Making Cities Think Like the Web

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Mark Surman, executive director of the Mozilla Foundation, gave a very interesting talk (audio and slide show available) at last month’s Web 2.0 Summit in Toronto. Mark advocates creating cities that think like the Web – and says cities can learn from projects like Mozilla.

Mark’s main point: openness and participation created a better Internet…They can also create a better city. Much like how Mozilla formed a decade ago to open up the Internet, improve the Web and encourage people to participate, the same principles of openness and participation can also help make better cities.

Mark gave three examples of where this is already happening: FixMyStreet.com: a project of our friends at MySociety.org in the United Kingdom where municipal problems are registered; Google/Transit: where users can get step-by-step transit directions from most major cities around the world; and Washington, D.C.’s own AppsForDemocracy.org: the District’s open innovation contest where technologists battled it out to see who could create the most useful applications from D.C.’s Data Catalog. The things these three programs have in common is that they encouraged participation and openness and each have the potential to make the cities function better. Plus, the cities are not doing the heavy lifting, he adds.

He advocates three ideas: 1. Open the data; 2. Crowdsource info gathering that helps the city; and 3. Ask for help creating a city that thinks like the Web.

He ends with pointing to President-elect Obama’s promise to “use cutting-edge technologies to reverse this dynamic, creating a new level of transparency, accountability and participation for America’s citizens.” And I would only add that Web 2.0’s “architecture of participation” and openness not only has profound implications for making cities function better, but it also holds great and transformative promise for all government, from the president and Congress on down.

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