I googled an expression that popped into my head, "digital placemaking," and came away dissatisfied by what I found. It felt as though when it came to "place" or public realm, the best digital technology would come up with was some abstraction of Second Life. I'm far more interested in the real world, the one inhabited by people in our various communities, and I'm always looking for ways to bring folks together.
You may have seen the "Vancouver Story" neighbourhood plaques bolted to various lamp standards around the city. What if, I wondered, instead of these signs being about a single historical moment, they could become almost 'living' documents of our communities?
Not long after I started this blog with Daniel, I saw that we had an opportunity to wax about city-making. One of the first posts I wrote in this vein back in January 2009 was titled "The Last Desktop." In it I described how the smart phone revolution would change our streets. Lamp standards embedded with wireless units would allow for realtime exchanges of news and experiences. These connections would happen within our many neighbourhoods.
Some weeks ago I was very proud that our neighbourhood group over here on Fraser Street was able to partner with a non-profit and a local developer to create street banners. It was a unique arrangement that to my knowledge has never been done before here. After asking the developer of a significant housing project just down the street three times to participate, I was starting to get discouraged. Thankfully they saw there was a 'win-win'.
This is just one of several outstanding projects organized by community volunteers in my neighbourhood over the last decade. Now we have a new idea that we think will be a powerful example to other communities around the city. We want to use digital tools at the street level to enhance our community.
It's a simple idea, really. Use these same "Vancouver Story" markers as a way to connect people using either mobile texting or QR code scans. In the same way we see real estate agents sharing information about properties for sale, our historical markers can connect to a Facebook thread, or automatically hash tag a Tweet. It can send readers to a page where they can leave their mark.
The messages can be either banal or profound, but what's important is that they'll come from the place, and anyone will be able to participate because the barrier to entry is so low.
Here's another application of this same principle of using street level digital innovation to advance community development.
Walking down the street I often see City of Vancouver development application signage telling me about a new building going up. How about if I could pull out my smart phone, click the QR code reader and get directed automatically to the City's dev apps page? Drawings of the project, specs on height, zoning and who's the developer are all included. And furthermore, you're able to leave a comment!
We can do all these things easily today if we want. In fact, our neighbourhood group has a grant application in today asking to create one of these first sets of 'digital placemaking' markers for right here in my Fraser Street community. There's more work to be done to outline the concept, but I think it might be something you'll quickly see popping up in other areas of town soon.
- post by Mike. Follow @MikeKlassen & @CityCaucus on Twitter.