The Interactive City


Jepson and Edwards identify three traditional approaches to sustainable development: new urbanism, smart growth, and the ecological city. Their study shows that planners do not agree on which of these three approaches would be best in order to meet the 14 principles they believe “capture the essential land-use dimensions of sustainability that are applicable to all communities.” Thus, the planning profession has to find a hybrid approach that would combine characteristics of each approach.

However, in the words of Melissa Mean, Director of the Demos Cities Program, I believe that “What has been missing so far in the story about innovation in cities are the human and neighborhood dimensions.” Our guest lecturer this past week, Professor Toni Griffin, made a very similar point: sustainable development needs to be thought in terms of people, families, and neighborhoods. Planners need to think about what the residents needs are and tailor innovations to fulfilling those needs. Furthermore, it is also important to think about who the city is for beyond its current residents and thus also take into account the needs of the population moving to this urban area. Overall, the goal is to promote a city where people want to live.

That is what Camponeschi presents in The Enabling City: a bottom-up approach that seeks to redefine citizens as participants instead of consumers. The City 2.0 idea envisions a local government that has citizens and their communities at its core and enables development through collaboration, innovation, and participation. Through projects like the Yellow Arrow project, these three concepts come together engaging the community in new original ways. Interactive projects like these have become popular platforms for public expression and experimentation all over the world. In Boston, “The Pulse of the City” was put into place by a street artist to “promote the use and celebration of public space in an uplifting and imaginative way;” in Lisbon a “dancing traffic light” made waiting at the red light more enjoyable; and a mistletoe drone had San Franciscans kissing at Union Square. Although it does not involve any interaction, the Bay Lights has been very well received, making San Franciscans prouder and strengthening their sentiments towards their city.

These are all innovative and unique ideas that seem to engage all residents, with no distinction of race, income, or age. So, what if we presented planning processes as street-art projects, engaging all members of the community? Maybe cities should start hiring these artists, these “outside-the-box” thinkers, to develop new ways to involve the community and promote participatory planning.


8 thoughts on “The Interactive City

  1. jennamhahn

    I am happy to see your focus on the community level as a necessary component of planning. I was actually shocked that in Jepson and Edwards’ paper that participation was ranked lowest among all planners for any three of the planning approached. This surprised me since planning as a profession, both academically and in practice preaches that participation needs to be a cornerstone to good planning – so I would have assumed they would therefore associate this with planning techniques such as smart growth, new urbanism and the ecological city as well, since after all – why would these be any different? However, the fact that this was ranked last, despite the rhetoric around its importance, I think speaks to your larger point that there is still a big need for community involvement and ownership in innovative projects. Interesting examples too!

  2. frobertsgregory

    Thank you for your post! I am taken with the idea of human-centered, neighborhood level interventions. The creativity is what gives people hope. I really love the dancing traffic light. Planning should include innovative ideas that increase the social economy. I do agree that some of these strategies clearly cater to particular populations. And I am really concerned about how the mistletoe drone can desensitize us to the impact of drone warfare which is not sustainable. I love the use of technology, but sometimes its just a waste of resources that could be spent on other things such as basic education for all people.

  3. jessicalanguyen

    I really enjoyed your examples of interactive projects, and I think they demonstrate how planning can be made fun and more accessible to the public. I think sometimes, people perceive planning to be more technical or political than they are comfortable with getting involved in, but engaging people in more of the neighborhood-scale projects like those mentioned in this post can act as a stepping stone and help break down some of the barriers to public participation.

  4. caitlintouchberry

    I really like how the words “collaboration, innovation, and participation” are used in this post when describing a bottom up approach to sustainable development and planning. If I had to narrow it down to the things I think have potential to make a dramatic impact in this world, those three ideas would be on the top. I think it is important to realize that collaboration, innovation, and participation are important in both bottom up and top down approaches. Taking them out of context, I would argue they are things that should be attempted to do successfully across all levels and in many different contexts.

  5. aldotudela7

    Thanks for this great post! I agree with you that there is a need to look at planning from the city dweller’s perspective. I think that one of the main aspects on planning I learned in this class is the importance of a small-scale neighborhood approach, and how this bottom-up strategy can really help shape policies and schemes at a larger scale. However, I think that some of the examples you present do seem to be a little biased towards a certain level of society. It is unclear who benefits the most out of the Bay Lights, or the “mistletoe drone”. Although these activities do set an atmosphere in public spaces of engagement, there are always a side that does not benefit from them, like the lights not being visible in most of Oakland or the mistletoe targeted at high society.

  6. Yes – I agree with Emily. This post does a great job of highlighting innovative human-centered approaches and it even mentions how the many of these ideas do not mention age, race, or income. I think those topics are important and should be mentioned and understood to inform the unique ideas for more meaningful community participation. Equity is key and often when it is not mentioned, it means it is being overlooked. Especially since the majority of the norms of what participation should look like are developed based off of dominant culture, rather than being more inclusive. In order to promote more inclusive and equitable participation (and actualizing ideas from diverse groups), discussion of equity and voice (and even forms of silencing) are key.

  7. niavila

    Great post! I agree with the idea of creating an interactive city that promotes the human dimension and community. These features promote a sense of happiness. However, it is very important that the technologies that are adopted to improve the cities are inherently sustainable. For example, the bay lights. They are very beautiful and create a sense of identity in San Francisco. However, the lights consume a large amount of energy, making it an unsustainable idea.

  8. I really like your post and think you touch upon a really important point – finding new and creative ways to do planning and include public participation. We touched upon this in our discussion seminar last week, but it also important that we keep in mind issues of equity when we think of these new ideas. For example, some of the more high tech ideas or those based on the sharing economy can be divisive for people without access to smart phones or extra resources. I think this new breed of planning has great potential to expand upon equity, but it is something to be mindful of as planners or it can easily be looked over!

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