All posts by Raf

City Forward & Other Technologies Change Our Understanding Of Our Environs

I’ve written in the past–whether it was about IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge or City Forward projects–about the different ways that cities can serve as laboratories of government and how cool it is that these projects can be part of this process. Given their size and immediacy in our lives, they are the level of government we are most intimate with. You may think state and national government is more exciting; still, nothing comes close to the city in terms of its impact on our day to day lives, and as they are more immediate, we can also have a much greater impact on them.

In our urban centers, if you look hard enough, you can find the the keys to the kingdom for how diverse and yet complementary cultures, values, and priorities all came to be entwined in our broader American experience. The design of our cities reflects that which we value in our culture. And by advancing our values and our priorities at the municipal level, we can begin to move the mountain in the direction we want it to face.

Once you add in emerging technologies, the possibilities are both exciting and endless. Among those emerging technologies are mobile applications, putting the potential for restoration and renewal at our collective finger tips.

From one perspective, mobile apps aren’t new. I’m certain many of you reading this are familiar with ‘The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy.’ In that wonderful series of books by the late Douglas Adams’ the protagonist carries a computerized device (the ‘Hitchhikers’ Guide’) which can instantaneously tap into the universe’s collected knowledge.

I was blown away by that notion. And I don’t think it would be a bridge too far to refer to our iPhones, Android phones, iPads and Honeycomb tablets as our living, present equivalents of the ‘Hitchhikers’ Guide’: small, portable devices that can, at a moment’s notice tap into our collected knowledge of the world we live in, helping us gain the agency to improve our surroundings.

In keeping with that philosophy, I noticed that IBM has now released mobile applications through its Smarter Planet initiative (City Forward is a smarter planet initiative) that help illustrate how our world’s systems — everything from cities and buildings to our energy grid, transportation networks, our healthcare and our food supply  — are becoming more interconnected and intelligent.

The apps are available for the iPhone (iTMS link), Android (Amazon App Store link) and Blackberry (AppWorld link). Best of all, they’re free. If, like me, you deeply care about urban centers and our ability to–unlike a certain 1980s President–genuinely create that “shining city on a hill,” I highly urge you to check em out, download them and become better acquainted with how cities are helping to build a smarter planet.

full disclosure: I’m doing some work for IBM on this and other projects.