Burnham Outlines RTC for American Planning Association’s “The Big Chance” Lecture in Chicago

Scott Burnham Reprogramming the City Chicago

On Thursday, October 1, 2015 I will be delivering the latest lecture in The American Planning Association’s “The Big Chance” lecture series in Chicago.

In The Big Chance series, the APA (American Planning Association) selects leading voices in urban strategy and design and invites them to Chicago to present their work and viewpoints to a gathering of professionals at the APA headquarters. Other APA chapters throughout the US will have the opportunity to view a recording of the lecture at a later date.

I will be speaking about the big ideas behind Reprogramming the City and the benefits that a more resourceful, resilient method of leveraging the potential of existing urban infrastructure, structures, surfaces and systems can have on cities today and tomorrow.

The lecture is free and open to the public. To reserve tickets, go here.

Full listings information is provided below:

The Big Chance: Reprogramming the City
October 1, 2015, 6 p.m. CT
205 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1200, Chicago

Please join APA for a free lecture by urban strategist, Scott Burnham, who will discuss his Reprogramming the City project. Reprogramming the City is a global exploration of ways in which existing urban objects, structures, surfaces and systems are being re-imagined, repurposed, and reinvented to do more in the city. It is about revealing the hidden potential of the urban assets we already have at hand.

Interview in Totally Stockholm magazine (in English)


For English readers, I thought I’d share a piece of media coverage from Reprogramming the City: Stockholm that doesn’t require Google Translate. Totally Stockholm magazine ran a nice interview with me where I dig deep to talk about the inspiration and motivations behind Reprogramming the City. As the journalist introduces the piece:

“Burnham is convinced that the modern urban area of today hides large untapped possibilities within its confines … it’s not only repurposing disused industrial lots but an idea to implement multi-use functions to existing spaces and structures. To look into the possibilities here in Stockholm he made a call to Stockholm-based architects, designers and urban planners, and the result, along with examples from all around the world, will be showcased at Arkitektur-och Designcentrum this summer when *Reprogramming the City – Opportunities for Urban Infrastructure* will explore a new paradigm of urban creativity and resourcefulness.

Burnham quotes the late comedian Bill Hicks: “The next revolution will be a revolution of ideas” and hopes for a revolution in how we think about the potential for the existing urban landscape.

Any interview when I can get into the origin story of Reprogramming the City and get a Bill Hicks quote in is a good interview. You can read it in its entirety here.

Reprogramming the City on Sweden SVT National News

A particularly satisfying part of launching Reprogramming the City at ArkDes in Stockholm was being featured on Sweden SVT national news. Towards the end I explain what sets the Stockholm show apart.

Call for Ideas and Projects for Stockholm



In June 2015, ArkDes, The Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design, will launch Reprogramming the City: Stockholm.

As part of Reprogramming the City: Stockholm, ArkDes is issuing a call for ideas, proposals and existing projects that reveal the hidden potential of Sweden’s existing urban assets.

Do you have an idea or project that shows how an existing urban object, structure, surface or system could be reused or repurposed to do more in the daily life of the city? How could we be more resourceful with the things we already have in our cities?

This is the chance for Swedish architects, designers, engineers and artists to ask “What More…” could we do with what we already have in Sweden’s cities, and “What If…” a new resourceful approach was applied to the existing assets of Stockholm.

The deadline is 23 March 2015. For more information, you can download the PDF pictured above here, or contact Lotta Granqvist at ArkDes.

The call for ideas can be found on the ArkDes website here.

City Electric Utility Box + Public Seating = Looking for a Landscape

Looking for a Landscape

City: Cambridge, MA
Created by: Matthew Mazzotta

The large gray metal boxes found on street corners are objects of mystery to most people – they hum, buzz, click, lock, and frequently sport warnings that any tampering will result in prosecution, or death. In reality, the boxes are most often nothing more ominous than traffic signal control boxes, or power and telephone interchanges.

Matthew Mazzotta thought the anonymous gray boxes were worthy of performing more of a service to the public than going through life as public mysteries. After obtaining one of the hulking units, Mazzotta installed hinged doors and retractable seating to create an alternate reality in which members can open the structure for as-needed moments of public rest and relaxation. In the original manifestation of the project, Mazzotta installed binoculars at the front of each seat, transforming the functional gray box into “a viewing station of the everyday,” enabling the public to rest and explore their surrounding landscape for further adventure.

The entire structure is on retractable wheels embedded inside the concrete base. When the wheels are up, the box looks like a stationary, permanent part of the city. When the wheels are brought down by a cranking mechanism inside the base, they make contact with the ground allowing Looking For A Landscape to be moved to the next location of the city.


Street Light + Public Umbrella = Lampbrella


City: Saint-Petersburg, Russia
Created By: Mikhail Belyaev

Keen urban observers will notice that lamp posts have begun to wear accessories. Small antennas, diodes, and other sensor components are being fixed to the tall street structures to provide the city with an array of data monitoring traffic flow, air quality, light levels, and more. The multi-tasking infrastructure tells the city what is going on and what needs to be done to respond to the city’s needs.

If a lamppost can be fit with a sensor to measure and report data for the needs of the city, could the lamppost also do something more practically to benefit the city’s residents? Maybe turn into an umbrella when it is raining so people caught outside can find a place to stay dry?

Lampbrella was designed by Mikhail Belyaev to do just that. The Lampbrella contains a sensor that activates and unfolds an umbrella the moment it senses rain. Its broad diametre can shelter several people from the rain or provide a cozy moment of cover for a couple wanting their own space in the atmosphere of a rainy city.

The moment of inspiration, says Belyaev, was no more complex than seeing the way a lamp post currently functioned in the city, and thinking it could do more. “Once, I was driving on a central Saint Petersburg street,” he says, “and saw the street lamps illuminating people trying to hide from the rain.” Instead of highlighting those getting soaked, he said, he envisioned a way that the lamp post could provide shelter.

In addition to the rain sensor, there is a motion detector that can tell whether anyone is using the Lampbrella and will close it if no one is underneath or nearby and in need of cover.


Phone Booths + Electric Car Charging Stations = A1 Charging Booths


City: Vienna, Austria
Created by: Telecom Austria

One definition of an innovative idea is when someone connects two dots others wouldn’t think of connecting. Telekom Austria had one dot on their hands – the one rapidly moving down a chart showing the number of people who were using their 13,500 phone booths. On another chart was a dot on a steep climb, showing that the use of electric cars in Austria was predicted to rise to 405,000 by 2020. So Telecom Austria connected the dots and began transforming the phone booths into electric car charging stations.

The switch of functionality for the existing booths is considerable, so Telekom Austria is moving forward in phases, making optimum use of existing assets along the way. In the first phase, the phone booths will use their communication capabilities to provide multimedia stations to offer on-street parking spaces and information for electric vehicles. Over the next few years, these stations will then be steadily upgraded, eventually offering the ability to charge multiple electric vehicles from one former phone booth.

During the initial trial period of the early stations, recharging is free. The company eventually plans to charge a single-digit euro sum for the recharging service, with payments to be made, seemingly without irony, via mobile phone. About 30 phone booths have made the leap to charging stations so far, with more to be steadily phased in.


Photo Credit: A1, 2013

Parking Pay Meter + City Communication Platform = City Tickets

Mayo Nissen (left) and Brian Del Vecchio (right) at work reprogramming a Multispace Parking Pay Unit

Mayo Nissen (left) and Brian Del Vecchio (right) at work reprogramming a Multispace Parking Pay Unit

City: Boston
Created by: Mayo Nissen, with thanks to JD Hollis and Brian Del Vecchio

Parking meters keep watch over the passage of time in the city; and the city has watched as the passage of time has changed them. Long gone are the days when inserted a coin, ratcheted the knob and a marker popped up to tick away your allotted time. The clock dials gave way to digital countdowns, and individual meters gave way to the tall heavy structures that now run the racket for entire blocks; in some cities, no meter is needed at all as you can now pay for your spot directly from your smartphone.

But should these expensive units, packed with networking ability, payment systems, solar panels and computing power, and situated on every block, only be relevant to those looking for somewhere to park their vehicle, or should they be there for every person who shares the city with them?
City Tickets is one idea.

As its designer Mayo Nissen explains, “City Tickets is an exploration into how existing urban infrastructure can be repurposed to better serve all of the citizens of the city in which it is installed. Physical infrastructure is a tremendous resource and asset to the city, but as technology and priorities change, new approaches should be considered to make the best use of the existing ‘physical stock’ of the city.”

City Tickets proposes one option for the future of Multi-Space parking terminals, reframed as City Meters. As well as parking receipts, the meters dispense City Ticket Lists, with known issues that have been reported to the City authorities by phone, from Twitter, in person, or via the terminal itself. Also available are City Ticket Reports, allowing passersby to submit issues or make suggestions for improving the immediate area.


Business District Stairway + Urban Mini Park = The Cascade

Business District Stairway + Urban Mini Park = Hong Kong's The Cascade

City: Hong Kong
Creator: Edge Design Institute

Hong Kong’s extreme density has made its residents particularly skilled at maximizing the use of their city’s structures and surfaces. Morning Tai Chi sessions are held on the cement forecourts of large office buildings. Street traders set up shop with specially crafted tables and stands which bolt on to public fences and posts. The lighting of its waterfront corporate buildings are choreographed and set to music at night to create an ornate public light and sound show for the delight of tourists.

In the center of one of the island’s busiest commercial districts, tired shoppers and businesspeople can get a few minutes of rest as they relax in a mini urban pack, complete with seats and trees. A park in a central business district isn’t extraordinary in itself, until one realizes that this park is a free-standing complete unit that has been attached on top of an existing cement stairway.

Located at The Centrium in Hong Kong Central, The Cascade represents a layering of opportunity on top of one of the city’s countless functional stairways. Complete with Bauhinia trees, individual and adjoining seating areas and a lighting scheme that changes with the area’s nighttime atmosphere, The Cascade provides a variety of private and public moments in the otherwise utilitarian commercial area, illustrating the potential for public stairs everywhere to be reprogrammed into a space for the rest and relaxation of residents.

The Cascade is the manifestation of Hong Kong’s malleable relationship with its existing physical terrain and a container of ideas ripe for adoption in a number of dense urban areas. Its creators, Edge Design Institute, describe The Cascade as “an artificial landscape that responds to the unique topography of the site: a cascade of steps that creates a public thoroughfare and generates potentials for a delicately-scaled public space that have often been overlooked.”

Edge Design Institute

Bus Stop + Anti-SADD Lamps = Umea Light Therapy


City: Umeå, Sweden
Created by: Umeå Energi

Improving public transportation infrastructure can be instrumental in the quality of life for a city’s residents. But expanding the number of functions that infrastructure can perform for its residents represents a new paradigm in how cities could do more with what they already have. In this category, other cities should be looking at the city of Umeå and the way Umeå Energi re-imagined the potential of the city’s bus stops.

Receiving only a few hours of natural sunlight each day during the long winter months, Umeå Energi created a way to counter some of the effects of the dark winter months by replacing the existing lights in 30 of the city’s bus stops with special bulbs that can boost commuter’s moods during the winter.

Their “light therapy” (“Ljusterapi” in Swedish) initiative invites commuters to spend a few minutes facing the therapeutic lights while waiting for the bus to soak up the benefits of the sun they miss during dark winters. The initiative not only re-imagines the potential of bus stops in the lives of Umeå’s residents, but reconsiders how the energy that lights those stops and their advertisements could be utilized in better ways.

“Everything is a part of our commitment to take responsibility for both our customers’ everyday lives but also for the environment at large”, says Umeå Energi’s Anna Norrgård.

After the lights were installed, bus use in the city doubled. With an increase in public transportation use and new sun lights that are powered by 100% renewable energy sources – including, fittingly, stored solar energy – the partnership between the city and Umea Energi has become a model of public benefits and municipal resourcefulness gained from the repurposing of existing infrastructure.

Umeå Energi

Photo Credit: Ola Bergengren

Recent News

I've just returned delivering a keynote and serving as an advisor for “The city as an innovation platform for circular economy” event in Oslo, Norway as part of an initiative organized by the Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture.

Want to know more? Contact us here, or please subscribe to the RTC mailing list here.

New Version Available to Tour

To respond to a number of requests from institutions who want to bring a catalyst of new ideas to their city but lack the timeline or resources for a full project, Reprogramming the City now exists as a standalone, easy to ship and assemble exhibition.

"I cannot remember an exhibit that has drawn more comment and interest than this one."
- Executive Director, Virginia Center for Architecture

Please contact us here, if you'd like more details on the touring version of Reprogramming the City.

About Reprogramming the City

Created by Urban Strategist Scott Burnham, versions of Reprogramming the City and related events have appeared in numerous cities including Stockholm, Boston, Copenhagen, and Richmond.

Be Part of Reprogramming the City

Email Scott Burnham at: sb [at] scottburnham [.] com for more information about hosting Reprogramming the City projects, events, talks and publications.