Open Enough: Exploring the Potential for the Internet of Things in Citizen-led Urban Design
The Internet of Things (IoT) enables a new relationship between the digital and the physical, and creates new socio- echnical possibilities. The impact of the IoT is expected to be significant in urban spaces. An issue with this is that the IoT automates many processes, reducing citizen’s power to see how the tool functions, or adapt how they use it. This exegesis proposes that design methods can challenge these power dynamics by involving citizens in the design process through a participatory approach, creating opportunities for citizens to become the designers through open design methods.
This practice-led research aims to explore the potential of the IoT for citizen-led urban design through a practice-led active research process that draws on critical making and critical design. The practice looking at the DIY urbanism and the maker movement as modes of citizen-led open design and aims to create examples of open IoT projects for urban creativity.
Through interviews with people involved DIY urbanism in Auckland, New Zealand, the research finds opportunities in showing how the IoT can enhance connection, playfulness and empowerment. Two prototype projects − ‘Mobile Street Furniture’ and ‘The Zeitgeist Machine’ − are attempted and reveal the compromises, restrictions and complications of this stage of the IoT’s development. A co-design session with creative urbanists using some basic IoT systems let the participants evaluate the creative potential for their own work. Seeing the potential value of the tool was a bigger influence on likeliness to use than difficulty, however, the difficulty did have an impact on their confidence in using the tool.
The research concludes that the uptake of the IoT for citizen-led urban design is dependent on whether the IoT is open enough for users to see how it works and imagine how to deploy it for their own purposes. ‘Open enough’ is a balance between an accessible level of development to manage the complexities, while keeping the flexibility to change and adapt it for imaginative purposes.