Beta Blocks, a smart city strategy and inflatable civic installation

Supernormal was part of this collaborative effort to help define Boston's approach to the smart city paradigm in a moment when the speed of urban transformation and public decision-making does not adequately align with the speed of private technology development.

Funded by the Knight Foundation, and in collaboration with the Emerson Engagement Lab and the Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, Supernormal developed a civic learning and experimentation process through which Boston communities, with the support of the City and partnership from the private sector, are lead participants in the exploration, testing and evaluation of urban technology in their neighborhoods. This process, its civic value system, and the temporary structures that embody its presence in Boston’s neighborhoods, is called Beta Blocks.

Urban technology is already here, in forms that include urban sensors and data-driven decision making. In Beta Blocks, we had a unique opportunity to ensure that Boston’s urban technology evolution is deeply rooted in shared and equitable civic values. By establishing a framework that enables effective collaboration among communities, the technology sector, and city government, we aim to ensure that communities have a seat at the table from the very beginning, and that the tech sector is empowered to create technologies that are optimally relevant to its real user base.

An inflatable pavilion serves as a portal for local data interaction and exploration before and during technology deployments.

Elizabeth Christoforetti, Nathan Fash, and Yuri Vishnevsky. Photography by Jane Messinger.

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