People have different names for it: the networked city, the real-time city, the smart city, “a city that thinks like the web.” Call it what you want, the idea of improving the places we live through technology, open data, and connectivity is definitely hotting up these days.
MIT has an entire lab dedicated to the exploration of that idea, where researchers attach tiny cell phones to trash, and build award-winning networked bicycle wheels.
Events like the Cognitive Cities Conference in Berlin attract a diverse collection of “urban planners, designers, technology geeks, environmental experts, public officials, urban gardening enthusiasts and cultural influencers,” where high fliers like Adam Greenfield are treated a bit like rock stars (if rock stars were obsessed with ubiquitous computing).
The networked city is also fertile ground for artistic work, like John Ewing’s Virtual Street Corners project, which transformed two street-level shopfronts into a large-scale videoconference last year.
But running alongside the potential benefits of a networked city are risks (like overextended surveillance and control) and unintended consequences (like crime maps’ impact on housing prices). And though much of the underlying technology for networked cities exists today, we don’t yet have well-established social norms and protocols for living in such places. Our fluid, contextual notions of public and private often bump up against the binary on/off nature of digital technology in all sorts of surprising and unexpected ways.
All this to say, I’m really excited to explore some of these issues soon with three big thinkers: Cory Doctorow (Boing Boing), Mark Surman (Mozilla) and Sara Diamond (OCAD University). I’m moderating a panel discussion with them on June 4, called “How can we build a city that thinks like the web?” Of course, we’ll address the titular question, with the requisite follow-up, “Should we build a city that thinks like the web?”
It’s free and open to the public, but pre-registration is required.
Hope to see you there. Really looking forward to it.