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Working towards an open internet of things and places: 'Beyond the "Smart City"' by Adam Greenfield

Internationally recognised American writer, Adam Greenfield is also the Founder & Managing Director of Urbanscale LLC, a New York City-based urban systems design practice set up to promote and support a more user-centred approach to urban interface design.


First published in 2006, his book 'Everyware' became almost overnight an instant classic for ubiquitous computing advocates and practitioners alike. In attempting to unearth and diagnose some of the computing challenges (design & engineering) obstructing the path to that utopian vision of a seamlessly connected world – '...a vision of processing power so distributed throughout the environment that computers per se effectively disappear...' – it was one of the first extended texts that dared to envision how new forms of connectivity were impacting upon our understanding of the cities in which we live.


Fast forward to February 2011 and 'Beyond the “Smart City”' was posted on the Urbanscale website. This essay nothing less than an epically wrought quasi-manifesto advocating an 'open' design model as the most germane route via which to build impending network infrastructures. A kind of 'bottoms-up' activism for the smart cities of the future, in many ways the antithesis of the ‘top-down’ tools approach as represented by Cisco, Oracle, IBM etc. The emphasis throughout is that of enabling the citizen to avail him/herself of the opportunities afforded by the emerging sentient technologies.


Admittedly no substitute to reading the complete article itself, but nevertheless here are a few citations to whet your appetite:


‘The networked city will only come into its own once it’s been reconceived as a framework of active resources, each endowed with some kind of structured, machine-readable presence and the possibilities for interaction this leads to.’ (from part 1 – 'Becoming-resource: An introduction' )


‘Drawing the torrential volumes of data provided by networked resources into appropriately designed visualizations will endow each of us with new powers of visibility - an endowment that amounts to nothing less than an extension of the human sensorium, rendering much of the world around us effectively transparent to inquiry. ‘ (from part 1)


In parts 3 & 4 the case for an open application and services ecosystem steps up a gear. Not only the best means via which to avoid systemic issues such as fragmentation and barriers to application and service development at scale, but also a way to circumvent the kind of subjectively random cultural and political values that often become embedded within the production of new technical standards.


‘The primary advantage of open data in this context is that it resists attempts to concentrate power by leveraging asymmetries of information and differentials of access. If one has this data set, then all do.’ (from part 3 - ‘Born to be open’)


'Only a sustained and meaningful commitment to open data access will allow the greatest possible number to share in the benefit derived from what are, after all, their own activities.’ ( from part 3)

'We are quite comfortable in asserting that open resources will give rise to the most vibrant ecosystem of third-party development, an ecosystem of entrepreneurs free to search the space of possibility and elaborate on niche opportunities previously unimaginable.’ ( from part 4 - 'Defining Public Objects' )


With the proviso that such open-source initiatives contain input from user experience professionals...


‘We should be clear as a first principle that taking advantage of high-level functionality no more require understanding the logic of the underlying system than driving a car requires a comprehensive grounding in the history of the internal combustion engine.’ (from part 4)


However it is in exploring the internet of things potential within the hypothetical case study model of a simple two-car parking lot located within the quiet Hiro-o neighbourhood of Tokyo, where Greenfield opts to most persuasively flag up the genuine possibilities. Endowing this parking lot with its own unique address in Ipv6 namespace would then, he proposes, enable it to provide:



(from part 5 - 'In practice')


In short, new data sets permitting new business models or developments within existing ones - ‘Extend the model, always extend.'



   Dive bars, bridges, billboards, bike racks, subways.....the list is endless. ( via )     


It is the tasselling out of such data sets which ultimately, he argues, will ‘...bear on our ability to conceive of and execute the experiences we think of as urban...If you’ve found the blossoming of iPhone or Android apps impressive, in other words, wait until you see what people come up with when they can query stadium parking lots and weather stations and bike racks and reservoir levels and wait times at the TKTS stand.’ (from part 5)


Adam Greenfield, a thought leader championing the case for an open internet of things & places that in its urban context will successfully ‘...reflect something of our own local values and traditions.’

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