A Tool for Building Resilient Cities
(Superfluid is a site that enables people to collaborate and exchange favors using their virtual currency, Quids.)
Apparently they will be here in NYC on Monday, demo-ing thier product at the NY Tech Meetup, and wanted a cool idea they could bring to life in front of the crowd. So, I emailed them with my idea, something that’s been filed away in my mind as “The Resilient City Project.”
the one line description would be something like:
a tool that helps local communities share resources and reduce expenses using geolocation, interactive mapping, and visualization
To unpack that a bit, let’s start with the components of a resilient city.
I found a cool Community Resilience Toolkit that was put together for the San Francisco Bay Area, which breaks down aspects of resilience into these topic areas:
- transportation and housing
- jobs and economy
- civic preparedness and social services
Ok, so the idea is, how can we strengthen those things so that a community can weather tough economic times or uncertainty?
I was thinking something along the lines of Ushahidi meets sustainability. Ushahidi is an open source platform that was originally used to map incidents of violence and peace efforts in Kenya, and has since expanded to be a customizable tool for information collection, visualization, and interactive mapping. With just a mobile phone, you can upload info that gets transformed into a real-time visualization.
So, how could this be used to help people within a community display their resources/assets, needs, or initiatives towards resilience?
I live in Beacon, about 60 miles north of NYC, a small city of around 15,000 people. I’ve always thought it would be a perfect testbed for something like this. Basically you have a Google map, and everyone can ‘claim’ their property/residence, and make stuff visible so that it can be made more efficient/effective. (we care about the stuff we can measure). For instance:
Energy example -
How could we reduce the energy used citywide? Having dabbled in real estate here, I know that I can call Central Hudson (our utility provider) and find out the average monthly electric bill on any property. So the information is publicly available. What if we could map those numbers on every property, and have a dashboard that displays the overall energy usage in the city.
Then, what if we organized, say, a light-bulb exchange initiative, where we began getting the city switched over to energy star bulbs/CFLs. When a household/business converts, they get a “badge,” that can then be displayed on the site when you scroll over that property. (we could also make actual stickers that could be displayed in the window of storefronts and people’s homes showing they’ve gotten the energy badge…. i saw something like this in Boulder, Colorado several years ago.) The real-time city data would also reflect the change, showing some kinds of graphs or pie charts displaying the increase in efficiency.
Food example -
We had many local farms in the area and options for food co-ops. We also have a lot of people who have gardens and have excess produce in the summer that they’d be happy to swap for other goods. We have a lot of people who brew beer. We have people who would be happy to go in together to get a deal on buying a ¼ steer or some quantity of grass-fed beef from a farm, or dairy products, or whatever. What if people could make this information available, so they could more easily make arrangements to invest in local food?
Transportation & Housing example -
I’ve been inspired by all the “collaborative consumption” services I’ve seen spring up over the past few years. There’s car sharing (ZipCar), bike sharing (Bcycle), land rental for gardening (landshare), or room rental for travelers (Airbnb). How could we implement similar services, or use those existing services as plugins? (getting a car or bike sharing program going is clearly a large initiative, and trickier than just offering a plot of your backyard as common gardening ground, but you get the idea.)
Jobs and Economy example -
If economy is about the exchange of goods and services, what are the peer to peer services out there that could duplicated/implemented? For instance, there’s Freecycle for reuse of goods, Swap for trading, and Zilok for renting out any kind of thing you might have – electronics, tools, whatever. Can we hook into these services or make a simple local version? Google map + stuff that’s for offer + stuff that’s available. Same idea for exchanging services and collaborating on projects… using something like superfluid, perhaps?
We already have a great coworking space here in town, BEAHIVE, that’s been itching to be a catalyst to coordinate more real-world local initiatives and projects. It seems like we have a lot of the things necessary to be a prototype city for resilience building.
Where You Come In
Well, the guys at superfluid suggested I provide as much info & visuals as possible to reinforce the idea. And they want it within 24 hours. (eek!)
So…… what can we whip up?
If anyone has suggestions for a name for this, logo ideas, better description, etc, please pass em along. Any kind of video / graphical / text assets to communicate the vision also appreciated. My Illustrator skills are pretty amateur, but at the least I’ll take a screenshot of a google map and overlay an info bubble on top of it to convey some of the elements I’ve described above.
If this thing manifests, the intention is for it to be a free tool for any community us utilize, so I hope it’s intriguing! I’m eager to prototype it in Beacon.
Looking forward to your input, as always.