Provocations on the future of cities

Good lenses can amplify insights. Below are five provocations on the future of cities that help to frame our report, “Cities Remix a Playful Platform.” To guide our readers, we propose several provocations to help frame this report.

For novel designs, our mental models and categories may not fit cleanly. These provocations aim to help us read the report with an eye to several emerging innovations in cities.  They can also serve as discussion questions.

#1. Do playful approaches to technology have different mechanisms than most “Smart City” movements and civic tech?  Compared to games, civic tech often lacks frameworks to optimize engagement for satisfying choices, deliberate difficulty, and sustained uncertainty.  Games are different, and are poorly explained as raw incentive systems. (For example, simply adding points rarely makes games fun.) The tactics in this report hint at different ways to optimize technology design for cities.

#2. If public space is a hybrid of physical and digital, what are the hybrid tactics for civic engagement?  Many places can no longer be understood by the physical experience alone.  Navigating space and discovering place is happening in new ways. But do these new ways dampen the visibility of our cultural assets in favor of utilitarian goals? Several city strategies in this report point to new ways to surface – and allocate – the cultural assets that matter for neighborhood identity.

#3. If civic life is about networks in the public interest, and games come with self-organizing groups, how should we respect those networks? Should we invite player leaders to help us organize, and let them speak at public events? Do we undermine local networks when our civic invitations are only to users and players as individuals?

#4. Is this augmented reality (AR)? Yes, and yet many of the central mechanisms may depend more on human networks, fan culture and playful challenges than augmentation.  If you are a technologist, what does it mean for AR to augment community and be “network first” with graphics second?

#5. Who are the right partners for localism?  Cities are vital in our modern world – but platforms like Pokémon GO are often globally managed. National funders like the Knight Foundation may serve as brokers between government and entertainment firms. How can a deliberate structuring of power relations be useful for cities that seek control over their local identity and experience?

Of course, this list can go on! Have your own ideas? We would love to hear them for future reports and related research. The most powerful provocations are often tied to larger debates and controversies in fields from urban planning and media studies to neighborhood empowerment. Let us know how your work intersects.

Now get started with the full report!