New York City

Recent News on Gov – Public Communication

While Cape Town seeks communications tools to foster an innovative business environment, the Catalán city of Sant Cugat de Vallés takes a broader approach to citizen participation. In their view, it is not only businesses, but also public entities and individual citizens that create an ecosystem of creativity. It is this ecosystem that fosters innovation, not only in businesses, but also in the public sector. A story from New York City demonstrates that city officials in important cities are taking citizen participation seriously. Four city councilors there are using “participatory budgeting” to allow citizens to decide where to spend $1 million in each of their districts. New York City is relying on models used in other places, including in Africa, Asia, Canada, and Europe, as well as the US city of Chicago. Councilor Brad Lander cited one Chicago initiative where the neighbors walked every sidewalk in the district and ranked which ones were most in need of a repair – an analysis, he says, would never have been done as thoroughly left to the council or city staff. So, participatory budgeting is as much about being comprehensive as it is about fresh ideas. Transparency and voter confidence are additional benefits of involving the public in decision-making.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhT3co2qNAA&w=440&h=253]

RedCut, a Switzerland-based gaming company, recently produced a white paper containing 17 global case studies of social media use in the government. Among these, several demonstrate methods for fostering an ecosystem of creativity and citizen participation. Private solutions such as SeeClickFix, Ushahidi, and ManorLabs are showcased alongside publicly-initiated projects in Vancouver, New York, and Minas Gerais. While not intended to be a comprehensive or ranked set of solutions, the white paper demonstrates both supply and demand for enhanced government-citizen communications.

Check out the showcases already coming in to see new ideas on this subject, or submit one of your own here!

-          Terra Curtis

Developing Countries Developing Solutions

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/30485000 w=400&h=225]

Introducing mo from LUNAR Europe on Vimeo.

At least three of our partner cities in this round of the Living Labs Global Awards are seeking solutions related to transportation. Lavasa, México City, and Guadalajara, each within a developing country, want to find ways to boost alternative transportation and keep infrastructure maintenance ahead of deterioration.

According to the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP), by 2030 almost three quarters of the world’s population with reside in cities, with most of that urbanization taking place in developing countries. In order to maintain health and achieve sustainability in the long term, these cities must stay ahead of the game in developing the transportation infrastructure, policies, incentives, and solutions that encourage limited use of fossil fuels. Several recent concepts are relevant to the challenges faced by these cities. BitCity, a conference on Transportation, data, and technology in cities was held November 4th in New York City. The conference, which will be ongoing, is meant to highlight innovation and expose the barriers currently preventing cities from implementing that innovation. Recorded sessions can be viewed online here.

A second transportation-related tid-bit to come across the radar screen is Mo (short for mobility), which uses smartphone technology with a “bike tag” to link travel data and different modal systems. The idea is to provide users with more choices about how to get around and incentives for making responsible travel decisions. (See the video above.)

Two other mobile apps stood out in a recent scan – Avego’s instant carpool app, Shout and Reroute.it, a mobile web app (works on any smartphone) that compares the cost, travel time, calories burned, and CO2 emitted for several different modes of transportation (e.g. walk, bike, transit, car, or taxi).

Shout is a free mobile app that helps you arrange carpool rides with friends, family, and coworkers in real time. Current “Shout Hotspots” – locations where a critical mass of users has been reached – include Orlando, Florida; Seattle, Washington; Houston, Texas; Bergen, Norway; and Kinsale, Ireland.

Reroute.it was developed by fellows in the Code for America program this summer. It is meant to provide users with full information, and in theory they will use that information to make sustainable, responsible transportation choices. Because it relies on several open data sources, its full features are not available in all locations yet, but it will work everywhere. Seattle and San Francisco are fully featured, with Philadelphia soon to follow.

While some of these solutions may not be appropriate for developing countries’ cities currently, these locations are rapidly adopting mobile technology and present models for how to stay ahead of the curve.

-          Terra Curtis

Bacteria flowing through goo?

No.  Runners running through Manhattan. [vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/24703033 w=400&h=225]

Nike+ from CSmith on Vimeo.

New York interaction designer Cooper Smith has created an intriguing set of visualizations of Nike+ data.  I’m not quite sure how, but Smith obtained about 1,000 runs’ worth of data for New York City.  He then created several maps to reveal some interesting information.

Most runs take place in Central Park, along the coastline and across the bridges.  A lot of running activity occurs in NYC; people rarely run during overnight hours.  Runs originating in Central Park tend to be longer than those whose destination is Central Park.  People in Central Park tend to run fast.  Running through midtown causes runners a lot of temporary delays.  Runners have to come to a complete stop quite often.

As Jeroen Beekmans at Pop Up City points out, this is valuable information for parks and recreation planners.  Smith was interested in understanding how a runner perceives the urban realm, and planners can use this information to locate areas that are most lacking to target programs or investments.  Not only that, Nike could use this information to build a product suggesting the most populated, fastest, or most uninterrupted for an individual runner.

- Terra Curtis

Smart City Implementation: NYC and SF

SFParkIntelligent cities projects are not just an idealized concept anymore; they’re actually happening all around us, whether or not we realize it.  New York City Mayor Bloomberg announced about a week ago that NYC’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority had partnered with the Federal Government to develop and implement a real-time traffic tracking system that enables their traffic operations office to make changes to signal timing right from their desktop computer.  In San Francisco, the USDOT’s Urban Partnership Program primarily funded the development and installation of a real-time parking supply and demand tracking system, which this week implemented its first round of demand-responsive parking price changes. The system in San Francisco has many implications for the future of transportation management.  The back-end data structure has been consciously designed to be flexible for future real-time data collection additions, like a feed of real-time boardings on Muni, the city’s public transit system.  In the words of project manager Jay Primus, “[Microsoft] Excel just won’t cut it anymore.”  And he’s right; leveraging relational database technology, which has actually existed for quite a while (the 1970s), is seen as a huge and innovative step for municipal government.  In one simple query, the city could understand how parking demand is related to public transit boardings.  Add real-time, automated automobile, bicycle and pedestrian volumes to the mix, and you’ve got a truly multi-modal management system.

New York’s system is offers the development of one piece of this as well.  They collect traffic volume information from microwave sensors, video cameras, and E-Z Pass readers throughout Manhattan.  They’re verifying the system’s data collection with GPS units installed in several taxicabs travelling throughout the city every day.

Without the financial backing of the federal government, it’s unlikely that either of these projects would have come to fruition.  This is one case where, gladly, money is power.

- Terra Curtis

 

Smart City Implementation: NYC and SF

SFParkIntelligent cities projects are not just an idealized concept anymore; they’re actually happening all around us, whether or not we realize it.  New York City Mayor Bloomberg announced about a week ago that NYC’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority had partnered with the Federal Government to develop and implement a real-time traffic tracking system that enables their traffic operations office to make changes to signal timing right from their desktop computer.  In San Francisco, the USDOT’s Urban Partnership Program primarily funded the development and installation of a real-time parking supply and demand tracking system, which this week implemented its first round of demand-responsive parking price changes. The system in San Francisco has many implications for the future of transportation management.  The back-end data structure has been consciously designed to be flexible for future real-time data collection additions, like a feed of real-time boardings on Muni, the city’s public transit system.  In the words of project manager Jay Primus, “[Microsoft] Excel just won’t cut it anymore.”  And he’s right; leveraging relational database technology, which has actually existed for quite a while (the 1970s), is seen as a huge and innovative step for municipal government.  In one simple query, the city could understand how parking demand is related to public transit boardings.  Add real-time, automated automobile, bicycle and pedestrian volumes to the mix, and you’ve got a truly multi-modal management system.

New York’s system is offers the development of one piece of this as well.  They collect traffic volume information from microwave sensors, video cameras, and E-Z Pass readers throughout Manhattan.  They’re verifying the system’s data collection with GPS units installed in several taxicabs travelling throughout the city every day.

Without the financial backing of the federal government, it’s unlikely that either of these projects would have come to fruition.  This is one case where, gladly, money is power.

- Terra Curtis

 

Transportation Camp

Transportation Camp is an “unconference” – all sessions during the gathering are proposed and led by attendees.  These people come from a plethora of backgrounds; representatives from Grist, from New York’s MTA, from the U.S. Department of the Treasury and Transportation, Streetfilms, and academia.  This past week, Transportation Camp East was held in New York; next week, Transportation Camp West happens in San Francisco.  It is organized by OpenPlans with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Institute for Information Law and Policy, Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, 3GMobility, redhat, Urban Mapping, and many others. The chatter this event has created is remarkable.  Not only did discussion begin well in advance of the gathering, but also it has continued – a good measure of success.  You can follow the discussion on their website, but also through the Twitter hashtag #transpo.  Talks included “Can we do a road pricing system for really cheap with existing tech?” to “Tools for small and medium agencies.”

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/20936443 w=400&h=225]

Transportation Meets Technology in New York from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

The video above explains most of the detail of the event itself; it is meant to stimulate discussion on technology and transport, on innovation, on government 2.0, and on open data and transparency.  Twitter has facilitated not only organizing for the event itself, but also “offline” organizing.  People interested in these topics are holding tweetups; one group in particular, @CityCampSPb, organized a minicamp in Russia.  The result of the event is organized attention toward these issues, and with such a variety of attendees, action within government and private companies is likely to follow.

-Terra Curtis

 

Open Source Planning

BetavilleIn some people’s view, the role of the urban planner is primarily to facilitate community participation and to implement policies that lead to the achievement of community-provided visions.  If you agree with this idea, then you’ll like a new tool developed at the Brooklyn Experimental Media Center.

Betaville is a SimCity-like tool that allows citizens to create designs of New York City, adding, altering, or moving buildings and landscapes.  But it’s not just a receiver of ideas; it is meant to engage a wide community where users can design and others can comment or upload their own variations. Betaville was designed with the intent of inviting the same high levels of participation found in open source software.  The community vision of a street corner or of an entire city will morph over time as more people contribute, as does a Wikipedia page.  And in theory, the input of these “subject matter experts” (from consultants to university students to residents of a particular area) will inform the plans made by the municipality.

It is, of course, subject to the same challenges faced by any public involvement process: how do you make sure everyone is involved?  How is everyone’s voice heard?  Betaville is certainly a step in the right direction – leveraging modern communications technologies and visualization tools to further engage the citizen.  But a solution for inviting more (or at least more representative) voices is still needed.

-Terra Curtis

The Case of Tourism and Roaming

In our Handbook on innovation in services and mobility in cities, we published comparative data on the cost and impact of digital vs paper tourist maps. One of our conclusions is that digital mobility costs 1,011x more than paper maps. The updated table below, reflecting the latest available data on global tourism in cities (2008), shows the scale of the burden roaming poses on cities. Table taken from "Connected Cities: Your 256 Billion Euro Dividend"

Our data shows that, as an example, the 15 million international tourists visiting London in 2008 would have had to pay a total of EUR 102 billion in roaming charges to access the 22 million paper maps they collected that year. This is about 5x the total spending of tourists in London per year. Yet, the paper maps resource consumption constituted the equivalent of 19,000 trees - never mind the burden on dealing with the 1,600 hectares of discarded paper to the recycling systems.

But these numbers are fictional, since no tourist coughs up the EUR 4,550 per visit that these numbers imply. instead, visitors chose to disable data services and roaming, pick up a free paper map (subsidized by the local tourist industry), continuing to make use of all its functions: scribbling, asking for directions, sharing & tearing, and tracing their route. All that at a cost of zero Euros.

What then, has to change? In our book we argue that we need to fundamentally change the way we organise the cost of digital services in cities, eliminating roaming whilst adding significant commercial upsides to the operators to the tune of EUR 2 billion per year. Roaming is about 182x as costly as local data tariffs on prepaid plans, meaning that London could replace its paper maps for about EUR 560 million - or a mere 2.8% of tourist expenditure. These numbers do not take into account the efficiency gains in bulk-costs and data consumption by reversing our business models, which would reduce costs to around 1.4% of spending and could make London (or any other city choosing to become the first to tackle this issue) the first roaming-free tourist destination in the world.

Who would finance this? How about those that pay for the maps already dedicating a small percentage of their revenue instead to making theirs the most innovative and attractive tourist destination in the world...

Amphibious Sensor Network in New York City

This week Living Architecture Lab at Columbia University and the Environmental Health Clinic at New York University installed a complex network of sensors and mobile technology in New York City's water networks. The Amphibious Architecture project invites New Yorkers to explore their city from a different, more soggy, perspective. Straight from the source:

Amphibious Architecture submerges ubiquitous computing into the water—the substance that makes up 90% of the Earth’s inhabitable volume and envelops New York City but remains under-explored and under-engaged. Two networks of floating interactive tubes, installed at sites in the East River and the Bronx River, house a range of sensors below water and an array of lights above water. The sensors monitor water quality, presence of fish, and human interest in the river ecosystem. The lights respond to the sensors and create feedback loops between humans, fish, and their shared environment. An SMS interface allows citizens to text-message the fish, to receive real-time information about the river, and to contribute to a display of collective interest in the environment.

Instead of treating the rivers with a “do-not-disturb” approach, the project encourages curiosity and engagement. Instead of treating the water as a reflective surface to mirror our own image and our own architecture, the project establishes a two-way interface between environments of land and water. In two different neighbourhoods of New York, the installation creates a dynamic and captivating layer of light above the surface of the river. It makes visible the invisible, mapping a new ecology of people, marine life, buildings, and public space and sparking public interest and discussion.

For more pictures, video and information on the Amphibious Architecture Project in New York City, click here.