The bite-sized book is an idea being pioneered by a site called DailyLit, where, according to Trendwatching.com's blog Springwise, "books are sent by email or RSS in individual instalments on the days and times selected by the reader—for example: every weekday at 7:45 a.m.—and each instalment is small enough to be read in less than 5 minutes."
This format strikes me as a particularly interesting (and easy) way for a person to explore the urban environment. Imagine that you've just moved to a new neighborhood. You go to the neighbors' association's website and subscribe to a free daily mini-tour. Each Saturday at 1:00 pm, you receive a text message with a starting point. Once there, you open a temporary audio file on your Blakberry or iPhone or whatever wired mobile device you're carting around, and you're talked through a 15- to 20-minute exploration of another corner of your new surroundings. The tours could even be recorded by a variety of people who are active in the given neighborhood, and could seamlessly integrate opportunities for community involvement into what might otherwise be aimless walks by highlighting local events, organizations, and landmarks.
Now imagine that you're a tourist on a first-time trip to New York. Subscribe in advance to a feed like this and have bite-sized neighborhood tours sent to you every three hours. These tours could even be sequentially linked to start you off in each neighborhood, allowing for a few hours of independent exploration between tours. Heck, with the ubiquity of GPS technology, you could download a series of geo-coded tours in advance that would be triggered when you passed from one neighborhood to the next. As you walk north across Houston Street from SoHo to the Village, your phone rings. You answer, and a voice suggests that you walk three blocks east to Houston and Thompson to begin the Greenwich Village tour.
With this sort of technology, unfamiliar territory becomes a bit less intimidating. Recent transplants get out and meet more of their neighbors. Tourists get a boost in confidence that would likely encourage them to cover more ground and venture farther off the beaten path than if they were wandering about with nothing but a street map and a dated copy of Fodor's New York. Perhaps part of the reason that there are so many people in Times Square is that people can recognize where they are; they understand their position in the city. For the intrepid urban explorer this may seem superfluous, but any city hoping to increase tourism or revitalize a neighborhood is woe to underestimate the power of the sense of disorientation.
Making cities and neighborhoods more friendly, inviting places -- for visitors and locals alike -- is an important step in the struggle to improve urban conditions. People naturally avoid places where they feel uncomfortable. Encourage them to expand their understanding of their surroundings, and half the battle is won.
(Photo from Flickr user morethanreal. The original full-color version can be viewed by clicking the photo.)
Books in bite-sized portions (Springwise)