Across North America, people are organizing responses to abuse of power and increasing inequality around a hashtag, #occupywallstreet . It is an example of how technology has changed the way we relate to each other, the way we are now always online wherever we are, how we act when we live in what Robert Ouellette calls MESH Cities, the "offspring of an improbable marriage between Jane Jacobs and ubiquitous city computing." Robert has launched a new website, to explore " the wireless systems empowered, 21st Century city through the eyes of its super-users. "
These are the people who are embracing the new communications and infrastructure tools that will determine the ultimate livability of the modern city. The growing ubiquity of high-speed wireless connections allows people to experience the city in ways never before possible. More than that, they can contribute their ideas about how to make our cities more accommodating and responsive .
Anyone can add examples of how "ubiquitous computing" is changing the way people live and use their cities; for example, I will be adding Rocket Radar, Adam Schwabe's app that tells you when the next Toronto streetcar is coming, built on the City of Toronto's open data framework.
He couldn't do this kind of thing if there wasn't a mesh of people with smart phones, gps on streetcars, and a civic institution willing to share that information with its citizens. It didn't come from the Transit Commission or from the City or from a big corporation, but from a young designer who said " I'd been dreaming of creating an app that just answered one question - "Where the hell is my streetcar?"
MESH is in fact an acronym:
MOBILE: devices and the networks that support them are the essential ingredient to the mix. They provide the bottom-up, real-time information conduit that informs us what is right or wrong about our city.
EFFICIENT: At its heart sustainability is about the efficient use of resources. Information that is accurate and definitive allows us to measure, for example, just how much energy we are using at a given time. Who was it who said, "If you can't measure it you can't act on it?"
SUBTLE: This is the component of MESH Cities that is most critical to the day-to-day use and enjoyment of modern cities....For example, the more effective and anticipatory a transit system is the more it will be "invisible" to its riders. Behind that invisibility, however, is a extremely complex interweaving of technologies and algorithms running full speed so users don't have to.
HEURISTICS: This is the systemic advantage true MESH Cities offer to the evolution of city use and one that is not considered in the normative smart city discussions. MESH Cities use adaptive, citizen-focused, self-forming networks to learn and inform new design solutions.
I might argue with Robert that the S should stand for SUSTAINABLE, as MESH cities are going to be more intelligent and efficient. As Robert notes in his post Predictive Cities: "MESH City solutions may not be able to persuade people to abandon their cars all-together, but they just may be able to make car use more energy efficient."
Robert Ouellette is trained as an architect and is a former academic, and the writing sometimes descends into Architectspeak. But his image of a MESH city is exciting.
When ICT, [information and communication technology] urban design, sustainability, and social networking come together to provide new design processes equivalent to the impact 3d modelling and CADCAM have had on building design, that is we will see a revolution in the way cities are built and inhabited...
When one thinks of the amazing things that our smart phones can do, like this app from the Museum of London that turns your phone into a window on the past, you begin to realize how marvelous and valuable it is, to have so much information all around you, available wherever you are. The MESH is changing the way we look at cities, and will change the way we design them.
Join the MESH.
Robert Ouellette has been a contributor to TreeHugger, recently describing his cycle tour of Sweden:
Cycling Across Scandinavia: Making Design Choices For A Sustainable City
A New "Lost Generation" Cycles Across Scandinavia To Understand North America
Cycling Across Scandinavia: You Don't Have To Be A Starchitect Ambulance Chaser To Be Impressed