in Barcelona collected air quality data by wiping kleenex on the sides of buildings and recording the amount of grime they found. Pretty inexact, but quite effective in making the students aware of what they were breathing. Once they saw what was going into their lungs they were ready to take action (they developed a new air circulation plan for their workspace).

The main point is that taking action requires more than technical data, it is a function of culture and politics.

Haque ended by suggesting that perhaps we shouldn’t always be trying to simplify things, maybe it’s better to demonstrate complexity and develop tools to deal with that complexity by connecting with people and taking action together, shouldn’t we embrace complexity?

(My comments: Don’t tools to deal with complexity necessarily mean simplifying it? On the other hand, the business of politicians is simplifying issues, and look where they have taken us!)

Haque’s website describes many of his extremely interesting projects.

Natalie Jeremijenko

Natalie Jeremijenko had the difficult task of talking with us after lunch, but succeeded in keeping us wide awake as she described many of her projects. I’ll just mention a few.

Look out for children sign in Amsterdam

Look out for children sign in Amsterdam

The goal is using new media to create a better future. Generating, analysing and acting-on data needs to be opened up. An example from transport, a traffic signal gives power away to the machine, a traffic circle makes everyone use data to make decisions.

(In this example Natalie mentioned that traffic engineers don’t like traffic circles, but in fact most of my colleagues do like traffic circles, they are more efficient in many situations!)

No Parks are small parts of the street where plants replace pavement (cars can no longer park there). The goal is to reduce the surface runoff that is a very significant problem for water quality (it’s easier to deal with point sources and regulations have reduced point source pollution). She described an effort in NYC that included individuals taking ownership for these little “No Parks” by selling pieces of the plot and using the proceeds to pay for the project. Many cities are doing projects to open up the pavement in this way, but I have not seen any that use this level of social engagement before.

Bike Messenger – LEDs on bike wheels connected to a wireless communications. When bikes reach a certain speed the LEDs light-up and display information communicated by roadside senders, for example the number of pedestrian fatalities at the intersection. Good information for everyone and helps make the bikes more visible at night.

Fightpath Toronto, a really wild project where Jeremijenko and Haque set up aerial platforms in front of the Toronto City Hall and let people fly through the open space (connected to cables, although they wore wings). As the people “flew” laser lights were projected that changed based on the sound of the audience. When’s the next installation? I’m going!

Elevator Project, Long Island City for Otis Elevators (?). Jeremijenko looked at how by extending the elevator shaft 30-feet above the building roof, the shaft could help provide better air circulation and help power the building. It also gave the opportunity for installing flightpath take-off areas (platforms for installing the cables) which might even be used for goods delivery (why does an organic artisanal bakery need to use diesel belching trucks to deliver its products?).

Other projects she mentioned: floating lights in NY’s East River that light when fish swim by (video) (along with healthy food for observers to give the fish), AgBags small gardens made from tevek bags (FedEX envelopes) that hang on the side of buildings (together called farmacy), clear skys mask, one trees project planting 6000 genetically identical trees in pairs throughout the Bay Area to observe different growing patterns, and more …

Here’s a couple sites with information on Natalie environmental health clinic and NYU faculty bio.

Old traffic sign used as a table in Amsterdam.

Old traffic sign used as a table in Amsterdam.

Daniel Hill

Daniel also had a tough job, it was getting quite late on a Friday afternoon, but his talk was also mile-a-minute speed through a series of ideas and lessons learned.

The main point of Hill’s talk was that designers normally only deal with a small portion of what’s going on with project implementation. There’s a great deal of “dark matter” that isn’t normally dealt with by designers which impact what gets done and what doesn’t much more than actual designs.

He started with a description of five failed projects he’s been involved with and related these examples to the various aspects of dark matter, which includes all things that make things hard to do including cost, legacy, inertia, scale … there’s no one department to go to for permission to implement these projects. Hill believes we need to redesign the context for decision-making as well as project “content”. The context:

  • Complexity of problems is out of kilter with decision-making process;
  • Interdependent problems;
  • No client for many problems (e.g. global climate change);
  • Huge gap between people making policy and people operating the services (doing the work);
  • More data and further analysis isn’t automatically helping;
  • Diminishing public faith in capacity (of, e.g. government) to deliver;

But someone created this context (in the 18th Century for 18th Century problems), and so it can be recreated. But how?

  • Design studio approach to problem solving (book:
  • Stewardship – staying in touch with projects over time;
  • Trojan horse – using a project to change the process, don’t just seek exceptions to allow projects to be done, seek to change the laws that prevent others from doing the same;
  • Macguffin – plot device named by Hitchcock to signify something that drives the movie but the audience does not care about (think “government secrets” in North by Northwest), here’s where the focus on changing the context comes in, we the designers don’t care enough about the context (regulations, government processes) that impact our ability to do things;
  • Dark Matter – the 83% of the universe that no one has ever seen, but must be there, in our case the institutions in a city, many things produce a culture but you don’t see them;
  • Decision-making Platforms – I started to lose the 8 words about here, but the point here is closely related to dark matter, decisions matter … social media is great for organizing, but hasn’t been so helpful yet helping identify and lead-to what comes next (e.g. Occupy movements);

Government 2.0 is not Government 1.0 with a web 2.0 front end, there needs to be more.

Speed bump sign in Amsterdam

Speed bump sign in Amsterdam.

Hill mentioned Ravintolapäivä the original restaurant day ( It’s a day held in Helsinki where anyone can open a restaurant and serve food to the public. It’s totally illegal, but the government was powerless to stop it. Now it happens twice a year, organised on Facebook. The next one is May 19, 2012. This was an example of how the “Nordic Model” (of providing the same for everyone) could be meshed with the “Anglo Model” (wide variation and diversity) to provide the high overall quality of the Nordic model with the creativity and innovation in the Anglo model.

A possible project is for the city to create an place where people who want to start restaurants can learn the skills needed to do so successfully, hopefully without squashing out the creativity these people bring to the project. Turning this from an intervention to a systematic approach for supporting creativity and innovation.

Five thoughts to end the presentation (because he used to work at Monocle and they always have lists like this):

  1. The world is mutable – although policy makers often don’t think things can change: they can.
  2. Prototype in the political world, the cost of assessing the risk of doing something new is often higher than the cost of just trying it and failing.
  3. Hinge policy to delivery;
  4. Design for scaling up;
  5. >Dark matter matters.

For more on Dan Hill see his blog city of sound, well worth a read.

Keynote speakers at Social City of Tomorrow Conference Amsterdam 2012.

Keynote speakers at Social City of Tomorrow Conference Amsterdam 2012.

The keynote speakers at the panel discussion: left to right: Jeremijenko, Haque and Hill, source: Virtueel Platform.

Panel Discussion

The three keynote speakers took the stage to take a few questions from the audience. Some of the discussion:

Everyone agreed that dealing with the dark matter was a fundamental part of getting projects done. Jeremijenko reported that there was no precedent for her AgBags project, so she had to print things on the bags so they would be considered “signs” and could therefore fall under the city’s regulatory structure. Seven agencies needed to give approval for her fish lights project, and unfortunately, none of them really helped implement the project, they just gave approvals.

Beer from the Netherlands at 't Arendsnest in Amsterdam

Beer from the Netherlands at ‘t Arendsnest in Amsterdam

Someone made the point that designers are lucky in the sense that they usually have a client who gives them instructions (design a building for me) so lots of the dark matter is dealt with by someone else (the lawyers), but it’s really these things outside the traditional “client-designer relationship” that really need changing … in that sense design-think is dead.

Technology enables, it does not drive change. There’s a tactical benefit to new technology: often institutions don’t have a standard way of dealing with it, so there’s an opportunity to really change things.

Artists have a great capacity to fail in public, no one trusts them to do anything …

… and with that we adjourned to drinks and conversations.

Cities aren’t smart

NY High Line -  Sept 2011 - 09

Cities aren’t smart, people are.

I think this is a simple point, but important to remember amidst all the Smart City hype.

Smart cities are cities where people produce and use information to make cities more livable, economically successful, socially equitable, sustainable and fun.

And, who are these people producing and using information?

This is key: they are both the traditional city leaders and everyone else.

Today, city administrations have unprecedented access to data that enables them to both improve city services and make them more efficient. An often overlooked source of this data are city residents and visitors. Many cities do not use modern IT tools to collect, analyze and use input from the public. This is a shame because people could provide very high quality information for improving the way cities operate.

In some cases city administrations are not interested in public opinion, but in many cases good IT tools to help the public communicate information to cities and for cities to automatically analyze this information have not been developed. Often cities cannot even imagine that public involvement could be done more efficiently using new media and information technology tools.

What are these tools? One important set of tools are educational media since city planning and administration are complicated. Cities can get better information and ideas if the public knows something about how the city works before providing input. (This is the main idea behind my GreenCityStreets project: teach people about public transport with the BusMeister game and provide a social network for them to submit ideas to the city government.)

Another set of tools are programs to analyze and organize the data that comes in to cities through new media channels. This means designing the public input channels so that the information can be easily summarized and described. These tools could also help improve the existing public input process (e.g. public transport complaint telephone operators). The growing use of on-line 311 systems in the USA is a good example.

No doubt there are great challenges ahead as city governments involve the public more fully in the city planning and administrative process, but change is coming. New mobile communications and information technologies are making it just a question of time. Truly smart cities will embrace this change and develop the tools needed to fully engage the public in making their cities better.

What do you think?

PICNIC 2011 in Amsterdam

Schiphol Airport Amsterdam

Schiphol Airport Amsterdam

In September I travelled to Amsterdam for the PICNIC 2011 Festival. The event is like a big fair and this year it was held at the old shipbuilding area called NDSM Wharf, a ten-minute ferry ride from Amsterdam’s Central Railway Station. A variety of different structures including temporary buildings, old containers, tents, an old ferry boat, were used for the sessions and presentations.

PICNIC was a great opportunity to meet people thinking about the intersection between design, city planning, internet, history, art … lots of energy and very creative ideas. Among my favorite presentations were those by Adam Greenfield, Ben Hammersley, and Charles Landry (links are to videos of the presentations).

On Friday I attended a session sponsored by the European Creative Business Network. We split up into teams and developed ideas for venture capital funding. Our team of four developed the concept for an on-line game that would be played via mobile devices … and we won the first prize: 5,000 Euro to develop the idea in more detail! We’re working on it.

The photo below is of us taking the ferry back to Central Station after dinner one night, note that it’s a roll-on/roll-off ferry for bicycles and mopeds … extremely convenient and easy to use.

I’m already looking forward to PICNIC 2012! All my PICNIC 2011 Festival photos (many of which are of the Amsterdam Harbour) on flickr.

Rustbelt City Planning

Buffalo City Hall Jun07 - 01
They had a way with words back then.
City Hall Mosaic Buffalo NY (source: Andrew Nash, 2007)

As a city planner who grew up in Buffalo NY I can’t help but be interested in how to revitalize Rust Belt cities. My solution: Rustbelt Cities need to be bolder and more creative (DUH.. what city/company/person doesn’t need to be bolder and more creative?).

Rust Belt city leaders will say, we are being bold and creative, we’re planning a big box store to compete with the suburbs or we’re planning a festival marketplace/ convention center/ casino to attract tourists. What’s not bold about that?

Buffalo aerial sept08-12
Buffalo waterfront and downtown: looking for a few truly bold and creative ideas.
(Source: Andrew Nash, 2008)

Well, big’s not always bold and it’s rarely creative. Truly bold and creative ideas are place-based. In other words you can’t create a festival marketplace without the festival and you can’t build a big box store without the suburban streets and parking.

There’s a saying: if you’re an apple don’t try to be a banana, you’ll always be a second-rate banana. It’s even worse for a city: if you try to be a suburb you’ll destroy what’s good about the city (and, you probably won’t be successful anyway).

What can cities do? Create the festival and place-based development will follow. Support businesses that fit into the existing infrastructure and complimentary businesses will follow. As anyone who has ever practiced this type of ground-up planning can tell you, developing bold and creative ideas that are place-based is much harder than it sounds.

Gates Circle Buffalo-sept10-4
Buffalo’s Omstead-designed park system is a
bold and creative idea that’s place-based.
(Gates Circle, source Andrew Nash, 2010)

One of the biggest challenges is that often Rust Belt city leaders are so desperate they’ll support anything short of a chemical waste dump (and sometimes even the waste dump). Once leaders embrace an idea anyone opposing it is a NIMBY or against progress.

This “with us or against us” view came to mind when I read the fascinating post the Problem with Boosterism in the Rustwire blog. The post and very thoughtful comments describe how Boosterism can blind people to addressing real city problems.

But, and here I return to my current work, social networks and Web 2.0 technologies can be used to help develop and implement the kinds of bold and creative – but place-based – ideas needed to revitalize Rust Belt cities. It’s an exciting period and there’s much to learn about how this will work. Some resources I have found who are using social networks and Web 2.0 techniques to help improve Rust Belt city planning include:

  • Rustwire Blog – a group of journalists doing some serious thinking about Rust Belt issues, check out their Blog Roll for more excellent blogs and their flickr group Rustwire for sharing photos.
Buffalo Elmwood May10-02
Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo
(Andrew Nash, 2010)
  • Buffalo Expat Network – this is a really cool idea, mobilizing people with connections to a city (e.g. who have moved away) to generate ideas and support for revitalization; (they have fun too!) … includes a Facebook social network.
  • Art Voice Buffalo – great example of an alternative newspaper covering local issues without the Boosterism that seems to be required of ‘traditional’ city newspapers (see especially the stories by Bruce Fisher – here’s a recent one on fiscal policies and urban planning). I am sure that there are similar newspapers in other Rustbelt cities.
  • GLUE – Great Lakes Urban Exchange – founded in 2007 as a forum for people to exchange stories, ideas, and best practices between otherwise isolated cities ranging from Buffalo to St. Louis to Minneapolis. An excellent platform for learning from each other.
  • PPS – Project for Public Spaces – while PPS does not focus on Rust Belt issues, their approach to “placemaking” is exactly the type of ground-up planning that’s needed in Rust Belt cities.

The list is far from complete. Please add more links and ideas in the comments!

I will tag future posts on Rust Belt city planning: Rust Belt Cities. Several of my previous posts tagged Buffalo also deal with Rust Belt city planning … I think some are bold ideas – like tearing down a couple of freeways. Finally, here’s  a link to all my Buffalo flickr photos.

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