In the world of software the barriers to entry are so low that nearly anyone can create apps. You can go from idea to product in days or weeks. But if you take a look at our public spaces, only experts are involved; the rate of change is on the scale of years; and innovation is the exception. So what would happen if we began applying some of the principles in the digital space to the physical space? My guess is that we’d see a lot more innovation.
Lower barriers to entry by creating special zones where organizations, companies, and individuals can showcase new technologies, ideas and concepts through a single pilot permit. The permit would address liability, risk, safety and establish other terms such as length of pilot. The goal is to create a platform where innovation is encouraged in our physical spaces. An easy place to start is facilities and spaces managed by SF government.
Create a marketplace between needs expressed by City agencies, neighborhood organizations, etc to providers of potential solutions such as cleantech companies, urban designers, architects, and citizens. This is kind of like smartphone app stores, with the goal of improving discoverability and reducing friction.
Reduce friction by creating specialized permits. SF has done quite a bit in this area: parklet permit, pop-up restaurant permit, food truck permit, and urban farm permit. To create new permit classes we should consider letting our community innovate and see where we need to make structural changes (perhaps through pilot permits). Creating a centralized entry point for these types of permits to improve access and spread awareness would also be helpful. UPDATE 5/16/2012: SF Planning launched a one-stop for public space improvements.
Invest in R&D by allocating a very small percentage (1% or less) of capital projects to exploring and implementing new technologies. For example, a new playground could experiment with intelligent lighting that operates based on time and motion.
Hack SF by doing what Rebar did to parking spaces leading to Park(ing) day and parklets. One hack that should be explored is taking advantage of the street festival permit. The City for under $1K will close down streets, reroute traffic and change public transit routes. If the Folsom Street Fair is any indication we have quite a bit of freedom to experiment and innovate.
As we explore the possibilities of our public spaces we hope to invite our community to think about these ideas and others in the near future.