Digital urban spaces

A recent report by Barbara Anderson on the RSA’s site entitled Digital Media & Urban Spaces had me thinking. Whilst she calls for “civic authorities, businesses and designers” to take ownership of manipulating the environments most of us have to live and work in, I wondered where in this came the vast majority, the citizens? As she wields her imagination regarding the recent exercises in integrating technology in a few cities, I recalled a recent re-reading of Yevgeny Zamyatin’s amazing novel ‘We‘ and wondered if we are not better weaving nature into the design rather than just technology, which will happen anyway – “revolutions are infinite”.

Living in an ancient city, with some very obvious remnants of its past clearly visible, I  recall what the engineers of the past of done in the name of progress  such as John Hudson knocking a massive hole in the city walls to permit his train line through or most recently developers attempting to extend a shopping mall within feet of historic Clifford’s Tower, the site of the massacre of York’s Jewish population in 1190. The first was done when a majority of the population didn’t even have a vote, the latter stirred up an international uproar and was rejected after a planning inquiry,

The priority for our urban spaces should be improving them for the majority who use them, so rather than developing technology displays that tell them how depleted the atmosphere is becoming, it should have trees and greenery planted to resolve the issue. Yes, the cities can be provided with networks and technology to facilitate that minority that works in such industries but it wants to be done as part of a plan not the usual ad-hoc installation that so frequently happens i.e. separate runs of dark fibre or wireless transmitters digging up roads or decorating buildings.

My own city has electronic notices on the main roads into it, that used to occasionally pop up and say when a road was busy or closed. That stopped and they then they reminded you to fasten your seat belt or not drink and drive, now they just stand idle and ugly in the middle of poorly-managed verges. They were probably the latest technology when the council obtained money for them from central government…

Too often slick (but let us not forget fragile) technology is employed for purposes that waste energy and money instead of saving it. Instead of leaving it to gurus and technophiles, can the citizens be consulted and not by wizzy methods that will not draw on their aggregate responses such as this recent example – GeniUS, award winning as it is!

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