What if Christchurch was a virtual city?
‘What if Christchurch was a virtual city?’ was the topic of conversation at our 2nd Designworks Social Roast.
Smart cities promise a world where data is ubiquitous. In the same way the internet has become an integral part of how we function in the modern world, information feed to us from our immediate local environment will help inform our actions almost instinctively, like a sixth sense.
But what are the benefits of providing city dwellers access to a deeper layer of contextual information? How would we engage with all this data and more importantly, how could we, as living sensing human beings, be an integral part of a network of sensors?
Roger Dennis has made huge inroads pioneering the concept of the sensing city (http://sensingcity.org/) Christchurch 2.0. As our city renews, we should take full advantage of new technology and open data protocols.
But to get full buy-in and understanding on a public level, the benefits will need to be grounded at a human level. This is where the concept of a virtual world could help bridge the gap – whether it be virtual, augmented and alternative reality, there’s a need to connect people with data more intimately and with minimal complexity.
Virtual worlds and massively multi-player online games are successful in engaging players on quests of self-improvement. Game designers understand the science of engagement like no other industry. This is mainly due to the level of game play information they have at their finger tips at any one time. If a new challenge isn’t working they can make the adjustments necessary to improve engagement based on player data.
This is effectively how a smart city should work, but we should have the ability to be both the player and the game designer.
Take a standard drive to work as an example. Right now Christchurch is awash with detours and roadworks. They change by the day. Data of road works could inform us in advance the best possible route. Sensors at intersections could let us know of any hazards. Built in GPS in our phones could triangulate speed of travel from other drivers ahead of us to determine realtime congestion.
Data from multiple sources can add a layer of contextual information to standard navigation systems that traditionally only tell you how to get from point A to B but nothing else in between.
The data gathered from our trips can also help model better road systems, which is an incentive for people to participate. This information could also be layered over with fuel consumption and compare the cost of operating a personal vehicle over public transport. Both travel scenarios could be compared on a level of comfort by monitoring stress level of different types of travelers. The possibilities are endless.
As designers of our own world we can begin to make informed choices over cost, time and health benefits. This data has the potential to transform human behaviour much more effectively than public awareness campaigns or protracted consultation processes.
An example where hard factual data could help the public decision making processes is in the suggestion of removing cars from the CBD. In theory this may well be a good idea. But what are the consequences for retail? How is retail affected by traffic volumes in and out of the city? How far are pedestrians willing to walk to get to their destination? What level of uptake in cycling would be needed to make this proposition a success?
The overhead to collate and translate all this information is beyond most people, therefore we become dependent on qualified experts to give us balanced and sound advice (or sometimes the people with the strongest opinions). But as populations increase and technology shifts, we can no longer rely on single sources of advice or wait for research papers and reports to be written.
In one session alone it was clear that the main benefit was certainty in decision making and how this has the ability to transform human behaviour.
I’d like to thank Julian Carver, Jonathan Ewing, Laura Griffiths and Nick Hughes in participating on this session, I think we only scratched the surface.
Potential areas of innovation through a virtual city project:
- Traffic flow improvement
- Realtime traffic modeling
- Path finder / Open paths
- Street view display of building health
- Safety and green rating monitoring
- Building productivity
- Crowdsourced crime and safety detection
- Geolocated audio sound spots
- Augmented Reality virtual tours (what was or will be there)
- Alternative reality gaming (health focused)
- Virtual avatars for city residents
- Better understanding of human behaviour in physical space
- Virtual art and scuptures
- Retail virtual goods, virtual currency
- Explore future developments
- Physical & virtual retail
- Disrupt physical business models with new approaches
- Create higher value retail experiences
- Measure and visualise foot traffic for retail in relation to events
- Measure or test interest or support of initiatives in virtual world
- Crowd source ideas and improvements
- Social marketplace to share and record ideas
- Responsible design through social awareness
- Certainty and Accessibility