Citilab: IT at the heart of a Community
2nd July 2009
He had been hearing so much about the vibrant social media scene in Birmingham that he decided to come over last weekend and visit the Birmingham Social Media Cafe and the Moseley Barcamp and Amplified events as well as going down to the Custard Factory to take a look around.
Chris saw quite a change in the city. Born and brought up in Rugby, his stated memory of Birmingham goes back twenty years to when he would “get off at New Street, go to a concert at the Odeon, get beaten up by some Mods and then get the train back, licking my wounds all the way”.
I spoke to him about the Citilab project. Actually, I asked him one question and then sat back as he enthused about all of the marvellous stuff that they are doing. Cornellà is a fairly modern town which grew up around the textile industry and which is now trying to reposition itself in the digital economy. They have renovated one of the old, disused textile factories and turned it into a technology centre.
On the ground floor they have a large area open to the public which has digital mentors on hand to help out, but where people are also encouraged to help each other out. They also have classroom areas where a range of free courses are available. Citilab also hosts Europe’s first Lego Mindstorms Workshop, where kids can learn about technology by building and programming their own robots.
The foundation that the town set up have input from the local university, the Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya, as well as Columbia University and the Toronto School of Art and Design. Upstairs they have a business area which houses start-ups and more established businesses, and gives them access to research facilities as well as providing a Living Lab in the centre itself. eyeOS, a free, Open Source, Cloud Computing Operating System is one of the success stories to have already come out of Citilab.
But, although the technology is key to what the centre delivers, it is also the ethos which is quite remarkable. The interest here is in economic regeneration but also they want to explore the social benefits of new technologies. As such, they refer to themselves as the “first digital citizens laboratory in Europe”.
Some of us in Birmingham might consider that fighting talk, and not just the ex-Mods amongst us.
Digital Birmingham has already become a member of the European Network of Living Labs which Citilab is a part of. Councillor Tilsley has recently announced our ideas about creating a digital district within Birmingham to lead in innovation. And we also have Dave Harte’s ideas about Birmingham setting up a Centre for Excellence in Digital Participation. It seems that we have quite a lot in common with the people at Citilab.
Chris was keen on seeing what was going on in Birmingham, but he also extended an open invite to interested Brummies to go over to visit. It’s an offer that I’m really interested in taking him up on. Is anybody else up for the trip?