- Leveraging Web 2.0 for Smarter Cities

Anthony Townsend's picture

Here in New York City, there is an incredibly popular burger stand in Madison Square Park called The Shake Shack. It's one of the touchpoints for Silicon Alley, and a great meet-up spot. The problem is that its usually insanely crowded, with an hour-long line stretching well across the park.

Not to be defeated, Silicon Alley geeks created the Shake Shack Twitter Bot, which serves as a sort of chat room for people to report wait times at the Shake Shack. It's a few dozen lines of code that leverages Web 2.0 technology to make the city smarter, more efficient, and more fun.

The Shake Shack twitterbot is a signal of a bigger possibility, though, that Web 2.0 technologies can be used by citizens and residents to hack their city. We used to think of smart cities as a top-down technical infrastructure, that would be master planned by transportation engineers and computer guys. But it turns out that Web 2.0 and democratized sensing is unleashing the possibility for a much more organic, bottom-up vision of smart cities to emerge and be implemented on a piecemeal basis. It's the Jane Jacobs alternative to the Robert Moses-style smart city projects of the 1990s.

John Geraci, a former colleague of mine at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program, and now one of the team at neighborhood blog aggregator is launching DIYcity as a place for people to come together to share ideas and work together on projects that leverage Web 2.0 to make cities work better. From his announcement today:

I'm excited to share with you my new web project, DIYcity.  Please check it out.

DIYcity is a site dedicated to finding ways people can make their cities work better with the use of emerging web technologies. 

What do I mean 'making cities work better'?  I mean making them more efficient, more effective, more sustainable, better able to respond to problems, friendlier and generally more accessible to the individual user.   DIYcity aims to accomplish these goals with user-built applications created on top of existing web technologies.  It is a site where problems are posed and solutions are offered in the form of functioning apps, submitted by anyone and for use by all.

This is an exciting time to be launching this project for two reasons: 

One, we are increasingly aware of the need for our cities to be efficient, effective and sustainable, and yet at the same time cities' abilities to respond to these needs are collapsing, as city budgets get cut due to the current financial crisis.

Two, virtually every day there are new applications and technologies on hand for organizing people, sharing information, plugging into central data pools, aggregating individual input, and doing all of this aggregating/accessing/organizing faster and more easily.

These two factors taken together make me think that cities, as systems, are on the verge of an intense and exciting period of reinvention. 

DIYcity aims to be at the center of that reinvention.
The site, you will find, is very raw.  I am announcing it now in its raw state because I need you all to help get it to the next stage, that of a thriving, diffuse place of discussion and ideas.

Please take a minute and check out the site.  If you like it and are interested in the idea here are some ways you could help out:

- if you live in the NYC area, join the DIY New York City group.  That group will be holding a meetup some time in the near future.

- if you live elsewhere and want, you can join DIYcity, log in and create a group for your local area.

- if you use twitter, please tweet about this.

- if you happen to blog, feel free to blog about it.

- finally, and if nothing else, sign up and join the DIYcity main group and contribute to the thought process whenever you feel the urge.

Feel free to forward this email.  I welcome all feedback, and look forward to seeing you on DIYcity.



I'm working with John to spread awareness and organize participation in the site. We'd love for the Planetizen bloggers and readers to participate and welcome your feedback and ideas on how to make this project and website more useful and appealing.


Anthony Townsend is a research director at the Institute for the Future (IFTF) in Palo Alto, California.



Great Idea: Empowering People

I think this initiative is great! I wish you lots of luck with your site - I've already joined!

rob voigt
Urban Planner, Facilitator, Artist, Blogger.

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