By Akasha Chamberlain, Point Park News Service:
Pulling up a website on a laptop from Wi-Fi generated by a nearby lamp post. Finding parking two blocks away through a real-time online network. Enjoying a public digital display featuring rotating galleries of local art during a daily commute.
These concepts may sound like far-fetched dream technologies of tomorrow — but for Oakland, these ideas will soon become a reality.
Innovation Oakland, an overarching project of The Oakland Task Force to transform the Pittsburgh neighborhood through technology, started in 2010. It will begin construction on a public digital center sometime this year with one project committee member predicting breaking ground as early as October.
“We’ve still got a little bit of a gap [in funding] to fill before we actually start the hard construction,” said Kelly McBroom, a member of the Oakland Business Improvement District (OBID) working with the Innovation Oakland committee. “We theorize that we would like to see something being built by October at the latest.”
The project will transform an empty space on the corner of Forbes Avenue and South Bouquet Street into a digital Mecca. It will include mobile high-resolution LCD screens to create a digital art wall curated by Murray Horne of the Wood Street Galleries, a sound-scape and Wi-Fi-enabled lamp posts. The project will utilize an otherwise vacant space across from The Original Hot Dog Shop and next to a T-Mobile store.
McBroom said the project will be “the first of its kind” and will feature information about upcoming events around Oakland.
“We want it to coincide with a way-finding system that we plan on implementing in Oakland which would tell you what parking spots are available, what garages are full, where you are,” McBroom said.
The digital art wall and information station will not be interactive as of yet, with information simply scrolling across it automatically. With the University of Pittsburgh, Carlow University and more than 30 other local institutions funding the project and the bulk of the research being done by Carnegie Mellon University, Innovation Oakland is a community-fueled effort.
“The goal for [the art wall] is to just be a component of a complete infrastructure,” said Mary Davidson Williams, the marketing and communications director for OBID.
McBroom said she expects the digital community and art space to draw people from around town to visit Oakland.
“I think it will attract people to come down for the nighttime to see how it works,” McBroom said. “And I think it will bring families down to see it because it will be the only one around.”
Attracting visitors isn’t the only motivation behind the project.
With nearly half of Oakland’s population of 20,000 people being between the ages of 20 and 34, according to a report published by the Oakland Task Force in 2010, the integration of technology into everyday life is not a new concept for Oakland residents.
“It will really be something that mirrors the culture that students are entering into now,” Williams said. “We’re seeing a generation that has always had access to the Internet and smart phones and who are really sort of more naturally expecting digital infrastructure. For them to be in an environment that mimics their own lives — I think it will be fantastic.”