How to Uglify a City

My hometown San Francisco is probably one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Tourism accounts for a substantial portion of the city’s revenue, and I have to believe the city’s aesthetics have a lot to do with why people come here.

Imagine my surprise, then, on a beautiful day yesterday, to discover this is what the city seems to be installing as red light cameras:

Did anyone seriously look at this and think, wow, this is great? It looks like something the USSR would have installed in East Germany circa 1965. Imagine dozens of these all over the city. Now imagine hundreds or thousands of similar ungainly objects being installed to house sensors in order to further digitize the city. What will San Francisco (or any city) look like then?

As we start to have digital cities, the hardware around the sensors and cameras will matter. Really matter. Sometimes, we’ll want them to be invisible, sometimes visible. And when they are visible, they need to be contextually, aesthetically appropriate for their environment. Otherwise, it will be like 70 years ago when telephone poles and phone lines were installed with no consideration for aesthetics at all. Let’s not do that.