Today's urban computing versus "I just want to catch a bus"

Some tough but relevant issues presented in Backbone about how technology help solve the problems of city dwellers ("Or even just tell them when a bus is coming?). An excerpt that is particularly strong (about a Microsoft urban computing project)

" So what impact does this sort of thing really have on a city? Not much, according to Austin Williams, technical editor of the Architects’ Journal and director of Future Cities, a forum that critically explores city issues. Williams, who calls such technology-driven projects indulgent, points to more urgent urban problems awaiting solutions, such as the loss of social connections between city dwellers. “The people who are inventing these technologies are creations of this fragmented society. They don’t want to have a hard argument. You need a proper political analysis,” he said. “A lot of these things are public art projects. It relates to people on an individual emotional level rather than on a group political level.” (...) What irks Williams could be the sense of playfulness in many of these urban computing projects, which is at odds with the hardheaded policy building that is the mainstay of think tanks like Future Cities. But playfulness lies at the centre of Eric Paulos’ work. (...) A trash can that regurgitates its own garbage. Cute, but how useful is it? “You can look at some of the things you do as being efficient and productive and getting things done, while some things are about wondering and reflecting and daydreaming,” Paulos said. “I am fearful that ‘city’ plus ‘technology’ equates to Wi-Fi cafés. [It should be] more about letting us radically rethink what’s possible.” "

Why do I blog this? a very interesting and critical discussion of urban computing form different angles. Especially about the techno-driven argument. That said, I am not sure it's efficient to oppose two tracks (politics/instrumentality versus art/emotional/playful) in such a caricatural way. There are big problems but instrumentality is always relevant, and some urban computing projects tackle them as well.

Also there is this interesting issue in the conclusion:

" Pollution sensors bluejacked the Bluetooth radio interfaces of nearby cell-phones with unsolicited information and Web links on pollution levels in the surrounding area. (...) because people walk quickly through city streets, by the time the device set up a connection with a nearby phone, most people had already walked out of range, eager to reach their destination. And that is a reminder for urban technologists: the biggest challenge of all is to keep pace with a fast-moving and multitasking population."