7. Tying it Together - Week 3, October 16

Updated: Oct 25, 2018


[placeholder for summary statement]


My group has been taking the time to brainstorm these past few weeks, try to better understand the problem and then come together to brainstorm as a group. We did a brainstorm at the Museum of London together around the insights we'd gained from our research thus far and reached a consensus on a basic set of requirements for our potential solution (whatever that may be). These requirements were that (1) it be sustainable, (2) it build community, and (3) it be accessible (in terms of not exacerbating current socioeconomic trends).

I was glad that our group had coalesced on these requirements because it helped me direct my research in this last phase before we determined a problem statement. Individually, I wanted to determine which component had the most potential for impact.


To accomplish this, I - (1) researched the component problems, and (2) also looked at existing smart city projects using Rosner's framework to understand what was being attempted from a critical perspective. My goal with this exercise was to identify opportunities for innovation based on the problem areas, and what was currently being done.

(1) To better understand the component problems, I watched a variety of Ted talks. I found these to be useful in covering a lot of ground quickly, and also being exposed to new ideas.

As I watched, I would write down the ideas or areas I found particularly interesting:

I found myself drawn to the issue of city design, sustainable growth and in particular the "walkable" movement. One Ted speaker in particular caught my attention, Jeff Speck, and his discussion of walkable cities, and ways to make cities more walkable.

He demonstrated how aspects of city design can impact things like health (escalator to the gym?), or impact the environment (by clustering industry in a single area).

This spurred further brainstorming around this issue of walkability and how it promotes sustainability. Speck outlined four ways that cities can identify areas that are well positioned to be revitalized and made more walkable. This inspired me to consider solutions that go upstream from the problem.

Instead of creating a solution for individual consumers (which Rosner advocates against), create a solution that is more scalable and could generate more impact by providing the tools to someone upstream from the consumer (a company or government) to implement and promulgate sustainability. In this particular case I thought about how a toolkit or app that takes the four variables Speck mentions and automatically analyses cities to identify those areas, then provides city planners with instructions or tips on how to make those areas more walkable could have a lot of impact. I was really excited by this.


(2) Next, I looked at existing smart city projects on this repository.

The first thing I noticed is how many ideas are already being implemented and tried out, and in such a wide variety of countries (although mostly developed). That immediately highlighted to me the need for these types of solutions to be tested and implemented in less developed countries that may not have the resources or capability (yet) to test out these types of projects.

Then, I dove into some of the projects. I learned about smart street lights, efforts to track trash, automatic air quality reporting, and so forth. There are an overwhelming amount of projects listed.

However, a theme I noticed was taking existing infrastructure or hardware and making it "smart", whether that be the roads, the lights, the signs, the buildings, etc.

This made me realise how difficult improving walkability is, because it doesn't necessarily mean just adding technology and that magically solves the problem. It requires re-considering the necessity of cars, re-designing cities, re-building streets, etc. These smart city projects were tackling different components, some cities tackling multiple components at once, but they were not necessarily redefining the component in a significant way. Questioning the methods (Wakeford) , or reasons why that hardware/infrastructure even exists.


Our problem area, regardless of what we choose, will be focused on sustainability. I am excited about that because climate change poses an existential threat to cities. Some of these smart city projects are nice to have, but not need to have. Need to have projects are the ones that are going to do things that address climate change.

Tomorrow is the day my group plans to meet and determine (as a group) what the problem space we will tackle is. We will brainstorm the areas we found most interesting, or specific problems we found most pressing, and determine a problem statement through consensus.

After doing my own research, I feel I have a really good understanding of the context we have been given (cities, their elements, challenges they face), so no matter what our group chooses I think I am prepared to place it into the broader system/context to identify potential solutions.

However, if I had to choose on my own, I would set the problem as transportation. This is an area rich with challenges that technology could help to ameliorate. It is also quite broad when you consider public versus private transport, transportation-related issues such as traffic, the transportation of food and goods, etc. I feel it has a lot of potential for impact because it relies on energy and is so pervasive in our lives, everything we buy or use has to have been transported from somewhere else, and we ourselves use various transportation methods on a day-to-day basis.