For anyone who knows that I also blog personally you will know that I made a little resolution to try and attend more conferences/events that might positively influence me and my career. First up for the year is Future Everything, the theme being ‘smart cities and digital public spaces.’ What a coincidence, eh?
I was very lucky to attend both days and my brain is still recovering from the mass of information and inspiration that was on offer, so join me as I try to meander through my notes and make sense of them.
One of the biggest themes to run throughout the two-day conference was this idea of ‘digital public spaces’, both physical and online. Dan Hill began with a keynote that was a foundation for pretty much the whole conference, covering ‘smart cities and smart citizens’. His physical examples included ‘the Cloud’ – a pitch for the 2012 Olympics which was a glass dome that provided a viewing platform and canvas for projected data all at the same time – and the surprising story of the renovation of the State Library of Queensland. It’s an incredibly modern looking building (looks like a giant microchip from the right angle) and was a risky investment for a library considering all the talk about how ‘print is dying.’ However, the right kinds of technology were built in to it and it became a beacon. It offered free public wi-fi. In a beautiful building, surrounded by like-minded people and with other resources available. Some people even said they preferred using the wi-fi at the library because it was a much nicer space than their own home.
Dan said that we risk just throwing technology at a problem, creating something cutting edge but ultimately soulless. Ring any bells? Perhaps every stainless steel and polished glass ‘business park’ out there? A touch of humanity is the key. A city is nothing without its people. Like I said in ‘What makes a city playful?’ you need playful people. From experience though, those people often come up against a lot of resistance to get their voices heard or make their ideas real. Dan went on to point out a drastic and contagious problem with councils and governments across the world – old institutions are trying to tackle new problems. Old ways of working cannot adjust fast enough with the problems of a constantly changing world.
So that’s when people take matters in to their own hands. Dan gave us a fantastic story about ‘Restaurant Day’ in Helsinki, where people of all abilities and origins turn their homes, kitchens, spare property in to pop up restaurants, offering their home-made food. It began with those people who were frustrated with Helsinki’s highly complicated system for setting up a restaurant. So they used Facebook to organise a single day where they could all open their own mini restaurant. However it is illegal. But by arranging so many people to do it on the same day, there was little that the local government could do. Restaurant Day is now global.
The ‘Creative Ecologies’ talk, delivered by Drew Hemmet (founder of Future Everything), Marcos Garcia (Medialab Prado), and Doug Ward (TechHub) also highlighted the problems of a sluggish archaic government. So one thing is clear – the concept of a ‘smart city’ is not about technology or digital engagement. It has to include newer ways of thinking as well.
So what about an online digital public space? Steve Crossan from the Google Cultural Institute in Paris had some interesting developments to contribute. He briefly discussed some of Google’s projects to capture culture online, beginning with the Google Art Project which aimed to document masterpieces of art. But things got interesting when Google worked with Yad Vashem. They created archives of photos from World War II but interestingly they left comments open on them. Stories began to flood in. After a bit of analysis (that’s what Google are good at afterall) it was discovered that the storytelling was the biggest draw. The BBC are also working with their own archives to create a place for engagement.
An online digital public space is maybe easier to approach than a physical one but it still provides a unique challenge. When everything is so fast moving, how do you keep someone hooked long enough? And to what degree are you wanting to reach them? Are you just trying to feed them another marketing message or trying to tell them a story?
This is just a small summary of everything that’s bouncing around my head. Keep your eyes peeled for more!
If my ramblings are not enough, or you’ve been inspired to read further in to the concept, Future Everything have their very own publication all about digital public spaces.