senseable cities THROUGH carlo ratti’S EYES

Let’s explore the common characteristics of successful smart city brands. What are the key attributes that define what smart cities are?  Today we focus on senseable cities. Do you live in a Senseable City? 

boston (eeuu), 3, june 2016- 10.00 CEST 

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Ratti is Director at MIT Senseable City Lab and Founding Partner at Carlo Ratti Associati. Ratti is An architect and engineer by training. Ratti has co-authored over 250 publications andholds several patents. His work has been exhibited in several venues worldwide, including the Venice Biennale, New York’s MoMa. Two of his projects – the Digital Water Pavilion and the Copenhagen Wheel – were hailed by Time Magazine as ‘Best Inventions of the Year’. He has been included in Blueprint Magazine’s ‘25 People who will Change the World of Design’ and in Wired Magazine’s ‘Smart List: 50 people who will change the world’. and is currently serving as Chair of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Future Cities. 

Carlo, imagine you´re talking with a city mayor. He/she tells you: Our Smart City Mantra is “Senseable City” What 2 or 3 questions would you ask him/her in order to ensure that the city brand has a coherent strategy and is aligned with reality?

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.

In short, what do you think might be a senseable Smart City?

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.

Could you please share some examples?

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.

Could you please name some smart cities that clearly, in your opinion, conveys the word “senseable” as an essential part of its brand identity?

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.

copenhagen wheel

The Copenhagen Wheel was unveiled on December 15, 2009 at the COP15 United Nations Climate Conference. The project was conceived and developed by the SENSEable City Lab for the Kobenhavns Kommune.

What are the most important benefits a senseable city could bring to its citizens?

In general: more sustainable lifestyle and better quality of life.

To what extent is the citizen centric experience linked with Senseable Smart Cities in your opinion? How can technology help cities to empathize with citizens?

It is central, as we were saying before…

Do you think smart cities should start to measure its EQ (Emotional Quotient) in some way? 

I like to think cities as entities we are able to sense and interact with – so why not…

Why should millennials prefer to live in a senseable smart city?

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.

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Can data lead to behavioral changes in a senseable smart city?

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.”

How can Working Spaces be senseable?

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.

Can Senseable Smart Cities bring new professions or new labor opportunities?

A city with a better quality of life becomes a natural attractor.

What will be the future role of design in senseable smart cities?

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.

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