Image: Cisco's Technology News Site
There has never been a more opportune or crucial time to build great, smart, and connected cities than today. According to the United Nations Population Fund, by the year 2030 almost 5 billion people, 60 percent of the world’s population, will live in cities. This fact alone is pushing urban innovation around sustainability and the management of cities to the fore with technologists, makers or DIYers, and civic hacking groups at the helm. What’s happening as a result? Products such as DontFlush.me, an arduino project that helps New York City residents reduce pollution in the harbor, and AirQualityEgg, a crowdsourced air quality sensor system spawned during a series of Internet of Things Meetups, are being implemented to improve the city’s infrastructure.
Considering the value of open source collaboration and civic hacking among businesses and governments, it’s fair to say that this kind of innovation is more than a trend. For over a year, the Institute for the Future (IFTF) has been researching how cities that are incorporating tech-infused making will look like and how they’ll continue to develop down the line. The organization is calling these communities “Maker Cities,” as their residents are making new ways to organize, interact, and solve urban issues, such as hunger, unequal learning opportunities and governance problems.
How is civic hacking building a better future for cities?
IFTF Research Director, Jason Tester, says civic hacking is essential to the future of building massively open cities. “Civic hacking is a spirit that the city is a platform to remix ideas and data, to build DIY solutions, to tinker with existing systems and improve life for people—a spirit that the city is open for anyone to experiment,” Tester says. “Makers, artists, coders, civic hackers, and citizens across the world have quickly adopted this mindset and joined this movement, and civic hacking has become a foundation for more open, more participatory cities."
As part of the Maker Cities initiative, IFTF created a Maker Cities game, which empowers players to imagine the future of their city and submit ideas about how the Maker Movement can positively impact society. In April, IFTF presented at Burning Man’s Global Leadership conference discussing how makers can improve their local areas. During the event, some of the attendees formed groups and prototyped their own Maker Cities. The top ideas included:
- The Freed Up concept explores how volunteers can leverage underutilized spaces to create value for their community
- Xperience points out the value in hackerspaces that intentionally bridge groups that usually work in isolation (like hardware hackers and biotech)
- Neighborhood Bike Racks finds an opportunity for makers to engineer new hybrid public-private spaces for bike storage at the street level.
- One Road looks at alternative models for city design using a single road.
- Figment takes Burning Man-style art and brings it into youth-appropriate, radically accessible spaces and events to encourage playfulness and creativity.
- Vacant Buildings points out that the best use of vacant buildings is to open them up to artists and communities to illustrate to potential renters that the spaces are valuable.
- Automated Personal Public Transportation finds new opportunities for makers to design last-mile vehicle solutions.
How is the Maker Movement converging with the Internet of Things?
Tester says a lot of the city solutions he’s seeing surface from the Maker Movement involve cheap sensors and modular programmable electronics that “allow people to build smart cities from the ground up and create some of the most compelling examples of the 'internet of things'.
“Citizens and startups in cities around the world are building apps and services to coordinate and instantly connect available resources—people, cars, expertise—with real-time needs,” shares Tester. “Cities really are the next great 'civic lab'. In the 21st century, we'll see the future of technology emerge first in cities, often from makers and grassroots innovators."
IFTF released findings of its Maker Cities research an Open Cities: How the Maker Mindset is Reinventing Urban Life on October 2-4 in San Francisco in collaboration with Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and the San Francisco Mayor's Office of Innovation.