The London skyline at night (© Alex Pielak)
The London skyline at night (© Alex Pielak)

Last Tuesday evening I headed down to LSE to listen to Adam Greenfield’s Public Lecture ‘A City Worth Fighting For’, part of LSE’s Cities program. Greenfields pamphlet ‘Against the Smart City’ released last year challenges the presumption that the proposed smart cities of the future will have all the answers. He argues that not only is the existing definition of the “smart city” too narrow, but this vision will also afford those in power an ‘Access All Areas’ pass to centralized computational surveillance and control.

At the Public Lecture Greenfield offered the packed out Hong Kong Theatre some of his ideas on what the alternative to the Smart City status quo might look like. Breaking down his own interpretation of how citizens could smartly adapt to future challenges into a four part ‘People Making’ guide. Greenfield offered encouraging examples of how these four fundamental rules are already being practiced by some communities across the globe.

People Making Data

How can those that create the data gain access to it and make best use of it at ground level? It is imperative that communities begin to see data differently. Behind the numbers that big companies increasingly use to observe and describe human behaviour, are real individuals and communities. If communities can learn to take full advantage of data generation, storage, aggregation and visualization; then they are in a much better position to make the world a better, freer, and more secure place.

People Making Things

Current supply chains are in desperate need of deeper interrogation from food production and sweatshops to the shipping industry that imports and exports thousands of goods across the globe on a daily basis. Greenfield suggests that fabrication and local production will be key resilience methods for communities in the future.

People Making Places

New neighbourhood focused crowd-funding sites seem to be radically transforming what would have once been considered community activism, into what now might been seen as community activity. Loomio, YIMBY, Neighborland to name a few all encourage a new kind of place-making that is backed and led from the ‘bottom-up’. Greenfield cited various examples of place making in his lecture and said that the future must focus on capacity building. Efforts need to driven toward redesigning ‘architectures of perception’ and changing local communities idea of what is possible.

People Making Networks

Social networks/social media (chicken/egg whichever came first?) has transformed the way messages spread and how we mobilise large groups of people on a global scale. The power of networking is not a new phenomenon after all ‘it’s not what you know, but who you know’; an age old saying that sums up how our industries, social structures etc are built and maintained. Social media in a way has turned this mantra on its head; now it is not “who you know” but more like “who knows you”. As Alice Marwick, a Harvard Researcher, points out – social media has bred a culture of ‘status seeking behaviour’; we must now all ‘self-brand within a competitive attention economy’. In Greenfields final section, he asks the audience to ponder what are the benefits for the individual to be part of a community or a collective. Does social media generate strong enough ties that lead to genuine action that can change regimes? In the future we will need to know how to translate our ability to build large networks of people locally that can mobilise each other and work toward overcoming local issues.

 

Pin-pointing what counts with Mapify
Pin-pointing what counts with Mapify

If you have happened upon a Voist blog or crossed our path at some point during this year then it’s pretty certain you would have heard us mention Mapify. Our own contribution to the Smart City chorus that currently echoes in each and every corner of London (and beyond).

Mapify was originally offered up as the smart answer to a community of arts practitioners woes – facing budget cuts and major regeneration plans for their area. After several weeks of consultation it was decided that a digital solution was what this cohort needed. An algorithm that would prove the worth of the arts network and translate the impact that their work has on local wellbeing into data that was accessible to all; in particular the local council who seemed to be lacking robust arts data. Surely this would justify the arts community’s right to financial support and secure their place in the areas future.

The Mapify Team’s recent community consultation event for Mapify Upper Clapton (© Alex Pielak)
The Mapify Team’s recent community consultation event for Mapify Upper Clapton (© Alex Pielak)

Having now been working on the Mapify tool for around 19 months, not only has our engagement within this area widened to other sectors of the community, but the project has evolved into a start up enterprise of its own. Turns out we were on to something, since the introduction of the Localism Act more than a 1000 Neighbourhood Forums have established themselves in just over a year. Community groups nationwide are on a mission to claim ownership of their own neighbourhoods, define their own values and secure their places in their areas futures.

A view of the Mapify Church Street homepage
A view of the Mapify Church Street homepage

However this current shift is most definitely not as swift and seamless as the swipe of an index finger across a glass screen. The needs, demands, and desires of citizens and the complex, interconnected, imperfect, and very human realities of urban existence; do not unfortunately simplify as rapidly as the rising I.Q levels of our latest technologies.

Over the next four weeks we will be taking Adam Greenfields four ‘People Making’ rules and examining how they might translate to the work we are currently carrying out in Westminster, Hackney and Eastbourne.