Brett Snyder

Smarter Sidewalks

Brett Snyder
University of California Davis, Department of Design

ABSTRACT
How we navigate the streets has changed radically over the past decade, thanks largely to new technologies. To take just one example, smart phones have made an ever widening array of maps and information available to the public, enabling new ways of seeing and experiencing the urban landscape. iPhones allow the street to become a museum without walls, support pop-up events, and enable the creation of thematic journeys.

While our modes of navigating streets have transformed, the streetscapes themselves have remained fundamentally unchanged. We still have traffic signs, phone booths, historical plaques, and bus stops that look and operate much the way they did 20 or even 50 years ago. Why are our streets so slow to adapt? The time is ripe to reconsider how public infrastructure could operate and how it might transform the way we navigate and experience the public realm. Could there be alternative ways to access location-based information, beyond personal digital devices—ways that help make information more widely accessible to all and lower the digital divide? Could a public media infrastructure achieve secondary aims such as reducing carbon footprints and creating more habitable cities? How can the street itself learn from the open source, mobile platforms that characterize the latest turn of the digital revolution?

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