Ideas for better cities (by a citizen)

By: Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, designswarm

After I wrote a little bit about what the Challenge was about in terms of format I started thinking about what ideas I would pitch if I could apply. I like thinking about community life and the role that technology could take in building better communities. I think people find it hard to care about their local community at certain times in their lives. Only when they become parents or retire do they need community life in a new and meaningful way. The kindness of a neighbour in taking out the bins, the help of a local friend to babysit at the last minute. Local communities are what makes city living attractive, as well as anonymity when needed. Here are ideas I would love someone to develop that I think would make for better city living.

1. Smart public local signage

I walked through my local train station this morning to find that there is a billboard full of little pieces of paper with people advertising all sorts of things. This is because online community news bulletins aren’t always effective or inclusive.

I grew up in Paris where there are digital signs everywhere. These are very handy for information that concerns the whole city and sometimes are simply used as advertising. Someone should come up with these types of signage which are cheaper, more responsive and use real-time information. This could be something you’d attach to lamp posts or in the window of local businesses.

electronic signage in Paris


2. House passports

This I suppose is on the edge of a city application and more of a mechanism for better living. I like the idea of having an email address for my flat, a mailing lists for my street and a website where I can see information that might affect my flat and add information too. I’d love to add information about damages that occured, that the washing machine was replaced at that time and the name and contact information for the nice plumber. This is stuff I may even want to share with others as they take over the lease after I’m gone. These are ways to be a good neighbour and good citizen. There’s also something in having flats and houses also be a digital actor or ‘citizen’ as my friend Adrian calls them. The history of a house is something we don’t think about but we should. It would help us get access to better services.

3. Safer cycling for newbies

What would happen if you wore a jacket with an L sign on it? Would people drive by differently? Getting over an initial fear of cycling stops a lot of people from joining in and finding alternative ways of moving around a city. The Volvo smart headgear which was showcased at CES this year is pretty interesting but would freak me out. Perhaps an audio or haptic version of this instead of the headgear flashing. If we’re moving into a world of ubiquitous car to car services, this should extend to cyclists, vans and public transport too. If we could share information about where vehicles are and how they might threaten a cycling experience quickly and in a glanceable way, people might take to it more quickly. Imagine placing your phone on the handle of your bicycle and depending on who is behind you, a different colour is flashed or an audio message is given. Worth experimenting.

In any case there are plenty of opportunities for citizens to get involved and design their own solutions at events like this Challenge. I hope you’ll think about something to make and apply too! Remember the deadline is Friday midnight!

This article was first published in the Smart Oxford Challenge blog in August 2015.