6/17/2010 Uncategorized

Utile has been working with BTD for the past couple of months on Boston’s Complete Streets Initiative, a program that champions the design of streets that are “multimodal, green, and smart.” Green and multimodal – not too much confusion there. But “smart”?  Back in 2008, I took a “Smart Mobility” course at MIT’s Media Lab with Bill Mitchell, who sadly passed away this past week.  As the name suggests, the course was focused on the integration of so-called “smart” elements into streetscape design and transportation infrastructure: RFID tags, intelligent signals, dynamic congestion pricing, etc. These are the type of smart elements I had come to expect.

It was therefore intriguing to read about something called “virtual street corners” – a Knight Foundation-funded community art project here in Boston meant to link neighborhoods through technology.” The idea is simple: there are two portals that stream live video and audio between two carefully-chosen neighborhoods – one at Brookline Booksmith in Coolidge Corner in Brookline, and the other at Nubion Notion in Dudley Square in Roxbury. “For three weeks, the two TV portals and microphones will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Any passerby is invited to stop and chat — about anything — with a counterpart across town.”           

So I decided to do just that, stopping by Brookline Booksmith last Sunday evening as a prelude to the Celtics game.  There I met and spoke with Gene from Roxbury, an elderly gentleman who was also getting an early dinner before settling in to watch the game later that night (I know this because he told me so). I could not have scripted a better conversation. Admittedly skeptical of what seemed to be a pretty gimmicky concept, I became a convert when Gene told me – and I quote –  “that this is a mighty fine idea and there should be more of these all over the place. It’s been so nice talking with you.” You, too, Gene.

And I’m inclined to think Bill Mitchell would approve.