I remember walking along a Tokyo street in about 2000 and remarking to a colleague that maybe we could do something along the lines of "urban computing". But, distracted by my work on Cooltown (about interactive spaces more than cities, despite the name) I pretty much forgot about it. I then helped create an EPSRC-funded project called Cityware, with colleagues from U. Bath, The Bartlett School of Architecture at UCL, Imperial College, Vodafone and Nokia. We investigated the notion of the city as a system: how to embed computational architecture in urban places. I was joint leader of the sub-theme of Security, Privacy and Trust.

I also developed the technical infrastructure for two playful interactive theatre pieces, each of which not only took place across different locations in a city, but which were performed in different cities. These were Fortnight and Magna Mysteria.

The Playful City

There is far more to 'smart cities' than instrumenting our lives within the civic infrastructure. Efficiency is all very well (depending on which agenda the efficiencies are made). But cities should mainly be in the business of supporting their citizens, and facilitating useful and/or cultural engagements for them. When research director of the Pervasive Media Studio in 2011, I wrote a short paper about a community-oriented alternative to the corporation-oriented notion of a 'smart city'. Watershed also developed the idea of a 'playable' city.

I developed a software platform for providing city-scale experiences, enabling an audience to interact with locations, objects and characters via mobile phones and magical tokens carried with them or worn. This platform utilises RFID for touch-based interactions, Android and web for mobile content, and Twilio for automated SMS and phonecalls by which characters communicate with participants. The platform powered two interactive theatre pieces, each of which has been performed to paying audiences in several cities, Fortnight and Magna Mysteria.

The City As A System

Two slides in a talk I give to illustrate thinking of Cities as systems:



Cityware (and more recent) publications