Smart Cities are MESH Cities

BIG Architects' "Mountain," Copenhagen. Is it MESH?

(This story first published at

MESH is a term often applied to the socially-networked systems spawned by ad-hoc information channels. Where those technologies overlap with the design and ongoing use of cities the result can be described as a MESH City. SMART cities are conceived of–still–in a top down fashion where existing city systems and infrastructure are made more efficient. That’s not a bad thing. It is, however, only one part of the 21st Century megapolis equation.

When ICT, urban design, sustainability, and social networking come together to provide new design processes equivalent to the impact 3d modelling and CADCAM have had on building design, that is we will see a revolution in the way cities are built and inhabited.

The MESH City must be understood as part of a complex system of interdependent information-sharing systems. These begin with travel between global urban regions and cascade down through cities and their transits systems, for example, to neighbourhoods, through to cultural touchstones and the personal empowerment given by smart phone technologies.

The network effect created by these overlapping systems is essential to a truly MESH City. With the growing ubiquity of powerful mobile communications systems combined with Machine to Machine linkages and embedded intelligence, the world’s growing urban populations will be empowered in ways never before imagined.

Connections foster non-linear relationships.

There are about 350 million cellphones in use across North America. The winning smartphone platform has yet to be determined, but Android-based phones have edged out RIM and Apple to lead the race.

More importantly for the MESHed City, the number of applications associated with those devices is growing exponentially. Why is this a game changer for cities? Outside of public protest movements like Occupy XYZ Street, urban planners are catching on to the idea that mobile-based applications offer a host of new ways to understand the city. Dr. Jennifer Evans-Cowley of Ohio State University observes that traditional methods of understanding cities are being swept aside by the disruptive power mobile Apps offer.

The Atlantic Cities notes some of the city Apps now in play:

MyColumbus – 3-1-1 service requests.
You The Man – New York City’s transportation department developed this one to curb drunk driving.
myDelaware – Send a code violation directly to the city.
Citizens Connect – Flag potholes, graffiti and other nuisances.

Where will this smartphone enhanced population take the smart city? One way or another, we’ll soon find out.

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