Citizen Journalism: How will CityVerve respond to those who need a smart city most?

reina yaidoo cityverve

“Where are all the pubs, love?”

That was the question I was recently asked while walking down Oxford Street not too far from Central Library. Three thoughts occurred immediately in response…

The sarcastic but truthful thought: “Do you really think going to the pub is a good idea?” as the person in question seemed a little on the tipsy side.

The do-gooder thought: “I’m more of a tea or coffee drinker myself; the nearest Caffé Nero is just that way.”

The answer I actually went with relied on the fact that although I’m one of the non-drinking people you’ve heard of but never met, I have a diverse enough range of friends with stories – Irish night at O’Sheas, Joshua Brooks for good food, late nights at Yates, The Revolution – to attempt to answer convincingly. I’m also neither sarcastic nor do-gooder enough to go with either of the first two responses. Maybe.

All this made made me think about how CityVerve needs a range of friends in order to provide solutions to the issues and needs of the people of Manchester. Happily, the project has been gathering these through a variety of events over the past year.

Here’s a pit stop tour of just some of what went on over the past twelve months…

every thing every time was an arts-based project with a beautiful early evening launch at Hulme Community Gardens.

Everyday interactions within the city were suddenly brought to life through prophetic poetic storytelling.

Commissioned by FutureEverything, the work somehow bridged modern technology with a retro analogue perspective (gorgeous flip-dot displays where have you been all this time).

The launch of the Bright Building in September involved the grooviest open plan auditorium, sweet spot landscape garden lighting and a VR bike for tech-loving folk. And that was just the ground floor.

On the upper floors, Mi-IDEA, a co-innovation hub delivered by MSP and Cisco, was a stroll into Manchester’s digital revolution. There was talk that nearly 90 companies applied to join the hub. Twelve made the grade. Only 5 currently show on the Mi-IDEA site, so perhaps entry has been even more competitive than first thought.

Later in the year, Workout Buddies was a fun detour into making the city’s residents healthier by making physical activity a part of everyday living.

Our group attempted a scavenger hunt in the rain, talked roller derby and highlighted local parks like Boggart Hole Clough for excellent health walks.

We even threw down the gauntlet in the Copenhagen vs Manchester street lighting stakes. (By chance, we had an industrial lighting designer from Copenhagen present.) Who had better street lighting? Well, Denmark’s sometimes sixteen hours of night meant Copenhagen won with their razzle dazzle disco lighting.

Many of these initiatives entailed getting the community involved with CityVerve in a range of ways.

However, does CityVerve have enough friends of divergent enough knowledge and situation to be able to assist the population in Manchester convincingly? Just with my response to the chap looking for a pub, the question has multiple possible answers depending on the needs of the citizen – or drinker!

The work of CityVerve in the corridor has greatly affected one half of the population of Manchester. The population with greatest access to CityVerve can also access multiple universities covering research, insight and technologies including Graphene and the Square Kilometre array.

But there are also underrepresented communities who possibly have greater need. Manchester is home to local authorities with some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in England, with low levels of reading affecting literacy and higher rates of mental ill health than the national average.

How could the different strands of work in CityVerve stimulate a smart city response to target underrepresented or minority groups?

Health inequalities, barriers to accessing technology (language, cost, digital divide) are some of the needs for which a smart city approach may be appropriate.

Those needs can only come to the fore if the circle of friends that CityVerve reaches is wide and diverse. Who are CityVerve’s ‘BFFs’ and are they diverse and divergent enough to be aware of and respond to these needs?

In response to this question, I’m looking forward to speaking with PlaceCal, a community calendar project designed to help connect older communities in Greater Manchester with what’s on in their area – as well as get a sense directly from them about what support they would want from a smarter version of their city.

Written by Reina Yaidoo, a Citizen journalist from CityVerve. 

Image via Sam Morrey – another of the Citizen Journalists; check out more of his photos here.

Note from Vicki DeBlasi, CityVerve:

Again some interesting insight from Reina about the role a city can play in helping the diverse needs of its citizens, one we’re pleased that such individuals (like her) have identified.

As well as PlaceCal, FutureEverything’s next artwork commission will also have more of a community-involvement flavour.

We’ll also be calling on citizens throughout the coming months to be involved in the ongoing development of the project, to help us build a smart city that serves their needs best.