The Interactive City

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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.

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