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.
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 GreenCityStreets.com project!). This post presents my summary of the projects presented.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.