Joshua Greenidge is studying for his MArt in Anthropology and Innovation at Bristol University. He is currently an intern at Mundy & Anson, where he is doing a small ethnographic research project for Connecting Bristol and Bristol is Open. We invited Joshua to write about his passion for smart cities and tell us about the research project.
Cities are one of our greatest inventions, and by 2050 two-thirds of us will call them home. I have always been amazed by the built environment and its ability to absorb new people, new ideas, and change as building materials and technology advance. But as fascinating as our cities are today, they have their challenges. As more of us move to cities in search of the opportunities they offer us, our roads become more congested, our air more polluted, and as wealth grows our communities struggle with inequality and segregation.
The development of smart city technology in itself is not a solution to these problems. But I believe these new tools are going to enable cities to go through the same transformation that we’ve seen in healthcare, transport and other areas that use data on a feedback loop. Firstly, it’s going to enable us to gain a greater understanding of the built environment and communities, and secondly, guide our design and the deployment of vital services that make cities such vibrant places to live.
Having lived in this city for three years, I have fallen in love with its open and collaborative culture, and it is this that I believe makes Bristol’s very ambitious smart city initiatives possible. For me, the technology that powers smart cities is a wonderful opportunity to improve Bristol’s operations, but it’s the human-centred approach to deploying technology into our communities that I am really passionate about, and it’s this approach that I believe is going to have the greatest impact on people’s lives. It’s why I’m so excited to be given the opportunity to work on a human-centred research project for Bristol is Open as an intern with Mundy & Anson.
The aim of our project is to gain a greater understanding of the commuter experience in Bristol. We want to know: How do people decide which route to choose, or which form of transport to take? How does congestion or air pollution shape people’s interactions with the city? And how do digital services and open data platforms aid in people’s decision-making? As anthropologists, the research we do at Mundy & Anson always entails understanding peoples’ “real experience” so we’ll be joining a number of Bristolians on their daily commute to observe and record their “lived” experiences and understand how they deal with unplanned changes to their journey.
It is this immersive research into people’s actual lives – observing and experiencing first-hand their pain points and frustrations as they transverse the city – that make ethnographic research such a powerful tool for innovation projects. As anthropologists we also uncover the sociocultural factors at play – how does social class impact someone’s commute, for example – insights that bring the people, the denizens of this city, to the fore. Using this knowledge, Connect Bristol and Bristol is Open can better understand the people who live and work here, and develop technological solutions that make their lives happier, healthier, and hopefully less frustrating.