I received some great news this month about a project I'd love to make happen: with my partner company, Pavegen, I've been shortlisted for the Playable City Award 2014.
The Playable City Award looks to create projects that will reconfigure cities with technology but as more than simply a 'smart city' that processes data efficiently, instead making people engage with a city's future and its story.
It's organized by Watershed in Bristol, in partnership with Future Cities Catapult, Bristol City Council, University of Bristol, and University of the West of England. The whole shortlist is available here and we'd love your comments.
Being shortlisted is a great honour and one that, I feel, deserves further explanation and discussion.
My project, beneath our feet, the stars is an installation for bridges that uses electricity and data generated by the people crossing the bridge to create algorithmic poetry that is revealed to them at night.
Addressing the bridge as a metaphor for connections between people, cultures, and a hopeful future, the project isn't just for a playable city but a kinder city - as the project produces electricity, we let people know they're helping their environment.
'A kinder city'
The idea of a kinder city comes not only from the people producing clean energy but from how the bridge will engage with them: it's accessible by anyone, able-bodied or not; the names of people who engage with the online portal will be gently included in the texts which touch on our rivers if they opt-in. So too would that data drive further applications further out in the city: a Monday morning email nudges them toward making more electricity by taking a walk on their favourite bridge; a Friday email would let them know how much electricity has been made by the bridge that week and provide them with the poetry - in both languages - that has been created. Not only that but, if there's scope, associate artists could reward the walkers kindness with a gift of art in a weekend email.
For anyone unaware of the project or those uninterested, they'll be powering the project by day and should they cross the bridge at night then they'll be pleasantly surprised.
Within the context of smart cities, this project is a subtle reminder of how we are always at the center of those smart cities.
We create what we power so we must power what we create.
We can do so in a sustainable way.
So too should we communicate with the cultures around us - having poetry in two languages around you at night could make you see how beautiful another language is.
With the technologies we plan to use, the data, languages, and electricity being processed could be on display on the web making the 'smart city' open to anyone that wants it.
'The bridge as metaphor'
Poetry in translation has always been a bridge between countries and a provocation to engage with other cultures. I was the web-editor for Modern Poetry in Translation for 3 years, a magazine set up by Ted Hughes to get poetry out from under the Iron Curtain, and know that it garners connectedness and change in more than just the poetry community. I also produced Poet in the City's first 'poetry in the built environment' installation in partnership with King's Place, the home of The Guardian, so I want to share the value of poetry and the beauty of other languages.
No matter the country, poetry has long been essential to forming and challenging dominant perceptions of cultures. To translate poetry is to bridge cultures. This is why poetry in public spaces is important and why I want it to engage people in making a kinder, playable city.
To engage bypassers and the apathetic, the visualizations beneath the poetry will be user-generated elements - facts, quotes, messages, marriage requests (?!), directions to the project website or hashtag, and the contextual data that feeds the projections - that invite them to get involved.
What we want is to bring people out into the city and encourage them to meet on a bridge, in the moonlight, and make something amazing together. All while saving the city.