Bite-Sized City

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)


Anonymous said...

I've been thinking about how to integrate GPS & tourism over the last year & agree with you that it could be a very useful tool for both locals & visitors alike. But someone would have to maintain the content with a watchful eye... as neighborhoods go bad or as sites/buildings get either demolished or restored. At least it's easier to update than guidebooks.

In all my efforts to get people into the less-explored neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, I've found that many just want to be told exactly where to go & what to see. Otherwise, they won't just wander around & experience the place for what it is. I think the idea of tourism needs to be redefined since many people tend to leave their interests at home (amazingly enough) & only check off what the guidebook or audiotour tell them to see. It's a bit depressing.

Toure Zeigler said...

GPS would help with tourism but personally I like getting reasonably lost, I always like stumbling into new neighborhoods that I've never seen before.

Brendan Crain said...

To respond to both comments at the same time, I think that using GPS to trigger pre-recorded tours might help to break tourists out of their beaten path ruts. I'll use the Times Square example again: being in a familiar place with a sense of where they are is important to a lot of people when they travel. I, too, like getting reasonably lost, but there are many people who don't. For some, that involves a genuine lack of interest, but I think that a lot of people avoid stepping off the tourist map because they are intimidated -- they've never tried it before. A GPS-linked audio guide that only piped in periodically would provide a sense of security for the newbie urban explorer while also giving them the chance to experience the thrill of wandering through unfamiliar streets. The idea is to break down the barriers that people build for themselves...

Anonymous said...

You should get invited to speak at the National League of Cities: offering a step-by-step approach to involving muni staff and local volunteers with the various kinds of expertise to make this flourish.

I'd be happy the talk you through this idea if you'd like as I am a former WSJ reporter, now author/speaker and my town, Sausalito would benefit from such a scenario.. .and we have the talent here to make it happy.

I'd love to interview you about this approach for MovingFromMetoWE + introduce you to our mayor...
and to some of the asns. that would be interested in the idea
- Kare

Want to help us be a demo towwn to which you could point?
- Kare


Anonymous said...

This is an awesome idea.. I think it would need a lot of community involvement, and an editor to ensure that less savoury tours are not included.

If a decent travel website such as VirtualTourist or World66, could design some intergration with there site, then it could be an extremely useful way to discover a new place.

Great idea... now get on an implement it! :)

Anonymous said...

If you are interested on that kind technology please visit www.voxcity.cz, and have a good trip :-)