In fact, I would ask a single question: How do you plan to involve your citizens in the process of urban design and development? Across the world, many people think that it’s up to the municipal and national governments to make “smart cities” a reality. However, I believe that it should be primarily citizens, through “bottom-up” dynamics, to trigger the change. Hence, rather than focusing too much on the installation of hardware, it is important to get people excited about creating apps and using urban data.
I would like to start by saying that I don’t like the term “Smart City”. Rather, I prefer to use the expression ‘Senseable city’, which has a double meaning; it means both ‘able to sense’ and ‘sensible’. The word ‘Senseable’ puts more emphasis on the human – as opposed to technological – side of things. The former is the common denominator of most of our projects.
Having said that, the concept of Smart or Senseable City is simply the manifestation of a broad technological trend: the Internet is entering the spaces we live in, and is becoming Internet of Things. This process has already started and its applications are manifold: from energy to waste management, from mobility to water distribution, from city planning to citizen engagement. In our projects, we aim to explore how Internet of Things is opening up a new approach to the study of the built environment. We want to investigate and intervene at the interface between people, technologies and the city – developing research and applications that empower citizens to make choices that result of a more livable urban condition for all.
Let’s start with mobility: in the same way in which the car has shaped the city of the 20th century, new information and telecommunication technologies are bound to transform the cities of the 21st century. Autonomous vehicles, for instance, promise to have a dramatic impact on urban life, because they could blur the distinction between private and public modes of transportation. “Your” car could give you a lift to work in the morning and then, rather than sitting idle in a parking lot, give a lift to someone else in your family – or, for that matter, to anyone else in your neighborhood, social-media community, or city. This is particularly important as cars are idle 95% of the time – that is, the time they spent parked during their own life – so they are ideal candidates for the sharing economy.
If we start from the definitions above, the words Smart and Senseable are interchangeable. Today, we see a lot of experimentations in this space. For instance, Singapore is doing exciting experiments in mobility, Copenhagen in sustainability, Boston in citizen participation… All these experiences match in some way the Senseable concept.
In general: more sustainable lifestyle and better quality of life.
It is central, as we were saying before…
I like to think cities as entities we are able to sense and interact with – so why not…
Millennials are perfectly skilled with digital technologies, understand the concept of interface and can be involved in gamification in a very natural way. But beyond all of this, they value quality of life, which should be the goal of any Senseable City endeavor.
Absolutely! Through data, we get to know more about our environment as well as about our choices, hence becoming able to make more informed decisions. Here’s an example: in the ‘Trash Track’ project we developed in Seattle with the MIT Senseable City Lab, we added digital tags to trash and then followed it as it moved through the city’s sanitation system. We discovered many things, and one of those things is that simply by sharing information you can promote behavioral change. People involved in the project would be able to follow the items they discarded. This prompted many of them to change their habits. One person told us: “I used to drink water in plastic bottles and throw them away and think that they would disappear, but I know it is not true anymore. They just go a few miles from home to a landfill. So I stopped drinking water in plastic bottles.”
Understanding the relationship between people and our increasingly flexible workspaces is crucial for designing the next-generation offices. New digital tools are emerging which permit us both to measure human connections and spatial behavior, and to investigate how these factors relate with productivity and creativity. Real-time data analytics paired with digitally-integrated furniture and buildings are paving the way for the creation of workplaces that will respond and evolve on their own over time.
A city with a better quality of life becomes a natural attractor.
I like Herbert Simon’s definition of design: “The natural sciences are concerned with how things are… Design, on the other hand, is concerned with how things ought to be.” If we accept this definition, I think that the role of the designer is about challenging the present, introducing alternate possibilities, so to pave the way towards the future. This is not dissimilar from Buckminster Fuller’s Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science (CADS) – a systematic approach to design, “to solve problems by introducing into the environment new artifacts, the availability of which will induce their spontaneous employment by humans and thus, coincidentally, cause humans to abandon their previous problem-producing behaviors and devices.” Quite interestingly, Buckminster Fuller was proposing an evolutionary framework for design. In this context, we can think of the designer as what, in biology, is referred to as a ‘mutagen’ – an agent that produces mutations and accelerates the transformation of the present into what it “ought to be”.
Thanks Carlo for collaborating with Smart City Brand.
For further information visit www.carloratti.com and senseable.mit.edu