Day 6: Smart Cities

As much as I wanted to hit the ground running on my first week back, it feels as if a lot of time has been spent catching up with myself, getting back into the rhythm of University life. Despite this, last week was one in which I began to truly comprehend the year ahead, being decisive about what it is I want to do with my 4th year.

I’ve always said that I find the act of blogging to be quite therapeutic, as when you are writing, you’re sharing what’s going on in your head with an unknown audience — a concept closely linked to a technique named ‘Rubber Ducking’. Unloading these thoughts in written format is in itself a good way to further enhance an understanding of the project that is being undertaken. Case in point; after I wrote about the decisions I had to make for my project’s future last week, I realised instantly that I want to base my studies on the topic of ‘Cities’, not ‘Creativity’. Having spoken with my peers and my tutors, I knew that I wanted to waste as little time as possible picking the perfect subject, and instead start working as hard as possible, as quickly as possible. So, thanks to Rubber Ducking, thats what I’ve done.

Rubber Ducking — it works, honestly.

Obviously I know that ‘Cities’ is an extremely vague starting point, and hence it will require a lot of digging initially using desk research to pin down a finer area so that I can begin talking to professionals and potential product users. However, the area as it stands is one that is captivating to me for a number of different reasons.

The 23rd of May, 2007, was the first day ever that the Earth’s population was more urban than rural. The Economist predicts that by the year 2050, 85.9% of the developed world will be urbanised, and today, 83% of Britain’s population lives in urban areas. That’s a lot of people.

Glasgow is leading the way in the UK for smart, connected cities

The way we are living is changing, with more of us choosing concrete jungles over lush countrysides. This on it’s own is a stimulating subject matter, considering that my project meets at the crossroads of ‘People’, ‘Design’ and ‘Technology’. But those facts are not the reason that I have chosen to look at cities. Instead, it is the new technologies that are shaping them, and how they affect the people that live in them. Cities such as Glasgow are trying to develop and become ‘smart’ and ‘connected’, with lampposts that change brightness in order to reduce energy costs, and alerts for cyclists to ease traffic congestion within the city centre.

Yet with this pioneering tech driving this change, some argue that this is an evolution that is not people-centric, and that we should keep an eye fixed more firmly on the social implications of these proposals. How can I as a designer, attempt to instigate this change? As a current alumni of the Social Digital course at DJCAD, the people who use my products are, for me, the priority and basis of any project, and I will try and champion them at all times throughout the year.

A focus on people will let Glasgow’s ‘Future Cities’ project flourish

My final reason for further investigating this subject matter is that cities simply fascinate me. I’ve never been one for the countryside, and despite having grown up in the middle of absolutely nowhere, I have always had a deep seeded love for Glasgow, where half of my family originated and lived (until they committed the heinous act of moving to Edinburgh). On another level, I love how a city such as London can be both completely diverse, whilst maintaining a strong sense of identity and culture all at the one time. Because of this interest, I’m sure wherever I choose to focus on will yield versatile, fascinating insights throughout my year.

To be honest, the project may move away from ‘smart’ cities and possibly move towards ‘smart’ homes, or even just focus solely upon the residents of these places. This will all be decided by the end of the week — for the time being I will think divergently with my research, before honing in on an area that captures my interest. Whatever I choose to do, at this moment in time the area feels right. The subject matter lies at a curious intersection between a burgeoning technology and a changing demographic and yes, it sounds quite ambitious at this moment in time, but I feel that these glimpses of inspiration will take me somewhere. It’s now up to me to delve more into my research to actually realise where that is.