A blog for better streets and public spaces in Portland, Maine.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Could Wi-Fi Enliven Portland's Streets and Public Spaces?

Last night's League of Young Voters debate among City Council candidates included a question about introducing citywide wi-fi to Portland. The candidates' responses to this particular question were largely uninspiring, but it got me thinking. For one thing, downtown Portland has the right scale and geography to introduce a large "cloud" of wireless access: while citywide networks in places like Los Angeles have proven to be expensive flops, citywide wireless projects in other towns the size of Portland have been very successful.

For another thing, it would be a great economic development tool. I have a friend (Paul Burdick) who recently moved to Peaks Island without ever having set foot in Maine previously. He's the Chief Technology Officer of a growing web-software development company, and he can live anywhere he wants. Paul chose Maine because of our "quality of place," and we're glad to have him here. Portland could attract a lot more young web entrepreneurs like him if we had a comprehensive wi-fi network.

Finally, and most relevant to the topics of this blog, wi-fi networks could be a great way to enliven our public spaces. More people would have a reason to lounge around places like Monument Square or Post Office Park: our streets and public squares could become outdoor offices and meeting spaces. And urban web developers could create new ways for us to interact with our city - perhaps by syndicating downtown events, performances, and shows as a new RSS feed for Portland's outdoor network, or by publishing buses' GPS and schedule data for commuters.

For more ideas, look into this archived article from Salon.com:
Urban renewal, the wireless way

1 comment:

Sarah C. said...

I know this is an old post, but if you're ever interested in meeting up for coffee and talking about ways to advocate for wifi in Portland I'd really enjoy that.

It wouldn't be too hard, there's a ton of great examples out there, and I did some original research (granted three years ago) in an independent study that covered a range of things--but also methods of implementing in Portland.

Let me know if you'd like to chat, and I'll see if I can find my final paper and materials from my mini-research.