Seeking new ways to improve city planning, city officials are turning to popular online virtual world Second Life.
Eric Gordon, a professor of new media at Emerson College, has developed a virtual version of Boston with the help of the students and residents. Dubbing the project Hub2, Gordon states that the purpose of using the virtual world in this way is to “enhance civic engagement from the people who live in these physical spaces.” Those involved are providing the people of Boston with a forum as to how to improve the city.
It may sound a bit farfetched, but groups are buying into Gordon’s vision. In addition to his students, he has also gained the support of the Boston Redevelopment Authority and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School.
In a symbolic demonstration of Hub2 on Thursday, the key to virtual Boston was presented to the mayor’s office (both in person and in Second Life) in what Berkman Center fellow, Gene Koo called a “symbolic” gesture. Amongst those in attendance was Chief Information Officer to the City of Boston Bill Oates, who accepted a physical manifestation of the virtual key. According to Oates, Hub2 is “an alternative way to spend resources and take advantage of technology in new ways.”
While the idea of bringing people together is noble, the project also has a more practical purpose in the form of marketing. Hub2 allows its users to upload information in the virtual public spaces.
Citizens can use it to promote events not only in Boston but also in surrounding areas that do not necessarily garner the same kind of attention.
Gordon believes that, if implemented, Hub2 could be a powerful tool in urban development, claiming, “It allows public spaces to be tested out before the city commits to any actual construction.” This raises an important question to the future of Hub2 and the significance it could have in city planning. Oates recognized that Hub2 may have potential, saying, “This is a way to connect the city to the people in the city.”
He also recognized that it is unclear where Hub2 may lead, calling it a “pilot” and noting that the resources devoted “have been minimal — really just people’s time: conducting meetings, bringing people from the city, Emerson and the Berkman Center together.”
The mayor’s office acknowledges that Hub2 remains at a theoretical level. It will take time to prove the effectiveness in bridging the virtual world with the real world, though they are intrigued by where Hub2 may lead.