US Mayors Pump It Up?

Along with Mayor Bill Finch of Bridgeport, Connecticut, I made a fun presentation at the annual meeting of the US Conference of Mayors.  More about that, but some background first.

For the last couple of years, I’ve been working with the Council on Metro Economies and The New American City of the US Conference of Mayors on a future-oriented, 21st century strategy for economic growth.   

This project recognizes the increasing proportion of Americans who will earn their living by providing digital products and services, on the one hand, and the increasing availability of high quality, casual video communications and collaboration on the other hand.  

Together these lead to some significant changes in the character of the economy and of cities.  (See my presentation at the ICF Institute for more about these changes –  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlNxLmIQ4O8.)

In the early stages, the strategy focused on ideas for mayors as they respond to these changes on behalf of the residents of their cities.  More recently, with USCM staff, we’ve started to create pilot demonstrations of these ideas.

Recognizing that these changes in the economy enable many people to make a living almost anywhere, one part of the strategy is to provide a high quality of life, a “WOW” experience, that’s unique to a city so people come and stay there.  The by-product of this experience is that it can also inspire residents to innovate – a key factor in economic growth.  

With the Internet everywhere across a city, blending the physical and the virtual can create new WOW experiences.  The presentation showed various examples that included displays and projections on walls and other physical structures, on a controlled mist from Long Island Sound, etc.

Bridgeport is a good example of a city that can benefit from this – an older industrial city of 150,000 that is cut by an interstate highway.  It has locations and structures that wouldn’t normally be considered attractive, but offer great potential in a blended virtual/physical world.

Consider this smokestack that is the first sign of Bridgeport that drivers see on Interstate 95.  

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Why not make it a video screen? 

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This blending of the virtual and physical makes it possible to show what’s happening in real-time in another part of town or from another time in the same place.

Consider the multi-modal transit center that people see when they arrive by train, bus, ferry or even a car.  It certainly could be more welcoming.

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Each summer, there is a big music festival in Bridgeport – the Gathering of the Vibes.  My last example showed how this wall could be transformed so it presents one of the star acts, Elvis Costello.  

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The song he’s singing, “Pump It Up”, is also the message to mayors and what they can now do with what used to be dreary places.

I left the mayors with this final thought: this is not primarily about something artistic or a way of getting advertising or even promoting big events.  In a fundamental way, this is how cities need to think about urban design in this century.

© 2013 Norman Jacknis

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Art In The City Or The City As Art (Part 2)?

Last week, I blogged about the blending of physical and virtual space to create new places and experiences in a city.  This way the city itself is the art form, not merely the backdrop for some unrelated, unintegrated work of art.

There are a few examples of this blending of the virtual and physical already happening in various ways.  

  • In Aarhus, Denmark, the public library opened a public space for residents to use their mobile devices and create a collective work of digital art that could then be “posted” on the walls.
  • In Times Square in New York in 2010, the retail outlet Forever 21 put a fashion model on a display screen.  She took pictures of the real crowd below and then showed it on the screen.  (See www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtLX52z4kPU)  The story goes that it was so successful, the police asked the company to shift the angle of the screen because drivers were stopping to look.
  • Just as in a connected world, we say that “work goes to people, instead of people going to work,” so too have retailers started to bring the store to where people are instead of trying to entice them into stores.  As an example, PeaPod converted the walls of the Chicago Transit Authority into virtual supermarket display cases where people can use their smart phones to buy food that will be delivered to their homes later.  
  • In Australia, partly as a public health measure to encourage walking instead of escalator use, the city painted some stairs to look like piano keys and then linked that up to computer generated sounds.  As people walked on the stairs, they were playing music.  Another “Wow” experience that is not expected by residents and visitors – http://www.chordstrike.com/2009/11/piano-stairs.html
  • Mercedes Benz has demonstrated “transparent walls”, on which is projected what is happening on a side street a car is approaching.  That way a driver can see something coming before it would normally be visible.  The safety benefits are pretty obvious.  For a video, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=LqCMv3Nz4ZQ#

Of course, each city is different so there is still a large element of creativity in developing an appealing and appropriate blend of the virtual and physical.  That will be a challenge for artists, technologists, planners and even local government leaders.  It will be lots of fun to see how this all develops.

© 2013 Norman Jacknis

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Art In The City Or The City As Art (Part 1)?

New forms of lighting, optics, connectivity and computer technologies have enabled artists to use the outdoors and other unusual settings as a new kind of canvass for their artwork.  Sometimes called projection mapping, here are some of the more interesting examples:

These are wonderful works of art.  BUT – all of these are expressions of art in a city, merely using the cityscape as the surface upon which an unrelated piece of artwork is laid.  These are not fully integrated with the city and don’t transform the city itself into art.

When I’ve spoken to audiences about the blending of physical and virtual space, I’ve had something much more ambitious in mind – the creation of new destinations and new experiences in a city which are attractive because they combine what’s there with virtual capabilities.  

This blending also provides residents and visitors a way of stretching and replicating time and space in the city.  Imagine showing in a location at night what it looked like in the morning or six months ago.  Imagine showing what is happening in another part of the city – particularly useful if you want those embarking trains or planes to learn of an event taking place elsewhere. 

Think about augmenting reality not through a smartphone camera or fancy glasses, but by augmenting reality in its place.  I’m certainly not alone is seeing the potential.  In his article “Augmented Reality Will Make Boring Cities Beautiful” [http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/cities/video-how-8216augmented-reality-will-make-boring-cities-beautiful/691] Christopher Mims notes that: 

“Once augmented reality is widespread, the difference between a great and a mediocre city won’t just be its built environment. To some extent, it will also be the degree to which that environment is a suitable tapestry for the creatives who will paint it with their augmented reality brush. Digital artists who learn to re-appropriate the city with the most innovative augmented reality add-ons won’t just bring themselves fame and fortune — they’ll also be attracting others to the places they love.”

Next week I’ll share a few examples of what has already been started.

© 2013 Norman Jacknis

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