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Real-Time Informatics for a “New Soft City”

Posted in Research by Kate Archdeacon on June 21st, 2010

Source: The City Fix

Image from New Soft City – Keynote presentation by Dan Hill

From “Real-Time Informatics for a “New Soft City” ” by Erica Schlaikjer

What if cities could talk? Or transit systems could tell you how they’re feeling?  Sounds crazy, but it’s not that far-fetched. “Urban informatics” could change the way people understand and interact with cities, says Dan Hill, a designer, urbanist and senior consultant at Arup in Sydney. He explains the idea of projecting real-time data onto the physical environment of a city, such as a lamppost or observation tower, in order to enliven public space, improve the mass transit experience, and transform the way citizens relate to their urban surroundings. Data, which exist all around us, would be accessible to everyone, rather than contained on a mobile device, such as an iPhone or laptop.

Just imagine if you could use light projections, e-ink, or LEDs to display a “smart meter” of energy consumption on the outside of your home. What would change? Research shows that friendly neighborhood competition can actually breed energy-saving behavior.

Likewise, imagine if cities provided free wireless Internet connectivity outdoors and in other civic spaces, like atriums, libraries and shopping malls, to encourage people to spend time socializing outside of their personal bubble at work or at home. They would literally interact with the city. Public spaces could become friendlier, safer, cleaner and more attractive. It could improve people’s health and well-being.

Sensing movement

MIT’s SENSEable City Lab aggregated data from cell phones, buses and taxis in Rome – the Real Time Rome project – to better understand urban dynamics in real time, and ultimately, reveal ways to reduce inefficiencies and lead to a more sustainable urban future.  Similarly, the University of Technology Sydney’s Smart Light Fields tracks the Bluetooth signals of pedestrians to understand movement in a city.

In Helsinki, Finland, GPS data from trams and buses is laid over Google Maps to show travelers where to locate their mode of transport. Hill says it makes people feel more in control of the transit network, and as a result, makes them more likely to use public transport.

Hill is working on a project to visualize data about Sydney’s metro system on the station walls themselves. He says it would be “half public art and half utility…giving a pulsing sense of the city.”

The project is slated for 2015. Even though it’s a modern high-tech concept, it’s inspired by old technology from the Paris Metro in the 1920s that allowed people to press a button to show the route and destinations of their preferred station on an interactive map, lit up by tiny lamps embedded underneath glass.

Read the full article on The City Fix.

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