In the case of designing for the Internet of Things or the scale of the city, designers need to take many factors into account in order to create a successful solution. While these factors are numerous, three stand out to me as the most important or fundamental. The constraints of existing infrastructures, the economics and funding of the solutions, and the aesthetics and environmental impact.
Based on my background in Marxist anthropological theory, I view any solution as having to work within the existing infrastructural system, even when the solution may be altering said system. For a citywide design to be successful, it cannot simply overlay itself over the current city plan, it must weave itself into the grid and take advantage of lynch pins, or leverage points, while creating dysfunction. For example, when Pittsburgh began putting in bicycle lanes and bicycle infrastructures in general, research had to be conducted to figure out, firstly, where the lanes and infrastructures were needed and, secondly, where these infrastructures would even be feasible. Pittsburgh is a very old city with uniquely challenging topography. The streets are narrow and, due to the hills and rivers, there is very little room for road widening and expansion projects. For bike lanes to be woven into Pittsburgh’s road system, great attention need to be paid into exact placement of the lanes and, furthermore, a social and structural awareness of the consequent displacement of pieces of the infrastructural system.
In addition to the physical infrastructural concerns, designs must be economically viable and seen as such by the local and state governments. Without the support of the structural elements, the political bodies involved, the necessary funding and permitting cannot be acquired. In the case of Pittsburgh’s cycling infrastructure, projects are more recently getting attention as the general culture of the region has begun to accept and promote the more sustainable form of the transportation. Additionally, these political groups have begun to see the economic benefits of such systems and have started to understand the importance of such infrastructures for the future viability of Pittsburgh as a whole.
Finally, it is incredibly important that these large-scale designs take into account the environment in which they are situated and constantly consider the aesthetics of their design decisions. Solutions in these cases require care and finesse if the designers wish for their designs to have longevity. It is crucial that the people of these systems view the solution as an attractive part of their world. This does not mean that the solutions needs to blend into the existing environment in a seamless as sometimes, the seams add value to the design. For Pittsburgh’s bike lanes, blending in would defeat the purpose of the innovation. Sometimes, the design is intentionally set apart for the other infrastructures, as seen in the case of the bright green bike boxes. Part of their function is to be visually disruptive while maintaining their overall functionality within the current system. However, there can be much more at play when it comes to the aesthetics of the built environment. Every thing (i.e. buildings, infrastructures, services) has politics and all designs should assess these motivations, opportunities, and attractors before landing on a solution. Furthermore, the designer must keep the interest of the public in mind so as to not create something that is not in the best interest of the everyday resident. In New York City, there is some push back, as evidence by this petition and others like it, showing how sometimes, the built environment, when backed by non-governmental interests and economics can lose sight of what is aesthetically and environmentally important and beneficial for the public.
When designing for large, multi-system projects, the designer must conduct extensive research that encompasses all aspects of the problem. Consider the infrastructural constraints, look into who would be funding the project and how to demonstrate the project’s viability to these important stakeholder, and never lose sight of the majority of the stakeholder’s, the public’s, needs and general happiness. Moreover, solutions at this scale need to be elegant and flow into systems, instead of being instituted from the top-down without public support or concern for the existing infrastructures. Due to the fluctuations and adaptations of the system in which the solution must function, designers should be always on the hunt for opportunities as their framing of the problem may also change.