Two data points made their way onto my radar this week that got me thinking more about the do-it-yourself city and directions for this site/community.
First, Steve Jobs reframed the discussion about the merits of the Android versus the iPhone, calling it a question not of "open vs closed" platforms, but one of "integrated vs fragmented" platforms. This reversed the whole polarity of the debate. Suddenly Android was not the clear winner, the natural choice for all freedom-loving people. And iPhone was not the evil empire, curtailing users freedoms. Instead, Android was just a mess that required a lot of work on the part of its users just to get up and running, and iPhone was fighting the noble fight against chaos.
Interesting jiujitsu. And even though it was business rhetoric, there is an element of truth to what Jobs said.
The second data point came on Wednesday, when New York City's DOITT announced that the City was signing a huge contract with Microsoft to provide cloud computer services for its employees. The press release called it "a wide-ranging information technology agreement that will consolidate the City's dozens of individual license agreements into a single one and will provide more than 100,000 City employees with state-of-the-art computing power."
And there it was - in one week, Steve Jobs moved the conversation from "closed vs open" to "integrated vs fragmented", and New York City signaled its agreement with him by signing a contract with the biggest maker of closed, integrated systems in the world.
Big wins for closed and integrated.
But is open synonymous with fragmented? Is closed synonymous with integrated? Not necessarily.
Is there then a version of open that also achieves some semblance of integration? And is this possible in the realm of city infrastructure and services?
I think so. And that's something that, if DIYcity ever comes out of its semi-hibernation, would be pursued here. Because that's the trick to making open work and to getting people to buy in to it: making it integrated enough that it's reliable and isn't a complete pain in the ass for the end user (in this case the government and city residents) to figure out.
If the only choice is between open/fragmented and closed/integrated, most people will chose closed and integrated. But if there is a third choice, open-yet-to-some-extent-integrated, that then becomes the preferable option.
I don't fault New York City for going with a closed system for their recent contract - I would guess there aren't any open alternatives out there that offer the same level of integration as Microsoft's package. That's something that proponents of open cities need to think about. It's definitely something on my mind here at DIYcity.
I've had an incredibly busy week this week, and have had little time to put together a DIYcity Friday post (last week I missed altogether!). I did have lunch/dinner with two friends, NY State CIO Andrew Hoppin and Open Plans' Nick Grossman, and our conversations prompted a lot of thinking about cities, reinvention, openness, DIY, and where all of this is going.
Here are a few hastily-written notes on those thoughts. (These are my thoughts, not theirs, of course).
FIrst of all, Open Gov is too small a term for what's going on in cities. I felt that over a year ago, and wrote about it on O'Reilly Radar, and it's becoming even more apparent now. Of course Open Gov is a big part of what's happening, but it's only one part. Specifically, it was the part that needed to happen first - the foundation that had to be built before anything else could happen.
After several years of work, open gov principles are starting to get in place and get into use in certain cities around the U.S. and elsewhere. And the scale that it is happening on now is an order of magnitude larger than just two years ago.
And what is about to flower is something much bigger than Open Gov - it is a total reinterpretation of cities themselves, of how things are done in them, who does them, how effective they are, how efficient they are. The way we think of cities is about to undergo a huge (and necessary, and healthy) change.
But it hasn't quite happened just yet.
For this to really catch fire, for this next step to happen, one key component still has to be put in place. That is the element of sustainability. Not as in ecological sustainability, but as in business sustainability: we have to discover ways for those who work to make their cities better to do so not out of a sense of charity, but as a way of making revenue, making a living.
The DIYcity has to move beyond people taking action out of a sense of community interest, as civic hackers, as barn-raisers, and into a stage where people are being actually compensated for their actions - provided their actions are valued by the community. We have to move from a mindset of civic hackers to one of civic entrepreneurs.
Once it does that, the DIYcity becomes a real ecosystem, one capable of sustaining itself indefinitely.
That's the big step that has to be taken, the big gap that has to be crossed, and once it is, the transformation of cities is going to explode at an amazing rate.
I think we're already beginning to see this happen. And I want DIYcity to be an accelerator for that change, make it happen in cities all over the world more and more quickly.
That's what I've been thinking about when I think about DIYcity and the next two years. That's what I've been talking to people about.
I could go on, but have to get to a meeting now! More to come on this thought.
As I get back into DIYcity a bit, I look at the site, and a lot of the language on it seems outdated. There's a lot of talk about people working together, side by side, to collaborate on tools that everyone can use everywhere.
That all feels inconsistent with the world of 2010 to me - a bit like the rally cry of Obama's 2008 campaign, "yes we can". It's not that that message was off-base, it's just that in two years things have moved on. Today people - myself included - want to make things better, but at the same time are more concerned with just building some stability for themselves than with having some big, transformational, let's-all-get-together-and-change-the-world moment.
There's a bit less "let's do it" and a bit more "okay but what's in it for me?"
As there should be, really.
So, given that, what exactly IS the DIY City today? What does "DIYcity" mean, and how is it so relevant to what's happening right now?
Well here's my take.
Starting now, and developing over the course of the next decade, countless new businesses around the world will start up and learn ways to thrive by focusing on making cities and local life better. They will tap into and exploit every conceivable niche of data, technology, and social behavior, to transform cities into unimaginably well-coordinated, functioning, de-centralized places for people to live and live well.
This is going to be both the rise of a gigantic new industry as well as a general transformation in the way cities work and the way in which we think of them. There will be (I hope) opportunity for all parties in this new DIY City - for innovators and entrepreneurs, for city governments, for non-profits, for big companies and small companies, and of course for the people living in those communities.
Done right, the DIY City could be a source for wide prosperity at the local level in cities everywhere, and could be a force against stagnation and for differentiation in cities. (Done wrong, of course, it could result in prosperity for a few, and cookie-cutter communities around the world.)
And it's starting to happen right now. There has been a confluence of forces - ever-cheaper technology, open data movements, the global economic crisis, the hyperlocal movement, the DIY movement - that have jump started the process over the past two years, resulting in everything in this space we've seen to date, but this is really only the beginning. The real DIY City is just beginning, now.
And that, in a nutshell, is what DIYcity means today, in late 2010. Just how we get there is something we can discuss on this site in coming weeks.
I've got to update the language on the site to reflect this new, current vision on DIY Cities and how we can help make them happen. I'll get to that at some point.
Hi to everyone who is subscribed to the DIYcity Discussions Group.
I wanted to write a quick note to say that I'm posting again, once a week, to DIYcity's Main Group.
I know there are many of you who are subscribed to Discussions and not to Main. If you want to be a part of the DIYcity thing right now and hear what's going on, please go check out the Main Group and sign up for it to receive notifications. Very low volume - one post a week from me.
This Discussions group will probably continue to be silent for now (though it doesn't have to be). So if you don't do anything, you'll probably continue to not get mail from DIYcity, just as you haven't for the past year.
Here is a link to my latest post in the Main Group.
It's been two years since we kicked off DIYcity and started digging down on ideas around the notion of individuals participating in civic reinvention . And two years is a long time in the lifespan of ideas these days. So is the idea of the DIY city past its shelf date?
No. Just the opposite, in fact - it's more relevant now than it was two years ago. And it will be more relevant still in another year, and in another year after that. The future of the city is the DIY city, and we're coming up on that future quickly. It's that continually increasing relevance that is driving me back to post on DIYcity more, to think about this more, and to explore more.
Here are some data points that have come across my radar lately. I thought I would share them with you as a kick-off post to DIYcity, to point to where I think all of this is going:
Cities need reinvention now more than ever. More than they did two years ago, certainly. Consider these recent headlines:
A suburb of Atlanta shuts its entire bus system down, leaving residents without public transportation.
California's budget gap is now estimated at $26 billion, and the governor plans massive statewide cuts in order to balance it.
The city of Cairo decides it will build two entirely new megacities to deal with the overwhelming population in their city.
There are many other examples I could draw on here (e.g. the Greek economic melt down in spring), but these are the first that came to mind and they'll do. It's clear that society at all levels - local, regional, national - needs reinvention, rethinking, innovation, and this innovation needs to come from everywhere and everyone.
2) Signals that this distributed innovation is already starting to happen:
Luckily just as the need for all of this rethinking, experimentation, innovation is becoming so extreme, we're also beginning to see people respond and try to tackle these challenges on their own. Consider these data points, individually small, but emblematic of much bigger things at play:
Weeels, an app that lets me find rides to share with others near me in Brooklyn, saving money for all, saving resources, making the city more efficient. (Still has a way to go before it will succeed, IMO, but it is a great start).
Roadify, a group of entrepreneurs who took it upon themselves to create a distributed, user-driven bus tracking system in Brooklyn. (Will it succeed? I'm not sure, but it is part of a great experiment.)
Civic Commons is a collaboration between several organizations, working with cities, to create "an open civic stack".
These initiatives are fledgeling in nature, but I'm confident that within a few years they and others like them will lead to projects, enterprises, and organizations that would seem immense, complex and amazingly robust to us if we were to look at them today.
These are the beginnings of a real DIY city.
3) The Market:
Lastly, there is the question of market for civic reinvention. How big is it? Well, Booz Allen just recently announced that it is huge. $40 trillion over the next 25 years, in fact, to re-make cities everywhere.
So you've got the need, you've got the players, and you've got a gigantic market. You've got all the conditions in place for an amazing transformation to take place - and it will take place.
DIY cities aren't going away - rather we are undergoing a shift in how we think about cities, and everyone in the world is going to make that shift sooner or later. Some people (like those reading this) have already started to make the shift. Others, the vast majority of people, haven't, but they will soon.
And so now, it really is time for DIY cities to come into their own.
More on this next week...
In the FY 2011 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies
Appropriations Requests, there is a $1 Million request for the Major
Cities Chiefs of Police Association which would be used to purchase
services from CrimeReports.com.
CrimeReports.com is a private company that makes contracts with
municipal police forces to provide their crime data to the public on
the CrimeReports.com website--but according to the PDs' specifiations.
In the process, the public information that the source crime data is
may seem to become more accessible, but this is not the case.
CrimeReports is contending in a current federal case that public crime
data becomes CrimeReports' own proprietary product in the form
provided on CrimeReports.com. (See links below and The Citizen Media
Law Project's article, "Public Engines to World: Look, But Don't Touch
the Crime Data"
In this view it would be technically illegal for someone to duplicate
or republish material from CrimeReports.com by other means, which many
PDs may use as their sole or primary means of providing public access
to crime data. (It is not access to data, it is access to a limited
representation of some data.) This is not only bad for public and
media oversight, it is bad for technologists who wish to tap public
data for research and applications.
From the appropriations document:
Project: The National Crime Map Expansion
Purpose: The National Crime Map currently includes more than 800 law
enforcement agencies across the country; its aim to make incident
level crime data available to the general public at the neighborhood
level within 24 hours of occurrence.
Location: Draper, Utah
Recipient of Funds: Major Cities Chiefs of Police Association
Explanation/Justification: Very few members of the public have ready
access to street level crime information on a timely basis. This
funding will allow any law enforcement agency in the United States to
connect to the existing National Crime Map, CrimeReports.com.
Currently, more than 800 agencies have already joined at an average
total cost of $110 per month. Through this funding, CrimeReports.com
will be able to expand the map and drop the cost of integrating and
deploying the system to roughly $20/month per agency, regardless of
size, population served, or members of the community served. In
contrast, cities that build their own portals spend $50,000 - $100,000
per agency to implement local crime maps.
Last week I posted here that I wanted to get DIYcity going a bit again, after spending a year away from it.
What I've decided since writing that is that the way to do this, for now, is to post to it once a week, on Fridays.
The posts will focus on these questions:
• how has the notion of the open, user-driven city changed in the past year?
• what has worked, what hasn't worked? (and what needs more time to work?)
• where are cities, civic participation, sustainability and open government going next?
• how will they get there (and who will take them there)?
These may be written by me, or they may be conversations with friends working in the space, or they may take other forms, who knows. I'm going to be pretty flexible about what form things take, and just focus on posting something weekly on these issues. (If you have ideas for things you'd like to see here, or if you'd like to post as well, or have a discussion, let me know!)
I've got tons of ideas for DIYcity that I'd love to put into action, but I've also got a lot else on my plate as well, between Appify (which is going to be great soon, I swear) and all of the other things and people I'm working with.
So for now, one post a week, on Fridays, seems like a manageable way to put into this again, little by little.
So look for a post here on Fridays, and we'll take it from there. See you next Friday.
Over the past year DIYcity has been mostly silent, except for a few rogue postings about upcoming events and such.
When I stopped posting last October I was so busy between trying to launch a new site and helping take care of a new baby that I had no spare bandwidth for posting to DIY at all. So I just stopped.
But this summer I was struck with an urge to start up the engines here a bit again. The baby that was consuming all of my spare time last year is now a toddler, and less all-consuming, and the site I was trying to figure out is now largely figured out, and with a few more iterations may actually be pretty good. And things are feeling a lot more sane these days.
So I figure I'll give in to that urge and start DIYcity up a bit again this fall.
I'm not quite sure yet what form it will take, how often I will post, what direction it will go, etc. I'll figure that out as I go. I do know that this space is even more exciting now than it was two years ago when I started the site. There is so much going on, and also so much to be done. So whatever happens, it should be exciting and fun.
So - stay tuned. In a little bit I'll be back with something or other to post in this space.
Looking forward to it...
Hello DIY friends!
I’m excited to tell you about this year’s Conflux festival! Conflux is the annual New York festival for contemporary psychogeography: the investigation of everyday urban life through emerging artistic, technological and social practice. At Conflux, visual and sound artists, writers, urban adventurers and the public gather for four days to explore their urban environment.
We are now accepting project submissions via our website http://www.confluxfestival.org
Now in its 7th year, Conflux 2010 is based on themes of INVESTIGATION, ACTION and TRANSMISSION. Conflux proposals must be submitted by August 15 ($10 administrative fee). Check the FAQ for guidelines and details.
If you aren’t interested in submitting but would still like to be involved we always need volunteers so let me know if you can help with the festival in any way--also a good way to get into Conflux for free : )
For more info check out the conflux blog and follow @confluxfestival on twitter.
Please pass this info along to anyone who might be interested.
See you at Conflux!
Assistant Director / Conflux Festival
heyadele[dot]com / [at]gmail
I don't mean to spam the list but I got my links wrong in my first post.
The Open Call for World Maker Faire is real, and here are the real links:
refer here to my original post for details
thanks to Dave for pointing out my mistake, and I really look forward to seeing your Maker projects!
cheers, Nick Normal