The real-time city is now real! The increasing deployment of sensors and handheld electronic devices in recent years allows for a new approach to the study and exploration of the built environment. The WikiCity project deals with the development of real-time, location-sensitive tools for the city and is concerned with the real-time mapping of city dynamics. This mapping, however, is not limited to representing the city, but also instantly becomes an instrument for city inhabitants to base their actions and decisions upon in a better informed manner, leading to an overall increased efficiency and sustainability in making use of the city environment. While our comprehensive research program considers a larger context, this chapter discusses the WikiCity Rome project, which was the first occasion for implementing some of WikiCity’s elements in a public interface—it was presented on a large screen in a public square in Rome.
People moving and acting in a city base their decisions on information that is, in most cases, not synchronized with their present time and place when making that decision1. How often have you arrived at the airport just to find out that your flight has been delayed, or been surprised by a traffic jam, or found that a product is out of stock or a service operator busy at the moment you need it.
In the same way, a person acting in a city contributes himself to dynamics of which others are not aware when making their decisions. Looked upon in this way, a city resembles what Deleuze and Guattari describe as a rhizome (Deleuze and Guattari, 1977). The rhizome is a philosophical network structure where every part is necessarily connected with every other part of the system. There are no preferential connections because every connection alters the overall network structure. As a consequence, the rhizome cannot be plotted since the plotting action itself is part of the rhizome and thus in the very moment of plotting its structure, the structure changes.
The WikiCity project, in a similar way, is concerned with the real-time mapping of city dynamics. This mapping, however, is not limited to representing the city, but instead becomes instantly an instrument upon which city inhabitants can base their actions and decisions in a better-informed manner. In this way the real-time map changes the city context, and this altered context changes the real-time map accordingly, with the ultimate aim of leading to an overall increased efficiency and sustainability in making use of the city environment.
Will such a WikiCity lead to more people attempting to be at the same place at the same time or in an increasing number of different places at different times? Designing a tool to address such a question requires considering whether and how the real-time map is capable of communicating different and context-based information to users in different circumstances and how people’s decisions, which were taken on the basis of the real-time information, are fed back into the system.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Real-Time System / Real-Time Control System: System for the control of a real entity by means of sensors, intelligence, and actuators
Rhizome: A philosophical network structure, put forward by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, in which every part is necessarily connected with every other part of the system. There are no preferential connections because every connection alters the overall network structure. The rhizome as a flat network is in contrast to arboreal structures connoted by a hierarchical structure.
Multimodal Interfaces: Interfaces that allow user interaction in more than one way such as visual display, sound, touch, and others.
Semantic Web: Extension of the World Wide Web in which the content is expressed in a way that is readable by software agents.
Tangible User Interfaces: Interface type that allows the user to interact with digital information by acting upon physical elements in the users’ environment.
Sensor network: Network of spatially distributed devices using sensors to cooperatively monitor physical or environmental conditions
Wiki: A Wiki is a software that allows users to collaboratively compose Web pages whose content is cross-referenced. One of the principles of the Wiki is that all users can actively create and edit the content in a continuous and open process which creates an ever-evolving whole.