Interacting With and Shaping the City

Dan Hill at City of Sound, also now a consultant at Arup, has reposted a fantastic essay written for the exhibition catalog of Urban Play called The Adaptive CIty. In it, Hill summarizes nicely the turnabout that happens when we can interact with a city like an interface or a Web service, as the city itself undergoes the transformation from one built around the exoskeleton of physical infrastructure, services and governance to one that is more wired and intelligent, one that is more interactive and responsive.

Facilitated by networks of sensors, the data emerging from the new nervous system appears limitless: near-imperceptible variations in air quality and water quality, innumerable patterns in public and private traffic, results of restaurant inspections, voting patterns in public referenda, triggers of motion sensors, the output of heating ventilation and air conditioning systems, patterns of water usage, levels of waste recycled, genres of books returned at local libraries, location of bicycles in the city’s bike-sharing network, fluctuations in retail stock controls systems, engine data from cars and aeroplanes, collective listening habits of music fans, presence of mobile phones in vehicles enabling floating car data, digital photos and videos locked to spatial co-ordinates, live feeds from CCTV cameras, quantities of solar power generated and used by networks of lamp-posts, structural engineering data from the building information models of newly constructed architecture, complex groupings of friends perceptible in social software multiplied by location-based services, and so on. Myriad flows of data move in and around the built fabric. As many or most objects in the city become potential nodes in a wider network, enabled through the natural interoperability of systems influenced by the Internet and its open-source philosophies and standards-based protocols, this shimmering informational field provides a view of the entire city.

Hill's vision of the impact on our relationship with the built environment around us, driven by cities' evolutions into information spheres, is insightful. In this transformation, in the best case we begin to be able to shape and interact with our living and working environments in more subtle, and powerful, ways.

With a wider set of data, fed back in imaginative, multi-sensory and distributed fashion, what stories of the city might emerge and how might they affect the way the city sees itself and thus behaves? And how might citizens use this data, how might they add their own feeds, weave together their own filtered aggregations of everyday data? Could it provide a platform through which citizens learn about the city, and are then able to better build the city?