Designing for smarter cities with mixed reality

How can we promote collaborative governance and urban sustainability when planning for the cities of the future?

We believe that mixed reality offers interesting opportunities to engage citizens who are normally excluded from the planning process, and whose participation is important to foster urban sustainability.

Many contemporary urban challenges are best understood as complex. This means that they are often a confusing mess of interrelated problems which are difficult to define and are often disputed. This is why it is absolutely crucial for cities to promote citizen participation in urban planning. Citizen participation is important in order to mobilize knowledge, innovation and support for solving some of the most pressing sustainability issues of our age. Yet in reality urban planning often lags behind urbanization and lacks effective means of collaborating with citizens.

This is why we have decided to take on the challenge of thinking creatively around how ICT could foster citizen participation in urban planning and ultimately urban sustainability. By merging virtual and real world objects to produce new environments and virtualizations, mixed reality presents yet unexplored opportunities to build urban sustainability.

We have therefore developed a number of concepts for a mixed reality platform which could support any city to plan for the future.

The concepts present ways to visualize a city as it looks today as well as future urban plans, including buildings, parks or infrastructure that are not there today but might be so in the future. Equally important they present ways for citizens to explore alternative futures and urban data, including impacts of existing urban plans on dynamic elements like traffic, noise, air quality, services, and so on. As we think that connectivity is a precondition for radical innovation we have also tried to visualize how such a platform could support communication and collaboration among various stakeholders.

Based on field research, we think that mixed reality could help citizens to overcome some of the high barriers associated with citizen participation. By dissolving time and space mixed reality can enable people with difficulties to be present at a certain location and time to participate in urban planning. Families with young children or people with restricted mobility are example of groups whose participation could be supported. Certainly mixed reality presents interesting opportunities to foster engagement among youth. Supporting their participation is important for a number of reasons, not least to enable inter-generational dialogue and to foster young people’s self-esteem by reinforcing their sense of being an important part of their communities. It is therefore intriguing to ponder how mixed reality could create an enabling environment for participatory behavior, making it easier, cheaper and faster for citizens to engage with planning issues.

 

What will the cities of future looks like?

As we at Ericsson want our stakeholders to use our technology in ways that support democratic stewardship of cities, it is interesting to note that mixed reality can allow every individual to speak about his or her desires for the future (provided citizens have the digital skills required). We believe that when provided a safe space to speak, the self-confidence to participate in urban planning can increase.

New digital technologies like mixed reality also create ample opportunities to strengthen the transparency of urban planning. While this can enhance two-way communication and install an impetus for improved accountability, it can also empower citizens to make informed choices. This could help to improve the quality of citizen dialogues as well as decisions making to produce outcomes that are more likely to contribute to sustainable development.

Based on our research we therefore believe that mixed reality can enable new interesting interactions between cities and citizens, and support collaborative sense-making of urban challenges. While this could have a profound impact on inclusiveness and help to improve the representativeness of the planning process, it could also strengthen cities’ problem-solving capacity and responsiveness to complex urban challenges.

Multifaceted information and collaborative governance have to be recognized as key resources when designing and managing our cities. Looking ahead this will certainly be crucial to legitimize and create public support for smart city adoption.

 

Autors: Anna ViggedalCristian NorlinFanny von HelandJoakim FormoMarcus Nyberg.

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