Big City Dreams
The Holon Group‘s ProductYVR is establishing a tradition of intimate, thought-provoking talks in Vancouver. Last time it was the simplest of mobile phones, this time it’s the complicated issue of how we engage with public space.
Nik Badminton of designculturemind opened by discussing how skateboarders reimagined previously-static streetscapes into city-sized playgrounds.
From there, Badminton explored acts of urban engagement such as parkour, place hacking (just another term for urban exploration), yarn-bombing, and public art.
Turns out we can learn a lot from our skater neighbors, not in terms of relating to our neighbors, but in terms of how we relate to the city itself. How we can take back the city, make it ours.
Talk to me, like lampposts do
Two of my favorite examples are part of what you’d call the internet of things: objects to which we are networked, and which communicate in the real world.
First is the Fühl-o-meter (feel-o-meter), an installation by Julius von Bismarck in Lindau, Germany. Using digital cameras to record the faces of passersby, the Fehl-o-meter analyzes the expressions of Lindau’s citizens, determining whether or not the city is happy as a whole. This is reflected by a giant smiley face mounted on a lighthouse: it goes from to to depending on what the cameras see.
Second is the Hello Lamppost project, launched this summer in Bristol. Hello Lamppost gamifies your daily routine by encouraging you to talk to inanimate objects via SMS.
(The project takes its name from the Simon & Garfunkel’s “59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy)“.
After the talk, Nik broke the audience into three groups, tasking each with reimagining a Vancouver neighbourhood. Turns out we have lots of hostility towards our public spaces, in that we’re impatient with how plain and vanilla they are.
The proposed upgrades ran from the radical (monkey bars for crossing Robson Street, underground pop-up shop arcades) to the easily-doable (messages on Gastown cobblestones to entertain those navigating them with high heels).
I may or may not have referred to Robson Street as “bullshit”. Okay, I did. But it’s nothing a few monkey bars couldn’t fix.
This is a city full of curious and clever minds, just waiting to get off the leash.
If you care about what it means to be human in the 21st Century, or if you’d like to care, keep an eye on The Holon Group.
[Update: Nik Badminton has added his own recap of ProductYVR: Humanity and Urbanity, featuring the audience section. Watch me and my fellow attendees storify on the fly.]