What if the city had asked bus passengers to download an app so it could keep tabs on their commutes for a short period of time? That way, we might have gotten a more realistic bus rationalization scheme, instead of the problematic one we have now.
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The technology already exists to collect such data; but the policy, as well as the politics for it, have yet to come together. (According to a blog source who worked on the bus rationalization, it was based on data collected by researchers riding buses, counting how many people got on and off at each stop. There was no data collection regarding entire trips, from start to finish. It could be that incomplete data partially accounts for the fact that so many passengers now complain about service.)
A conversation with Willy Müller, a Barcelona-based Argentine architect, prompts the imagination. How about using a map of Instagram posts to think about the flow of tourists, and how best to meet their wants and needs? Or mapping food sources and transportation routes to determine real costs, and then encourage urban agriculture?
“Why doesn’t the city create its own Uber?” Müller asks in an interview with RioRealblog, recalling the disputes arising over the transportation service that relies on the growing use of smartphones.
Such ideas are the product of two new features of our era, says the Barcelona Urban Sciences Lab director and co-founder of the Institute of Advanced Architecture in Catalunya (IAAC): velocity and preferences. Smartphones quickly allow us to tally the choices of a large number of people. We must act fast, he says, to create and implement public policy. We need to plan in anticipation of events. For example, Müller points out, we know the planet is heating up and the oceans are rising. What’s Rio de Janeiro doing about it?
He urges us to “deprogram” cities, changing infrastructure so cities can transform.
Müller, who helped plan our Porto Maravilha port revitalization, spoke Wednesday to the 110 councilors of the new Consultative Council of the Modelar a Metrópole (Modeling the Metropolis) process. Made up of representatives from public institutions, civil society, concessions, businesses and trade associations, the Council is part of a long and complex process of listening and reflection (by way of twelve workshops), to come up with a strategic plan for the Rio metro region.
Spearheading this process is the Quanta-Lerner consortium, which won a bid put out by the newly-constituted Câmara de Integração Metropolitana (Metropolitan Integration Chamber). The Rio state legislature has yet to vote on the bill to officially create the Chamber.
Other speakers at Wednesday’s meeting included the Chamber’s executive director, Vicente Loureiro, urbanist Jaime Lerner and the Plan’s technical coordinator, Alexandre Weber.
This new data abundance speeds up urban life but doesn’t mean automatic bliss, Müller notes. Smart cities can both repress and liberate citizens.
People, not technology, are responsible for public policy — in metro Rio, just as elsewhere. Asked how technology can contribute to politics, especially in a context of corruption and social inequality, Müller brought onto his computer screen the famous photo of a protesting crowd at the Puerta del Sol square in Madrid, in 2011. “It was organized using social media,” he answered. “In a matter of hours.”