Digital urban spaces

May 30, 2012

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!


Oysters and pearls

February 16, 2009

My current bedtime reading is biography of Lawrence Sterne. Sterne, who operated as a vicar outside York was apparently famed as a preacher but regularly got his source material from printed sermons that were available such as those by my old favourite Jonathan Swift.

I accidentally fell over this article on medical matters, Creative Dissatisfaction, and it its so appropriate I could almost follow Sterne borrowing from Swift. Not that I would date compare myself with either author. Perhaps the important thing is that this shows a doctor encouraging others doctors and patients to register their concerns on the Obama administration MyPolicy website in the US, to hopefully change things. I just hope the Obama administration makes use of the feedback they get!

I’ve come across a number of papers about improving patient satisfaction with medical treatment, which, in some ways parallels the customer versus citizen ambiguity that has been posed by managerialism. In the UK, we’ve had 60 years of a National Health Service, and as with government we are all shareholders in it, and also have rights and duties, particularly at the sharp end, as patients. If we are not satisfied we need to have the opportunity and confidence to say and the management need to adjust accordingly, if feasible.

Incidentally, Zuger’s paper can be found here, outside of the NEJM.