Collective Curation: New Lenses for Experiencing Smart Cities

Beginning this past spring, CoLab began exploring how smart cities can create digital platforms for people, industries, and technologies. We’re interested in how we might create a digital twin of a city, one that parallels its physical and social infrastructures. For inspiration and insights, we spoke with city officials, urban planners, technologists, researchers, and, of course, citizens. Within the extensive history of smart cities, our initial research inspired us to explore four key ways of looking at a city: Movement, Curation, Culture, and Synthesis.

In this post, we’ll explore the idea of Curation and the prototype that it led us to.

A mockup for what Collectives could look like to other city explorers wanting to connect.

Filters Help Us Make Sense of the World

The amount of data we produce, capture, and manage has increased exponentially in recent years. Thanks to the implementation of new measuring sensors and the growth of things like IoT systems, cell phone data, and more, we now have more information about the world around us than ever before.

However, as this data collection increases, so does data “noise.” The flipside of having more information means there’s now more items to dig through to find what we want. Filters help us make sense of the noise by paring it down by a dimension, or two, or twenty—hopefully clarifying the data in a way that’s easier to understand, and empowering us to make better data-based decisions.

We took this concept of data filters and applied it to smart cities.

Curating Experiences Today

The experiences that cities provide are as numerous and unique as the people that live within them — which is why cities are so wonderful. But because of the overwhelming number of possibilities to move through and interact with our urban areas, we end up relying on services that help with discovery, such as Yelp, Eventbrite, or even Google Maps. Acting as filters, these services surface the options and experiences they deem best. But who determines what is “best” within these apps?

As curated filters increasingly determine our interactions with a city, we can easily become blind to all options that fall outside of our chosen lens. Consider the use of Yelp “stars” to find a new dinner spot. The stars focus your attention onto a one-dimensional metric that works for Yelp, and subtly reframes the idea from restaurant discovery to finding a restaurant that has the most stars. This filters out a lot of other potentially great options that don’t fit into Yelp’s framework.

This nuance is so subtle that most don’t notice. And this isn’t a knock against using Yelp (I use it all the time), but when the filters we use are mainly created by companies with narrow goals, a lack of dimensionality becomes apparent.

What happens when we want to look through a new filter? Where do we go to ask questions of our city that have a little more depth — a little more color? How can we help people discover their city through the lenses of a particular person, group, or subculture? When it comes to uncovering the hidden aspects of our cities, the curated perspectives of local people, artisans, and subcultures are what shed light on places unknown.

Imagine choosing a filter that aligns with your personal values and goals – whether that’s finding fast and free wifi, or sorting destinations by noise level.

Curating Experiences Tomorrow

We call these interest groups “Collectives,” and we prototyped a feature within Lenscrafter that allows them to create their own interactive, map-based lenses.

The lenses that these groups create, curate, and share essentially give people a new superpower: the ability to see their city through the eyes of a shared interest group. I mean, can you imagine a window into the San Francisco coffee scene based on a lens curated by the well-respected Barista Collective? Or a small, self-selected Local Artist Collective lens that showcases the best spots for viewing street art and tagging based on time of day? These lenses reflect the views and values of each Collective; a radical departure from our Yelp stars example above. Grounded in values unique to each Collective, lenses allow outsiders to discover new nooks and neighborhoods.

Shareability is important feature of Collectives, because interesting things happen when lenses interact. As multiple lenses are applied to a map, you get views into urban areas that are impossible with the myopic tools mentioned in the opening. Previously unseen views of neglected or up-and-coming regions become immediately apparent, and the local color of a neighborhood that was once invisible through the Yelp lens, is brought to light by the people who care about the area most. This becomes a powerful way to share points of view that better represent the city’s various groups and cultures.

What a Barista Collective’s neighborhood coffee recommendation might look like, complete with real-time data about the point of interest.

Representation Through Curation

When it comes to the design of our urban areas, Collectives and their lenses are extremely important. All too often, today’s smart city explorations and design sprints focus solely on the use of sensors to understand the physical environment. But with measuring physical attributes as the primary focus, the less obvious things like human perspectives, which are in many ways more meaningful to a city’s residents, are easily lost.

We are inspired by the idea that Collectives, and their unique views and values, can help to create cities that are more inclusive and reflective of their diverse makeup, as well as forge new connections between different groups of people. In our next piece, we dig deep into a unique Collective that is emergent in today’s urban environment, Digital Nomads, as we explore the theme of Culture in smart cities.

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