City 2.0: Using tech building blocks in tomorrow's urban centers

It's closer than you may think and is mostly a matter of connecting all the pieces

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City-centric social networking

We're all familiar by now with using public social networks to catch up with friends and family or even to find a job, but wouldn't it be nice if your city had a social network where you could keep abreast of local developments and weigh in on neighborhood issues?

In Dublin, Ohio, the city operates a Novell Teaming portal where government officials can run blogs, chat over instant messaging and share documents. In the next few months, the city plans to make the private network available to all citizens. In a future city scenario, a social network like this could allow residents to submit ideas for city improvements, chat with politicians and blog about their neighborhood over a secure and city-centric portal that caters to their local needs.

San Jose, Calif., is one of the most high-tech cities in the U.S. Over the next few years, the city will create a social network on Wikiplanning that helps citizens learn about the city, chat over instant messaging, complete surveys and download city podcasts.

"Frequently, only small groups of residents come to public meetings, and in the case of a multiple meeting project, it's largely the same group of citizens who continue to participate," says Kim Walesh, San Jose's chief strategist. "Participation by small groups may not offer a good representation of the community as a whole. An advantage of Wikiplanning is that activities can be done day or night at the user's convenience, allowing for far greater participation by people in the workforce."

WiMax and citywide wireless

The concept of readily available wireless service has been around the block a few times, so to speak. Cities such as Philadelphia and Chicago have tried to provide Wi-Fi access without too much success. Minneapolis is one of the few large cities that have deployed Wi-Fi successfully.

City WiMax
A wireless network has wide-ranging implications for how residents could connect with elected officials and each other. Source: Intel Corp.

In Portland, a Wi-Fi network didn't fare so well either, but a WiMax project seems to be off to a much stronger start.

WiMax, widely seen as the next generation of mobile data access after Wi-Fi, stalled over the past few years due to the complexity of the technology, changes in partnerships and reluctance on the part of city officials to adopt an emerging technology. Even so, WiMax promises more ubiquitous access than Wi-Fi, because Wi-Fi hot spots require users to seek them out but WiMax is available throughout a given area. WiMax requires fewer base stations across the metropolis, at a lower infrastructure cost, using licensed spectrum that does not interfere with other wireless LANs.

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