In a 2015 post published on Techcrunch, a very famous US blog that deals with information technology, the authors draw a strange parallelism: they point out that the companies that have grown fastest in the last 10 years are companies that perform as platforms; therefore they ask the readers: can this trend also be borrowed for cities? Can cities be technologically disrupted?
According to the authors the answer is definitely yes: cities, to evolve, must be viewed as platforms, with population encouraged to utilize technology to creatively disrupt and redefine core functionalities. Every digitally enabled citizen living in a city is a hub of real-time data: let’s think of the city as possessing its own complex but penetrable API!They invite the readers to recognize that, like its physical architecture, city’s digital foundations can be augmented and sustainable solutions can be built from the data we collectively produce.
The “concept” of the living labs partially integrates this vision and enriches it with additional components. According to European Network of Living Labs (ENoLL) which is the international federation of benchmarked Living Labs in Europe and worldwide, a Living Lab is an “open innovation ecosystem based on a systematic user co-creation approach that integrates public and private research and innovation activities in communities, placing citizens at the centre of innovation.” By combining creative thinking with scientific rigour, living labs can be seen as open platforms, sourcing and prototyping ideas with people of different backgrounds, combining the expertise within the lab with the real world knowledge.
A couple of years ago the Guardian even declared the need, no longer to be deferred, for cities to become active as Living Labs, as places where designers, scientists, companies and customers collaborate to investigate, make and test ideas with the communities that live in them. Local people should be at the heart of development. The number and thematic areas of Living Labs have been steadily growing since the launch of ENoLL about ten years ago and currently there are 170 official recognised Living Labs across the world running projects.
The majority of Living Labs have tackled one of the following three goals:
- Mobility à enabling and improving mobility as a service, encouraging more non-motorized transport
- Environment and well-being à mitigating climate change impacts, reducing noise and air pollution
- Citizen engagement à increasing citizen engagement in decision making and increasing a greater level of diversity in political engagement.
Examples of domains, where solutions were tested and developed, include:
- High tech, hyper local, personalized wayfinding based on crowding and traffic data
- Autonomous delivery
- Interactive apps
- Waste collection
- Smart urban furniture.