Dutch Futurists – Designing the future city

Pitch, draft

This is the draft of my pitch. It focuses on the design of Future Cities, combines makers and concept-artists and comprises of the following:

  1. You made something, then what? — Create a stronger link between hackers and potential buyers
  2. Is that the best you can come up with? — Improve the brainstorm process
  3. Do we cover all disciplines? Involve! — Involve makers, tinkerers and app-makers. Involve city planners to pin-point the most wanted solutions and let them pitch those as forms of input. Involve concept artists and architects to visualize the future implementation
  4. Is one hackaton really enough? Evolve! — Make the hackaton events recurring to allow further evolution and further maturing of the ideas
  5. Do we think big enough? Think bigger! — Focus on a larger vision. What about next year? What about 5 years from now? What about 20 years from now? Why think small?
  6. Why compete? Collaborate! — Instead of competition, focus on collaboration between groups. Bigger visions can be developed together. Ideas from one group can amplify the ideas from other groups, and vice versa.
  7. Does it have a viable fucture? Connect! — There are several startup-hubs in cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Even if the connection is limited to coaching a group with a viable idea, it is already a beginning.

Who might be involved?

In the “blue sky” idea would like to see and berin with:

  1. The Waag Society — There is a lot of knowledge and ideation done and present iby The Waag Society (site here), including great projects thinking about future solutions to improve cities. Experienced in organizing hackatons and events.
  2. Appsterdam — They hosted the Smart Cities Hackaton event, have a lot of connections with  and I think they did a good job. Appsterdam site here.
  3. CHIFT, Etienne Augé, Erasmus University Rotterdam — CHIFT aims to be a center of expertise to stimulate research and discussion about the future. Combining Future Thinking with tinkerers and programmers who think about improving that future might be a great match.
  4. Concept artists and architects — We have over 60 concept artists in the Netherlands, thinking about the future and designing future concepts for games and for fun. See an overview here. We have architects who are already designing for the future. Either for fun or professionally.
  5. Makers, hackers and Tinkerers — These are the people that make stuff that might impact our lives in the next decades, from applications to smart utensils to smart environmnets
  6. Game story concepters  — These are the people who think about the connecting stories in the games, are used to work in teams and usually already live partly in the future. “So I have this future city and these characters and objects and possibilities and this space station, but how is everything connected?”. This might involve people from big players like Guerilla Games, but also smaller ones [names to follow].
  7. Several cities — Including Rotterdam and Amsterdam, and Smart City projects, like that of Amsterdam.
  8. Several potential stake holders — These might be city planners, the city itself, other cities, people responsible for specific areas and problem areas of a city.

How doable is this?

The Waag Society, Smart City Amsterdam and Appsterdam already know each other and have already been working together in some ways.

In the past, there have been meetups between hackers and architects, to think about future buildings, projects like “The hackable city” and different ways to build things (example).

On average, an appealing hackaton will attract between 60 to 120 people, from backend-programmers to UX designers to front end-developers to app-makers. Each team usually counts between 3 to 7 people and 5 on average.

Out of the more than 60 concept artists in The Netherlands, roughly 20 to 40 meet in monthly sketch-ups held (among other places) in Amsterdam and Breda. Many of them are familiar with similar processes as used on Hackatons, creating something out of nothing in a matter of hours. As far as I know none has ever joined a hackaton. Artists range from 2D painters to 3D scupltors and 3D modellers. Most of them used to work in teams.

Both the Schiphol/Paris Hackaton, held in the weekend of June 6 and the Smart Cities Hackaton held in the Bijlmer Arena showed that when the goals are clear (“We need a solution for this and that”) hackers will try and make something that matches those requests.

Startup hubs in general expect teams to be dedicated to the product and they expect teams to have and present a viable business plan. Making a marketable product requires more than a good idea and two days of intense hacking. From their point of view, Hackaton teams are probably too random. And not all hackers are looking to create a startup. What can be provided though, is short “masterclasses” and workshops, discussing the next steps if and when a team would like to continue the project. Consider this a head-hunting process of sorts.

Within game-studios like Guerilla games, you have professional story-tellers who can combine visions and potential with the objects within imaginary worlds. In other words:if you have this, how can you use that in that?

Why writers for games but not writers of stories?

In my experience (as a writer and working with writers), there is a difference between stories revolving around characters and stories revolving around solutions. Writing story-lines for games involves active thinking about the assets which are present within those games. How to use them. What use they have. How they fit together with the rest of that world.

And writers for games are used to team work.

Writers of stories focus on characters and story lines. The world itself is usually an afterthought.

Here is the why for this proposal:

I agree with the vision of Etienne Augé. In brief my version: more can be done to imagine and shape the future of the Netherlands.

I think many tinkerers and hackers and game-developers are doing exactly that, but most of the times in the relative isolation of their own groups. And in most of the cases, the parties do not know each other and the ideas do not meet the fertile grounds they need to break out.

So why not bring the different parties together? In separate events, in one huge event? Or whatever?

The competition makes for isolated groups who might and usually will create projects with overlapping qualities. These ideas can have a lot of potential when combined and when implemented on a more ambitious scale, but the time limits and the size of the groups forces those groups towards a more trimmed down version of that idea.

The element of competition usually actively discourages interaction and exchange of ideas between groups in the early stages of the development, so that isolated ideas remain isolated.

For instance, at the Arena Smart Cities Hackaton three different, mostly complemental and completely separate solutions were thought of to deal with queues within the Arena itself.

By talking and sharing and interacting between the groups, these ideas can become something awesome and can evolve conceptually and, even in that short span of time, can probably evolve more than they did now.

The next issue is that without a follow-up of any sort, these ideas will either continue in isolation, be re-used partly on new Hackatons or be shelved and die a silent death at some point, while some of these ideas (once matured) might really have an impact on the problems they were designed for.

I think more can be done, in a slightly different structure and by involving a broader class of people. Probably leading to better and more interesting results.

Designing the future cities

I like the concept of future cities as a starting point. As they offer a lot of things you can do and solve. So that will be the focus of this pitch.

  1. Involve architects — People who know how to design buildings
  2. Involve city planners — People who know how to deal with the logistics of cities, including the flow of traffic and people in those cities and in harbors and industrial areas, people who know what influencers will make a city area thrive and what influences will make city areas wither
  3. Involve concept artists — People who know how to visualize ideas into concrete landscapes, city scapes, product designs
  4. Involve app makers and backend developers — People who know how to make concepts into working software applications and working backend solutions (to process and store data for instance)
  5. Involve makers and tinkerers — People who know how to use and build software and electronics to make objects and spaces smart(er) and (more)interactive
  6. Involve good facilitators — People who know how to communicate, link people together and know how to get ideas from something raw and shapeless into something concrete
  7. Involve the city — But do this later. People who have a direct need tend to disturb the creative process when involved too early, often leading to boring and mediocre solutions.
  8. Make it specific — By defining a limited set of focal points.What needs to be solved? What is sexy? What is most wanted?
  9. Keep it open #1 — Let hackers and tinkerers come up with their own ideas. Stimulate them to go beyond the direct need. Think: what would be possible 20 years from now and could we imagine and hack that today?
  10. Keep it open #2 — Let people keep all the rights to their own concepts. Do not try to lay claims on results. Do not force groups to comply to the needs or wishes of other groups.
  11. Focus on idea-generation — You need new concepts. Daring things. Things not thought of before. Things thought of before, but used in new ways. “Can do” should be the starting point. Barriers and road blocks should be considered irrelevant, except when “Can do” turns into “impossible” when hacking a prototype or proof of concept.
  12. Focus on implementation — Ideas are cheap. But is it possible? Can you demonstrate something? So once an idea is clear and tested against other ideas, things should be implemented as soon as possible.
  13. Focus on fun — Hackatons are done in spare time. Above all, they should be fun. Fun to be in, fun to work in, fun to do. Freedom is a large part of this.
  14. Only work towards practical solutions later — First go for the awesome and blue-sky solutions. Conceptualize and finish that first. Then think about how this can be done now.
  15. Repeat the process — Give a concept at least 5 Hackatond to evolve nad to mature. Either by involving new input, or simply by continuing the process and finishing the concept that has been started in previous sessions
  16. Give it a real future — Connect these events and their results to decision makers. Both to describe the needs and to sell the end results
  17. Reserve a separate trajectory for the pitches — When you hare hacking, there is hardly time to create a good pitch. Create separate trajectories in which the groep can sit together, work out all elements of that pitch and test those pitches (and the project) on people who can provide valid feedback

Background

For the past 5 years, Amsterdam hosted the “Smart City” events. It is part of a bigger concept that seems to include Amsterdam, Barcelona, Stockholm and Santa Cruz.

On stage and involved somehow in the event this year were i.e. Lyon, Berlin, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Eindhoven, Delft, Hamburg, Goteborg, Tampere, Florence, Sao Paulo, Barcelona, Bristol, Kopenhagen, Genoa, Groningen, Dubai and Gent.

Buildig the future: the idea of a Smart City

The base idea of a smart city is to use technology (as one driver) to make things better, easier and more efficient and (if everything is done well in my book) to empower the “user” of that city to make better use of its facilities.

Thinking about Smart Cities is thinking about the future. Thinking about things which are not there (and sometimes not even invented or thought of) now.

It is about possible redesigns of how that city is used. Re-thinking how it generates and uses its energy. Thinking and rethinking how it will help people to get from A to B and how their work and privatel ife can be.

It involves thinking about the industry: how to make cities more attractive for companies that hire people, produce revenue for that city. It is thinking about revenue itself: how can the city continue to improve itself using the income it generates?

How does a Smart City reveals itself now?

A simple example of an empowering “smart city concept” are the departure times of trams or buses: “Tram 24 will arrive in 3 minutes” that you find in more and more cities around Europe and the world.

This simple information allows me to make choices. “Do I take that tram, or find another way to get to my desitnation?”

A second example is the flow of traffic. Reducing the time you need to stand still in front of a traffic-light and reducing the traffic jams.

Hackaton

This year, the Amsterdam Smart City Event hosted its first hackaton, together with the people from Appsterdam. The assignment was to make / build / hack a concept for the Arenar or for a smart city.

Separate groups of 3 to 7 people created something in 2 days that was presented and pitched on the 2nd day. The three best, or most appealing concept won a prize.

I visited that Hackaton and the one at Schiphol, this weekend

Next stage

I think linking a hackaton to a concrete project is awesome. I think more is possible. And more can be done.

  1.  Better brainstorming process — What if groups are facilitated in that process? And given better focus? With simple guidelines like “5 points you need to cover with your product” or “5 problems we want to solve in the city” or “5 things to focus on when you start” or “5 steps to find the best ideas within your group”. What if that is part of an active process or a workshop during the first day? (I did things like that in groups and when the facilitator is good to awesome, this usually kickstarts a lot of good things)
  2. More connections between projects — Now (as said) most groups work in isolation. But what if ideas overlap? What if you can develop your part and then connect and combine it with another? Even if that other thing is just a concept? Making it even more awesome?
  3. Skip the competition element, focus on collective awesomeness — What if, instead of winning a prize, collective satisfaction is the goal? Working together to make something so awesome that it is super-awesomse?
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