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Friday Feature: Interactive Infrastructure

February 4, 2011

Today’s feature is all about interactive infrastructure, and features three videos of just that – a playful bench, musical stairs, and a fun concept for a trash bin.

This post was inspired by a short discussion in the comments of last week’s feature on the National Infrastructure Summit. Paul Dechene from Prairie Dog noted that he thought the NIS (a major gathering of mayors and policy makers) went by largely unnoticed by the larger population. Surprising considering the level of frustration on behalf of citizens with respect to property tax increases the City just set to deal with infrastructure issues. The trend of people wanting to receive more services while demanding fewer taxes is common – but when politicians try to support this scary form of entitlement, infrastructure and public services suffer.

Infrastructure is central to cities and their ability to function well, and yet, it’s also one of those things that you don’t notice until it isn’t working properly, is in bad shape, or not present – think of absent wheelchair ramps, roadways that are full of potholes, or burst water mains. We all notice those but don’t take time to appreciate the fact that most infrastructure exists and performs it’s function.

All of this got me thinking that perhaps we need to draw attention to the infrastructure around us everyday. I’ve stumbled across a few projects intended to change people’s behaviour with their surroundings but I think they may offer some potential to draw attention to the very existence of those surroundings.

The Playful Bench by MAPT (video at the top of the post) encourages people to play, dance, and interact with a standard city bench – bringing it to life with light and sound.

The ‘World’s Deepest Bin’ from TheFunTheory is another way to make basic public infrastructure kind of fun to use.

Finally, this idea (used by many different groups) uses sensors and sound to transform stairways into giant pianos – allowing everyone to fulfill their dream of being Tom Hanks in Big… no? Just me? Ok.

The disconnect between our desire for more services and less taxes is obviously a larger concept that will take more than a few fun installations to bridge. I think receiving a breakdown of what your property taxes cover is another important part – “Oh, I only paid $X for city water and sewer this year… I guess it is worth it to have clean running water come to and from my house. Hmmm, I suppose that my taxes and city services are related after all!” (note: I imagine every person would have this exact reflective conversation). If nothing else, I suspect that seeing a breakdown would at least draw attention to everything you receive for being a citizen of your city and paying your taxes.

Again, the projects showcased today are not primarily about drawing attention to infrastructure at their core – they were created to get people to change their behaviour (litter less, take the stairs more) or simply have some fun and create an imaginative experience. But I feel like interactivity may also be used to increase our awareness that public infrastructure and services don’t exist in a vacuum (or without tax dollars for that matter). Perhaps in the larger effort to connect spending to services we could also have a bit fun in the process.

Have a great weekend!

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Vicki Nelson permalink
    February 4, 2011 2:07 PM

    Hey Laura. Thanks for making me think about infrastructer. I agree with you that taxes are awesome, and the a lot of the time people complain without realizing how awesome/complex/modern our city is.

    But I am going to complain about taxes anyways. My beef about taxes in the City of Regina is the transperency issue. I want to know how high my taxes are going to go when we need a new landfill (because the is no curbside recycling or household waste diversion plan). Or how much of my taxes are going to pay for new roads, lights, sewers, etc for unneed suburbs.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that sometimes we should complain about taxes…or at least their allocation.

    Anywho, keep up the good work!

    • February 4, 2011 7:18 PM

      Hey Vicki! I absolutely agree. I think that people should be interested in how their tax dollars are spent and ask if the way they are spent is going to lead to a more sustainable city.

      My issue is when, like you say, people complain without thinking about the complex interactions or the relationship between taxes and infrastructure/services. Once people start to make that connection is when they start asking the questions that you are – how is the money I’m paying in taxes being spent? What is the long-term infrastructure plan, and is it more than “we need more money”? Are we paying more taxes simply to see our city needlessly sprawl outwards? Why aren’t we focusing on creating a well connected city where our taxes result in strong transit service and infrastructure that can be supported by our current tax-base longer-term?

      I think there were some interesting points that arose at the NIS – that sprawl is inefficient, expensive, and altogether unsustainable, so throwing more money at it won’t solve anything in the long run; and that we need to also focus on making our systems more efficient so the tax dollars that are collected have the greatest impact for the most people.

  2. February 5, 2011 7:23 AM

    Those piano stairs are so many different kinds of genius. I immediately started to wonder where in Regina we could do that. And haven’t come up with anywhere.

  3. February 5, 2011 7:32 AM

    Oh, also, about this year’s property tax increase….

    Yes, there was frustration over it. But I found it very interesting that the recycling plan (which was discussed at the same council meeting as the 2011 budget) received FAR more public attention than the mill rate hike. I think that says a lot about their relative importance to people.

    Many councillors said that they received more phonecalls and emails over recycling than on any other topic in years. And it was all the pestering from the public that got them to insist on 11 (hopefully constructive) provisions being tacked on to the Waste Plan Implementation Plan.

    Those 11 provisions are listed at the end of this http://www.prairiedogmag.com/news/?c=city%20hall&id=616

    • February 5, 2011 7:55 AM

      Again – I think that people asking questions about the details is more constructive and citizens who make this connection are stepping up to discuss how the taxes they will be paying could be best spent (i.e. why aren’t we taking advantage of the provincial programs? Why didn’t the city consult the current recycling companies in town? Should there be a flat rate for garbage pick up or pay per bag?). Of course in this conversation, some people will likely argue that certain services just shouldn’t be offered in exchange for no tax increase – again, maybe it is more an issue of efficient use of tax dollars for continued (or new) services that needs some improving.

      In relation to some of the points that Vicki pointed out, I’d be interested in seeing some numbers on how inaction influences taxes (i.e. the costs of not having a waste diversion/recycling plan, the projected costs of up-keeping infrastructure that’s been extended to the fringe of the city). Not sure the best method for delivery of those numbers, but I think it would go along way to help people understand the different options.

  4. February 5, 2011 7:42 AM

    Also on the subject of property taxes and infrastructure (and just so I’m not only ever flogging our paper) this piece by Joe Couture at the Leader Post is very good.

    http://www.leaderpost.com/news/COUTURE+Less+means+less+service/4118184/story.html

  5. Brandi permalink
    February 8, 2011 3:03 PM

    Those stairs look incredibly fun! I could definitely see something like that being successful in the Cornwall Centre. Might be a little annoying in the library, lol. The bench is neat, too. And I think kids would love the trash bin.

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