Civic Labs

BY JORDAN SALINGER
December 29, 2010
Applying new trends in technology to urban communities

As part of their Technology Horizons Program the Institute for the Future just released “A Planet of Civic Laboratories: The Future of Cities, Information, and Inclusion.” This study takes some of the most significant trends in technology and forecasts the potential social applications in urban environments. It’s fascinating. Here were a few highlights:   

-Facing budget deficits, city governments will increasingly turn to crowdsourcing as a cost-effective way to monitor resources and provide services. Crowdsourcing, which has flourished online, uses the power of the open call to mobilize communities.Check out these examples:

Urban Forest Map
SeeClickFix

-The proliferation of data will accelerate as the prices of both hand-held phones and sensors plummet. The ability to constantly monitor populations, referred to as “continuous counting” will evolve, increasing the number of on-demand surveys.

-The conversation surrounding digital infrastructure such as cloud computing will grow more contentious as governments compete against private entities. The UK's "G cloud" provides an example.

-City-sponsored open data clearinghouses will become more user-friendly, yielding data visualizations, improved analysis, and communal participation. Clearinghouses like DataSF now serve as crude repositories for government agencies too offload the data they are already collecting.

-Issues of the digital divide and digital illiteracy will become too significant to ignore.

These technologies have already started to shift culture in the Bay Area, but in the near future, expect to see culture shifts globally.

Print out this PDF, as I failed to digest this report the first several attempts on the computer screen. That said, parts of the report, including the 2020 Forecast (Page 5), are so dense that they are nearly unreadable in any form because of the overwhelming amount of information. Some of the themes explored in that forecast, however, are interesting enough that it’s worth the effort the decipher them.

Check out “Open Source City” in the upcoming January Urbanist, which explores San Francisco’s ingenuity and use of technology as an aid to government services.