enabling connected communities

Cities are places where people, meet, exchange and interact. They bring people with different interests, experiences and knowledge close together. They are the centres of culture, economic development and social change. They offer many opportunities to continually innovate with technologies, from the infrastructures that underlie the sewers to computing in the cloud. But sustainable living in cities will require communal engagement and action. Cities are very heterogeneous with differences in interests and backgrounds starkly evident. Arguably, a key feature of city living, particularly in global cities such as London, is the fragmentation and changing of community from communities of locality to communities of interest. Notions of neigbourhood and of place appear be changing and there are often perceptions of limited local personal interaction. Computing technologies may give us an opportunity to reinvent or ‘rethink’ neighbourhood and city politics, while increasing the quality of living and lowering the barriers for mobility in our future cities. Imagine a city where your neighbourhood moves beyond those physically located in your immediate area.

The overarching goal of ICRI-Cities is to integrate the technological, economic and social needs of cities in ways that are sustainable and human-centered. But how do we achieve this? In particular, how can we exploit new and existing technologies to enhance the benefits of connected living in cities while minimizing the costs? For example, how can we provide context-awareness and adaptive services for city-dwellers to let them make better-informed decisions, as individuals and members of a community?

Computing technologies are now pervasive in our cities; they are intruding and extending our physical bodies, cognitive minds and social lives. But what does it mean to have 500+ friends online but not a best friend to hang out with every day after school and share deep secrets with? What does it mean to know how many calories someone has burned, hours slept, or energy consumed but not know how to cook, sleep properly, or be able to switch a light on or off manually? These are the concerns that the HCI community is beginning to wrestle with; explicating what it means to be human in an age of ubiquitous computing (Harper et al., 2008; Rogers, 2009). Many of these concerns are highly relevant to the vision of sustainable and connected cities.

Thinking about enabling connected communities requires us to think differently about the many relationships people have with technology, from how they shop, learn, keep fit and move around. The objectives of this theme are to explore how technology can help enable communities and individuals to be:

Better connected – with each other, families, neighbors, councils, local governments, in their own and other cities
More aware – of the latest news, the buzz, where others are, how much energy the city is using, to when the next bus is coming
Creative – using the resources urban communities offer in sustainable and innovative ways
Keeping safe and protected – feeling homes, schools and communities are secure, safe from prying eyes. Trusting that one’s data is safe
Feeling proud – the achievements and successes of living and being part of a city, be it saving energy, helping with poverty, loneliness or winning gold medals.