What do clocks and clouds have to do with enlivening cities?

Continuing our look at the contemporary Remixing Cities: Strategy 2.0 paper profiled in the previous entry, author Charles Leadbetter defines city problems as two different kinds:

Clocks – Manufacturing or fixing clocks is complicated, focusing on hardware and professional skills, with measurable inputs and outputs using tried and true tools. Clock problems include increasing the supply of affordable housing, improving mass transit or implementing bike sharing programs.

Clouds – They are diffuse and impossible to pin down, requiring “cultural and behavioral change that yields intangible benefits of greater trust, respect, tolerance and social capital.” Cloud problems include making a neighborhood feel safe, establishing a creative buzz, or building a vibe that attracts local, independent businesses and gazelles.

Having two unique kinds of problems is fine… except that cities often possess only clockmaker tools. You can’t blame them – clouds are made up of countless numbers of water particles, just like individuals in a city. A cloud will change only if the behavior of the individual particles change. So how do you motivate thousands of citizens individually to make a difference?

As Charles emphasizes, “Public services are most effective when they enlist people as participants to do more for themselves. We need a new approach that will allow people to participate in creating solutions together that are tailored to their lives. That is where the lessons of the social web come in. Cities that can develop these approaches best will be at a comparative advantage in addressing wider quality of life issues and attracting talent to drive innovation and growth.”

In other words, if it’s a clock problem, you can crowdsource the selection of the ‘best’ clockmaker to fix it and be done with it. If it’s a cloud problem, you’ll need to crowdsource a community to provide progressive solutions over time.

See page 13 of the Remixing document to view a clocks and clouds diagram.

Image source: ricksaxby and Floating Imitations.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *