martes, 10 de septiembre de 2013

Back from UrbanIxD Summer School - Urban interaction design? Nobody is a stranger

UrbanIxD Summer School  took place in Split from 23rd Aug to 1st Sept 2013 and I had the chance to be part of it as a member of the Advisory Board of UrbanIxD project. Here are some post-event  thought, a mix of personal experience and reflections about the challenges of the project.

It was shocking when Michael invited me to join the Advisory Board of UrbanIxD. My background is far from interaction design and actually I am more comfortable around books and writing my thoughts on urban issues than messing with devices, plugs, monitors,...But it seemed a good way to be involved somehow in a project that perfectly matched some of my worried about the lack of common grounds to look at cities, at what happens in cities in a daily basis, from a wide range of perspectives. A project working on urban interaction, almost shaping and conceptualizing this emerging topic, brings together different fields of knowledge related to urban issues and that is much-needed. In these times that a banal understanding of what smart cities mean is wide-spreading, projects like UrbanIxD make sense and are welcome to break the silos that are preventing us to connect the dots of many different approaches to urban interaction that must explore together where we are heading to.
Conclusion #1. It´s all about learning from each other

This is why that invitation made sense to me, even though I still feel a little bit of an outsider.  Attending the Summer School and taking part in the Advisory Board meeting that was held at the same time in Split was a chance, from my perspective, to confront these expectations and fears. Nice choice for the venue (such an amazing place to ease the work that was to be done) and a great mix of participants, organisers, speakers and atelier leaders. Everyone with different personal and professional backgrounds, coming from different places and bringing to the table experiences and ideas.
Conclusion #2. It´s all about what you don´t know

The members of the Advisory Board had a different agenda to the participants of the ateliers. Probably, ateliers facilitators and participants needed to be focused on their own work, while the advisors had the specific role of start our contribution to the whole project itself and its envisaged outcomes. So, despite sharing the same facilities and even beers at night, I spent the day curious about what was going on in the groups. Are they just discussing over and over? Just drafting on flipboard the craziest ideas of the top of their heads? Just having fun about inventing fictions? When I left Split it was the mid week term when the groups had to present their progress and the energy was turning somehow into doubts and stress. I missed the creative process that turned into a bunch of powerful propositions about the kind of scenarios we can confront in the near future unless we take a careful look now at what kind of cities we want to live in. And those videos showing the final results are a clear proof of what participants could build with their own hands in a week. And I feel a little bit jealous of the chance they had.
Conclusion #3. It´s all about people doing things together

Maybe because I am not a technologist, maybe because I am a victim of postmodernism, when dealing with the role of technologies in urban life, I tend to focus on the importance of processes rather than outcomes. I understand this is where UrbanIxD is positioning as a project able to offer some light into how to integrate critical design in the research community active in understanding the digital sphere of urban living. Proponents of a top-down highly institutionalized smart city deployment strategy are rushing to re-shape infrastructures and public services, but there is an obvious risk and a clear discontent about whether this is the right way to do it. Shouldn´t we take some time to debate about privacy? Shouldn´t we take some time about how to promote a civic ownership of these technologies instead of having a passive role in them? Shouldn´t we explore in which way the experience of living in the city –the experience of living together- can be enhanced towards a more democratic way? It´s the role of urban interaction design, as a multidisciplinary gathering, to raise awareness of these concerns and provide people with tools to explore and empower taking advantage of digital technologies.
Conclusion #4. It´s all about the way you do it

Technologically augmented urban environments in the networked city are sometimes presented as something to happen in the future. Or, at least, there is the risk to focus only in emerging technologies promised by certain actors interested in showcasing smart cities solutions as something to happen. But it´s happening now and here is the best contribution UrbanIxD can share: people are using available technologies not only to make use of them to create civic solutions, digital art installations or digitally enhanced processes, but also to confront the social impact derived from these technologies from a critical perspective. It´s happening on the streets, on our hands and pockets or on creativity labs. Take a look at the outcomes from the ateliers: behind those apparently futuristic scenarios, there is a deep questioning about how the human scale –how individuals and communities enjoy their places and cities- shapes urban computing to make it relevant, meaningful, sufficient and democratic. Or not. That´s the critical point: it´s up to us.
Conclusion #5. It´s all about what it´s happening now

It was a great idea to add a film screening session as an inspiration in the early stages of the school, particularly because choosing The Human Scale, a documentary about the designing process behind the work of Jan Gehl, represents the kind of approach that is needed to understand how cities work and how people use them, enjoy them, fight for them... on a daily basis. Yiorgos Papamanousakis put it in an advisory board session in simple words where the link resides: "urban design is by default interactive" and I have to catch hold of this idea to find my place in this field of urban interaction design. When smart cities or, generally, the intersection of technology and cities is thought from a bird´s eye views, people can´t be perceived, not mentioning the kind of interactions between them or with digital objects and devices. Cities are not the buildings, the urban form, the infrastructure or the local government, but people living together and the intelligence is on the streets.
Conclusion #6. It´s all about cities and people after all

I cannot help finishing these lines with a mention to the local group in charge of organising the event, make people feel comfortable and take care of the technical needs to ease the work of the ateliers and also turn this summer school into an enjoying experience in Split. Ivica, Oleg and the rest of you, you made it happen, and here is a big thank from Bilbao
Conclusion #7. It´s all about doing it with care and passion

This post appeared first on UrbanIxD blog; check it for more updates from participants.

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