13 Aug

Digital Birmingham

The City of Birmingham, UK is working on a significant transformation in image. As it is described on the Digital Birmingham site, the city seeks to transform its industrial past into a digital future. The initiative seeks to tie together all the digital efforts in the city into one portal. Wi-fi initiatives, coupled with resources on online safety, digital film exhibitions, and conferences, are all aggregated through Digital Birmingham. While much of this effort is directed toward PR and tourism, there are other pieces that are legitimately pushing the envelope of participation and transparency in city government. Even those pieces, ironically, that are directed towards PR and tourism.

The Virtual Birmingham initiative is a good example of this. Spearheaded by the company Daden Limited, this initiative is “leading discussions with partners on how Birmingham can be represented and promoted in a 3D virtual environment such as Second Life that would address specific needs from the visitor economy, attracting inward investment and putting Birmingham ‘on the map’.” The results, thus far, are some incredibly interesting designs in Second Life that integrate Google Maps with the virtual environment. The goal here is to make the map immersive – clicking on places and then walking your avatar through them. Currently, in what’s called a “briefing center,” avatars can walk on the map, bring up wikipedia, BBC or CNN newsfeeds, represented by familiar Google placemarkers. When I spoke with David Daden about the project, he expressed interest in turning it into a planning tool – fleshing out the entire map with virtual models to reflect the city’s various uses.

The possibilities here are quite exciting, although I don’t know in what direction the city intends to take this. One could imagine that the Second Life map could function as a portal into a deep urban database, that includes civic information as well as social information. Using the map as the anchor for virtual designs is exactly the right way to go. However, it will take a lot of convincing to get cities to invest in the virtual technologies for the enhancement of their own citizens, as on the surface it appears that the primary use is as spectacle or immersive representation.

That said, my hat’s off to Birmingham, a city that is taking more of a chance than any other I can think of. Certainly, Boston has a ways to go before it adopts virtual (let alone digital) technologies with such enthusiasm.

4 thoughts on “Digital Birmingham

  1. Pingback: Birmingham’s place in Second Life | daveharte.com

  2. It is great to see that the digital efforts of Birmingham are not going unnoticed, but there are many partnerships within Birmingham (of which Digital Birmingham is one) which are working toward an altogether more unified city. Be Birmingham is one of multiple governmental partnerships which operates in order to improve the community by bringing together business, community, voluntary, faith and public sectors.

    The website is a great portal of information too, and is updated daily, providing visitors with information regarding community events in and around Birmingham, as well as information describing the ‘Birmingham 2026’ vision – the city’s sustainable community strategy.

  3. Thanks for clarifying this “Be.” It is always the case that digital portals are only useful in so far as they function as portals into something useful. Digital Birmingham is successful because it has the infrastructure to back it up. The problem, as I see it, is that many cities prioritize the infrastructure at the expense of the portal. It’s like building a robust database without any user interface. Digital platforms have immense potential to bolster the user interface of our cities.

  4. Pingback: Daden - Digital Birmingham | The Place of Social Media

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