#UKMX 2015: Can cities improve through play?

We have just returned from a placemaking mash up between Mexico and the UK to explore how places can be more connected.

09.07.15 | Research

By Martin Skelly

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Digital Futures UKMX is a series of exchange and collaborative prototyping/making events around the themes of civic awareness, engagement, collaboration and innovation in Mexico City and London linked with the V&A Digital Futures and Digital Design Weekend programmes and the dual year of Mexico and the UK. 

Two very different cultures, two very different languages, two time zones and more than 150 people, all working together to create solutions to the biggest challenges facing modern urban life. This at a time when, for the first time in history, more than half the population now live in urban areas, and that percentage is increasing year on year. 

In this context the conference brought together people from a wide variety of backgrounds, creatives working with engineers, makers with anthropologists, and researchers with programmers. All the people involved arrived with a passion to explore how digital technologies can improve city life. We were interested in exploring how connected objects could allow cities to become more playful, to give people living or travelling through them a better experience.

To maximise this opportunity a group of us flew to the Mexican capital to brainstorm and work in collaborative teams in the Centro de Cultura Digital. Throughout the event, teams from Dundee were connected by Skype to share prototype ideas and progress between the countries.

It started with a guided walking tour, exploring the history of making and the current digital maker community in Mexico City. We took to the streets of the historic district, spending time in Sulca Electronics Shop – where Edmundo Sulca has been creating and selling custom circuits to makers for over 20 years. His specialty was good quality affordable audio amplifiers in Tupperware boxes, dimmer switches, seismic alarms and interesting LED arrays with amazing patterns.

Sulca electronics  

The team of researchers and makers from the UK included Prof Jon Rogers from Dundee University, Jayne Wallace from Northumbria University, Liliana Ovalle from Goldsmiths University, Irini Papadimitriou from the V&A and myself from Uniform.

Together we created a device that measured light levels in one location, and output the levels in a different place - an abstract device to connect two places. The light level was displayed inside a huge sound and light installation space, Memorial Room within the Centro de Cultura Digital.

Red memorial

Our next step is to develop the concept further, with the aim of demonstrating our work at this year’s London Design Festival, as part of the V&A’s Digital Design weekend.

What became clear from our time in Mexico City is that connecting a place so culturally different to our own is an exciting prospect. Working together could not only bring us closer but also allow us to learn important lessons on community building and the use of technology and creativity places.

Busy St Art

Community ownership remains strong. There’s also colour and vibrancy to street life; more individuality, less corporate, more handmade, more emotional. Throw digital technology into the mix and that’s a phenomenal opportunity.

This is just the start of a journey for Uniform in exploring the idea of connected communities, and, this initiative by the British Council could prove very important in helping us understand how connected experiences can help in expressing what a city stands for.

We will be publishing more research on the important connection between the Internet of things and placemaking in the coming weeks. If you would like to find out more, please contact Scott McCubbin – Associate Director for Business Development





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