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How Falling Off a Bike Made Me Want to Build a Crowd Powered City

I remember the shock of being on the tarmac with traffic and trucks narrowly missing me on the busy familiar road I had been cycling on for 12...

I remember the shock of being on the tarmac with traffic and trucks narrowly missing me on the busy familiar road I had been cycling on for 12 years in London. I inadvertently drove my bike into a pothole. Like the proverbial Alice in Wonderland, I went through the rabbit hole and started thinking about the city and the neighborhood I live in, particularly why citizens seem helpless to do anything to fix their streets.

Since I am a designer of mobile operating systems I am used to creating feedback loops for users to file bugs so that we can improve software systems. The challenge of applying this sort of thinking to cities is to create an evolutionary operating system that is not merely a one way bug-reporting tool that files complaints to already overworked city councils, but a two-way bug solving tool that citizens can use to come together to crowdsource solutions to common problems, help optimize and share scarce resources, and possibly crowd-fund those solutions with local businesses, neighbors, and town councils.

So I started Changify, a mobile crowdpowered platform as an experiment to see if people were interested in taking photos of problems they spotted in their neighborhoods, sharing them with their friends, and having local communities vote on their favorite solutions. As a mobile reporting, voting, and funding platform for civic issues and ideas to solve them, my aim is to take social media discovery and action back to the streets, empowering simple, immediate sourcing of issues using photos, tags, and social network sharing.

But I’m not alone. The discussion around building smarter cities is getting louder and louder. Our cities have a rich history of human innovation and intervention that has enabled them to thrive and grow under very daunting conditions. At the heart of many of these stories are citizens using quick thinking, resourcefulness. If we can bottle up some of that crowd intelligence and increasingly work together using crowdsourced data, crowd created solutions to common problems—local problems like the pothole I fell into in London, might emerge as a set of global design patterns. A local solution to a civic problem might be piloted in London, then localized and improved upon in Mumbai, only to emerge as a cost-effective solution to a similar problem in New York. That’s my dream for crowd-powered better cities.

Priya Prakash is one of 40 speakers and 200 attendees at the RE-WORK Cities global meeting of minds being held in London on December 13.

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