Citizen Journalism: Animating the everyday to transform Manchester's public spaces

In the latest of our Citizen Journalist contributions, Stuart Goulden takes a look at how to bring a smart city to life for the people living in it.

Smart cities need a lot of thought. How do you make the invisible visible? The conceptual worth caring about? The little bits of data add up to big change?

The answers can normally be found in public conversations and contact. Thankfully the human intent in CityVerve has always been clear: public consultation has happened early and often (via Community Forums run by FutureEverything); the challenges it looks to answer are real and pressing, and the experiments have happened at street level and out in the open.

The result is a new digital layer rising up over Manchester’s public spaces.

Only a keen eye may see the cameras, apps, beacons and sensors that smart cities rely on, but it’s our interactions with these devices that give them their power.

Knowingly or not, our individual actions are helping to shape our city’s communal spaces and contributing to their sustainable future. In exchange for our anonymous data, we get back some collective control.

In many cities, public areas have gradually been neglected and public buildings allowed to deteriorate past their best. Rethinking or reclaiming them as inviting, playful, safe and efficient places to be, secures their future for the next hundred years.

Fifty years ago, 50% of architects worked in the public sector. Now, it’s less than 1%. Our data can help to plug that gap. As Naveen Rajdev rightly said: “Being connected is great, but being conscious is better.” 

So, let’s take a look at some of the CityVerve initiatives helping Manchester to make better decisions and to be a better place to live…

Playful public spaces

As anybody who’s tried to kick a bad habit will know, changing deep-rooted behaviours can be hard.

Gamification can help, offering little ‘nudges’ in the right direction and injecting some fun into our everyday routines. CityVerve is using gamification to reward good actions too.

BeeActive is a new app that links together a user’s location and the weather with traffic and travel data to provide personalised nudges. The ultimate aim being to help the people of Manchester to be healthier, happier and bathed in local culture.

A window on the world

City life is complex, beautiful and constantly on the move. A new, large interactive space, known as an ‘Immersive Lab’, turns all that activity into captivating digital visualisations, and helps to provide new insights in order to make smarter decisions, faster.

Greeting you as you enter the new Bright Building in Manchester Science Park, its giant interactive screen and applications augments the city with real-time and historical information such as parking and travel data, points of interest and personal memories shared by the public.

A common complaint about our data is that those doing the collection don’t always have a particular interest in then making it available. Not any more! Anybody is welcome to expand and explore their city like never before.

According to Simon Dyke, Senior Manager, Chief Technology & Architecture Office at Cisco, it’s only just the beginning: “CityVerve is creating a smart city movement, which unearths more data all the time. The future will bring new visualisations and experiences we haven’t even thought of yet. We’re finding that the interactive wall is a great way to engage, understand and experience data at scale and for people to fast forward and rewind Manchester at will.”

Workplaces that work

Digital placemaking doesn’t only happen outdoors. CityVerve is also interested in how better building management can contribute to the quality of air we breathe and the wider cleanliness and sustainability of cities.

SPICA oversees a network of 800 sensors in a number of Manchester’s high profile public buildings, including the Town Hall and hospital wards.

This bird’s eye view allows them to suggest new ways to reduce energy wastage and be more compliant, to deliver on-demand cleaning services and to envision workplaces that work for employees and employers alike.

A better way to get from A to B

Bus journeys have come a long way in recent years, with free Wi-Fi, charging ports and comfy seats amongst the many improvements.

But the changes don’t stop there. Thanks to CityVerve, talkative bus stops will soon be able to alert drivers that you’re waiting to be picked up, show you the latest news about your destination and even help you find wheelchair- or pushchair-friendly spots once you’re there.

All of the many individual initiatives that make up CityVerve are fascinating in themselves. However, the real challenge is to draw the connections between these new data points and get them working together. To borrow an analogy from a recent family workshop held at a Community Forum, it’s only then that Manchester will unlock its full “super powers”.

Image via FutureEverything

October 30, 2017 in Citizen Journalism

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