Monday, June 24, 2013

Pop! ... goes the city

Today I attended  PopTech's "The City Resilient" summit at the Harvey Theater of the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). PopTech is like a less-choreographed, more humane TED.  I enjoyed the mix of presenters, despite the understandable focus on the resilience of NYC (and surrounding areas) when hurricane Sandy struck last fall. It was not a purely "techie" meetup. And that was good...
I attempted to use Airbnb for the occasion since it seemed appropriate, but I failed to synch up as a new user...
I was personally invited by the ringmaster Andrew Zolli who, in his personalized email to me, literally said: "I'm a big fan of your work – I've evangelized StreetBump around the world as a prime example of the future of urban innovation"...
How could I refuse such an invitation!?
It was an intense day, which I managed to summarize in my moleskine. And I will now attempt to transcribe the experience to this blog. Lots of very inspiring presentations on topics that I am actually interested in. Enough to make me stray from my 10-project lifetime goal. But I will keep my focus...
My personal take-home message was that what we are doing with City Knowledge is still ahead of the cutting edge, and our approach promises to surmount many of the issues brought out in the summit and fulfill many of the futures the presenters (and all of us) wished for.
I am glad I attended, even though I didn't really get to speak to many attendees.  I was soaking and processing the information being delivered and I didn't want "conference noise" to intrude into my lucubrations. We even got a plug for StreetBump by Carlo Ratti's replacement, Jake Porway. I felt proud, I have to admit.
I heard for my first time the neologism adhocracy (vs. bureaucracy) from Andrew himself, during the intro.  Makes me think of the "gradients" that government traverses -- unconsciously -- to try to get "the right policy" with broadbrush strokes (as manifested in euclidian zoning).  Adhocracy feels a lot more like performance zoning.  Our ultimate goal with CK is to deal with these gradients directly and let processes coalesce and emerge as needed.
Then, the event's major sponsor, the Rockefeller Foundation introduced the "100 Resilient Cities" challenge.  And, of course, my thoughts went to Venice, Boston and Santa Fe...  All very resilient in their own way.  All impacted positively and negatively by tourism...
The Manhatta project made me think of the "Venice proto-islands" project we are planning to repeat this year to reconstruct the evolution of the city from Archeological data, upon which we could add the Visualizing Venice details of more recent changes, after the landscape was heavily anthropized. I have to read the book "Terra Nova" and learn about Urban Alchemy...
Sampson introduced econometric principles at work in his version of the "science of the city" in the Great American City of Chicago.  It is not what I believe is going on, nor the Theory of City Size that Bettencourt and Batty just wrote about in Science magazine.  There seems to be a movement toward an elusive "science of the city", and perhaps -- just perhaps -- we may contribute quite a bit to this science in a way that is complementary to these other theories, among which I would rank very highly Kevin Lynch's Theory of City Form which is at risk of being overshadowed by more recent efforts, especially now that Julian Beinart is retiring from our group (City Design and Development) and department (DUSP) at MIT.  Perhaps I need to name my concept "A Theory of City Knowledge" as a "third way" (probably complementary to the others) as the science of city government to the service of the citizen.  A science of gradients indeed.
We were all intrigued by HopeLab and Hoboken's wireless mesh network, and by the concept -- novel to me -- of IOBY (In Our Back Yard, as opposed to NIMBY) and the citizen participation that technology could enable in that context.  Apparently, the NYC IT department (and especially Mike Flowers) are quite beloved in the PopTech community...  Mike's Building Inspections analytics would marry well with our CK prototype for Boston's inspectors.  A brief mention about the NYC Park department recalled my previous efforts to map trees in Venice (2001) and Cambridge.  I even wrote a paper on tree maintenance, and tree information management and analysis, based on CK Principles.
The real techie presentation was by Jake, who is a fledgling TV personality on National Geographic Channel, where my own Venice video still lingers.  I will read Tubes as he suggested.  This is the segment when the StreetBump plug came out, together with the other Boston app called Adopt-a-hydrant.  I see the day coming for a single CK City App that will allow citizens to pick-and-choose what they want to contribute to, while voting for things they like or want to see improved or fixed.  It will be the embodiment of CitizenPipe (#9 in my list). Which is what OpenPaths hints at, with a combination of "My Preferences" (#10 in my list) and SensorDomo.  Intriguingly related to Citizenpipe is also another effort mentioned by the presenters: nextdoor.com, which is not available in Spencer, MA, but I suspect to be not too far from the concepts in my Naticity business plan.
Overall, I think we are well poised to create something 10X better, by fulfilling on the promise of City Knowledge and of CitizenPipe. On this "silver jubilee" we will be bringing together the latest developments on the City Knowledge console and the best insights from our successful apps like ButOne, DEW, Venipedia, VeniceNoise, Vaporetto, PreserVenice, Stores, and others, into a single flexible app on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the Venice Project Center in 2013-2014. One app to rule them all!  And a Venice City Dashboard to boot!  (with kind assistance from UCL's City Dashboard team).
Overall, the Pop!Tech event boosted my outlook about the path we are following with City Knowledge.  We are on to something, and we are going to stay the course (and hurry a bit).  Above and beyond the "Internet of Things" recently featured in Wired, our AgentsCloud promises the software equivalent, with added network effects, plus encompasses all data-producing processes, such as administrative permits, inspections and the like, that are simply not monitorable with gadgets.
Big City data will indeed "get personal" and our CK applications will be leading the way...

You watch...
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