International
Federation for
Housing and
Planning

Smart Communities Connect

From the World Town Planning Day - online conference #4

Professional planning associations from around the world celebrated the yearly World Town Planning Day 2012 with an international online conference on November 6th and 7th, 2012.

This year’s conference was hosted again by a self-organized committee of international planning organizations from all over the globe, one of them IFHP.

Computers, tablets and even smartphones
It was the fourth time an online conference was held in relation to the World Town Planning Day and the first time I personally attended an online conference. Most of us have attended a traditional conference and in many ways an online conference is very similar to a traditional conference. The biggest difference is that it is not being held at a physical place you would normally travel to. It is not hosted in a hotel but on a computer server connected to the Internet. All participants, keynote speakers, moderators and organizers are connected through their computers, tablets or even smartphones.

Social media, infrastructure and mobility & access
The theme this year, “Smart Communities Connect”, covered such different topics as social media, infrastructure and mobility & access. It was an interesting theme as the conference itself was using social media, mobility & access and infrastructure to reach its audience.

One of the keynote presentations I attended was on a project called Google Fiber and held by Patrick Lucey from the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation. Google Fiber just recently got implemented in Kansas City, selected to be the first Google Fiber community. Google Fiber is a subdivision of Google that acts like an Internet Service Provider. It uses fiber-optic cables to ensure high speed connectivity and reliable internet access to its end users. Online activities evolve so quickly and the growing need for high speed and reliable access makes it a struggle for local communities to keep up with the rest of the world. The Google Fiber project gives citizens 100 times faster Internet speed than today’s broadband, enabling them to connect more easily with their community and makes it possible to enhance and broaden citizen participation and liveability.

Encourage connections within society
All presentations at the conference were about sharing ways to use technology to encourage connections within society that make communities more liveable and knowledgeable. The Internet access has gone from being a luxury to a necessity and investments in infrastructure means a lot for local communities and the individual.

Networking in your pajamas
But even though technical difficulties can be a problem, I think that the most substantial disadvantage with an online conference is the lack of networking. Although online chat was available throughout the keynotes and the participants had the option to ask questions during the entire event via the online chat, it can’t replace the face-to-face networking that is possible at a traditional conference. Hopefully networking sessions will be part of next year’s WTPD online conference. I have no idea how real-time online networking works in reality but I’m excited to find out.

There are both advantages and disadvantages in relation to attending an online conference instead of a traditional conference. The biggest advantage is foremost that the entry barrier for an online conference is substantially lower. There are no flight, hotel and food expenses and the actual cost of attending an online conference tends to be lower due to fewer expenses related to hosting it online. Also the common joke is that there is no dress code and you can attend even in your pajamas if you like, which certainly was to be preferred for some due to the time difference.

If you would like to know more about the conference, visit www.planningtheworld.net where you will soon be able to watch the different keynotes that have been recorded.

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