In one of Simon and Garfunkel’s most popular songs, the singers famously stop and chat with a lamppost: “Hello lamppost, / What cha knowing? / I’ve coming to watch your flowers growing. / Ain’t cha got no rhymes for me?”
The lamppost does not. But had the duo been passing through Bristol, England, in 2013 (and not New York City in 1966, where the song took its inspiration), they might have gotten at least a response from a lamppost, or even a postbox or a bus stop.
“Hello Lamp Post” is the Simon and Garfunel-inspired citywide initiative that lets Bristol’s streets speak–via text message. It happens that each postbox, drain, and other elements of “street furniture” in Bristol comes with a unique code. Research and design studio PAN saw that as an opportunity to create new interactions on the street.
When the initiative debuts this summer, city residents can text the word “hello” and the code of the lamppost they’re confronting to a designated number, much like what already exists in many cities to figure out bus schedules. “[T]he item of street furniture will immediately text you back with a question. Will it be pleased to see you? Irritated at having been left in the rain? Or will it tell you a secret? The more you play, the more the hidden life of the city will be revealed.”
The initiative was the winner of Bristol’s 2013 Playable City Award, a prize that includes £30,000 to make the project happen. The competition focuses on creative approaches to “using existing city infrastructure to make an open, hospitable, and playful experience which encourages you to notice and interact with what is around you,” as opposed to the “smart city” movement, whose put-a-touch-screen-on-it ethos can obscure lower-tech interventions.