From place to platform: The city of the future is an interdisciplinary knowledge sharing machine.
The City As Platform concept defines how cities are evolving as integrated digital and physical forums designed for crowdsourcing ideas that improve civic governance, community building, and economic growth.
Therefore, the cities and towns of the future are interoperable platforms for leveraging the collective knowledge of their communities, connecting online and offline channels, public and private sectors, and local residents and global visitors.
Cities have always been defined by place, but globalization contributes to homogenization. That has ignited a conversation in cities and towns around the value of identity, community and shared values. Place, then, is evolving as a social construct for participatory self-determination.
It is an evolution from place to platform.
"We are, after all, interpreters of place," says Zita Cobb, founder of Fogo Island Inn in Newfoundland. Fogo Island Inn is located in a tiny fishing village "far away from far away," with a forward-thinking vision about the meaning of place for a community seeking to build on, and transcend, its history by designing collective purpose.
The House of Logistics + Mobility (HOLM) in Frankfurt is an incubator that proposes: "The city of the future is an interdisciplinary knowledge sharing machine."
What happens when you combine the visions of HOLM and Fogo Island?
“We are, after all, interpreters of place.”
— Zita Cobb, FOUNDER, Fogo island inn
Thinking of modern cities as knowledge sharing machines zeroes in on how they perform as incubators and accelerators for new ideas. Today, neighborhoods are the new collision spaces for innovation. They're portals for locals and visitors to discuss the future of connectivity, mobility, livability and inclusivity together. They're test laboratories for people exploring how diverse societies can coexist more effectively and productively.
How, then, can cities bring more people into the modern urban experiment, much like a university brings together students in an institutionalized environment?
Since early civilization, travel has always been a journey toward enlightenment. The Silk Road, connecting Asia and Europe for the first time, was the original information superhighway. Today, tourism and economic development organizations are collaborating more intentionally to connect their cities' local thought leaders with global visitors, driven by a collective purpose of commercializing creativity and innovation that benefits society.
“The challenge is for individuals and society to design their future responsibly,” says Harald Neidhart, CEO of the MLOVE event company in Hamburg.
Today, with the exponential rise of startups beyond the traditional tech-centric metropolitan regions, all cities are focusing more on importing and exporting knowledge. As such, the travel industry is a global innovation distribution channel with the potential to share best practices in urban UX.
“The challenge is for individuals and society to design their future responsibly.”
Harald Neidhardt, CEO, MLOVE
“The travel industry is a global innovation distribution channel.”
— Greg Oates
The rise of the City as Platform theme is especially intriguing within the context of next-generation conferences and events, such as: C2, SXSW, MLOVE, Tech Open Air, Coachella, Burning Man, Bonnaroo, and many others. Their worldwide popularity and growth is due to their immersive and interdisciplinary mashups of experiences integrating advances in tech, science, art, culture and industry.
From Richard Goodstone, co-founder of Superfly (operators of Bonnaroo): “We have a deep pipeline of knowledge and data to help us understand our audience better, and I think the most important thing we realized early on is that passions don’t live in silos. At Bonnaroo, we’re drawing people who are coming on a pilgrimage to meet old friends and make new ones, who are curious and have an open frame of mind about many different things.”
From Mike Shea, executive director of SXSW: “The South by Southwest experience is geared toward industry more than consumers, and what we do well is getting the creative community in one room to launch next-generation product platforms for the beta community. The fact that we have so many convergent sessions that speak to people in different sectors has been hugely important to our success.”
Austin Mayor Steve Adler captures the essence of travel as a global innovation distribution channel:
“There are few greater expressions of Austin’s spirit and soul than SXSW, which has become the world’s fair of the future. Every year, musicians, filmmakers, innovators, and storytellers migrate to Austin to share their creations and learn from each other in a perfect demonstration of who we are.”
“There are few greater expressions of Austin’s spirit and soul than SXSW, which has become the world’s fair of the future.”
— Austin Mayor Steve Adler
The rise of innovation districts is another powerful example of the City as Platform theme evolving. These are generally clusters of startups in advanced and creative industries, academic institutions and scientific research labs, and vibrant community spaces located in close proximity within walkable, amenity-rich urban cores.
From ex-Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry:
“Our innovation district is designed to create collisions between smart and creative people in different fields of medicine, science, and engineering, with the idea that you can commercialize ideas at some point and create jobs. That’s an upward spiral in our community. So the conferences that we bring to Albuquerque do a lot more than put heads in beds. This is about enterprise and entrepreneurship, and creating a culture of innovation on par with almost anywhere in the world.”
From Gary Oppedahl, director of economic development for the City of Albuquerque:
“We’re more conscious of how important it is to match up everything happening on the entrepreneurial and business development side with how we position Albuquerque for the acquisition of more conventions in advanced and creative industries. We see tourism and conventions and economic development as two sides of the same coin.”
The rise of the Maker Movement is forging new pathways for global visitors to connect with local small businesses and their communities. Also called "DIY Culture," the maker phenomenon is rooted in a an independent entrepreneur's desire to create tangible value, and more importantly, share that value, to help design the future of a local community within the context of a specific place.
That speaks to the heart of the City as Platform theme, expressed in the Maker Movement Manifesto.
According to The Brookings Institution: “An authentic social movement of hackers and tinkerers, the Maker Movement has grown increasingly consequential in recent years as a new generation of designers and entrepreneurs has employed online tools, 3D printing, and other new technologies to democratize manufacturing and reinvigorate small-batch production and sales.”
Jeff Miller, CEO of Travel Portland, says his city's maker culture is what defines Portland:
“Innovation is really in the DNA of Portland. We were farm-to-table before it was called that. We’ve been making microbrews forever. We built amazing public transportation. So what’s next? We think it’s going to be our maker culture that continues to differentiate us.”
Steve Faulstick, chief sales officer of Travel Portland, adds: “Individuals attract individuals. That ‘it’ factor we have as a unique destination has been driven by the entrepreneurial spirit of our makers.”
- The Silk Route was the original information superhighway.
- Universities have always been crucibles for a diverse collection of global citizens developing and sharing knowledge.
- Cities everywhere are more focused on commercializing knowledge, and importing and exporting expertise across their industry and academic sectors.
- Conferences and events are "festivals of the future" connecting creative and innovative people with a shared purpose.
- The travel industry, therefore, is a global innovation distribution channel.
The next logical progression is the evolution of cities as platforms to build on the collective knowledge of their communities by accelerating and exploiting the continual collision of diverse local and outside perspectives.
What, exactly, does that platform look like?