In memoriam: William Mitchell

William Mitchell, MIT dean and professor, architect, urbanist and theorist, widely regarded as one of the most prominent thinker on “smart cities”, has passed away; see here the official MIT obituary.

William Mitchell
Photo Webb Chappel from MIT obituary page

Right now a Twitter search shows a flow of related messages. My personal impression is that Mitchell is being remembered by a really diverse big bunch of people, ranging from fellow specialists to an original crowd of professionals, scholars and students of different disciplines, all sharing the appreciation for his work and intuitions. It’s not something that I can prove with the numbers, but I feel it’s quite right. And I think it’s a mark of oustanding intellectual achievements.

Update: Adam Greenfield, author of Everyware, now at Nokia, has a short but intense post in memory of Mitchell: “Bill’s optimism about technology and cities was infectious, even if (like me) you thought of yourself as the kind of person who’d been inoculated by experience against anything as uncritical as everything implied by that word.” There is an upcoming book from Adam on technology, the city and “networked urbanism” titled “The City Is Here For You To Use” (see more on Speedbird, his blog).

I first heard about Mitchell quite late; it was end of 2004 or beginning of 2005. I was attending the first public meetings of what then became the network of Living Labs, a mixed formal and informal coalition of various organizations engaged with open innovation (see the site of ENOLL, European Network of Living Labs). In that context, Mitchell was credited as the one that originally forged the concept at MIT Media Lab. I remember especially references made by Veli Pekka Niitamo (Nokia, CKIR Helsinki) and architect/professor Jarmo Suominen. See e.g. this definition reported in a presentation given in Budapest by Niitamo (I can’t publish it right away as it reports a copyright notice; likely the document has been just shared between meeting participants — can’t remember exactly):

[The Living Lab idea] [O]riginates from the MIT, Boston, Prof Wiliiam Mitchell, MediaLab and School of Architecture and city planning. ‘Living Labs as a research methodology for sensing, prototyping, validating and refining complex solutions in multiple and evolving real life contexts’.

I found the idea quite fascinating. The “living lab” image was very powerful, if anything. Perhaps it might appear as nothing big when one considers the amount of books and scholarly work produced by Mitchell, but I think that these concrete imagery is badly needed in the research and innovation discourse. It helps a lot in communicating the vision, it creates the opportunity for more articulate conversations.

At that time I also started following a bit the Living Labs community, and I tried to kick-start an interest group in Milan, but without much success (see the archived page); anyway, I haven’t been much involved in the community as such since then, even though I managed to keep some contacts alive.

Photo source: http://newsoffice.mit.edu/2010/obit-mitchell

3 thoughts on “In memoriam: William Mitchell”

  1. Hi is there away to trace the original document where he states this? because i am trying to find the original document where he mentions those words but apprently it just appeared around 2005-2006 in an article written by

    Niitamo, V.-P., Kulkki, S., Eriksson, M., Hribernik, K. A. (2006): State-of-the-Art and Good Practice in the Field of Living Labs. In: Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Concurrent Enterprising: Innovative Products and Services through Collaborative Networks. Italy: Milan. 26 – 28 June. pp. 349-357
    – citation 2006 – 54 & 2006 – 71

    [The Living Lab idea] [O]riginates from the MIT, Boston, Prof Wiliiam Mitchell, MediaLab and School of Architecture and city planning. ‘Living Labs as a research methodology for sensing, prototyping, validating and refining complex solutions in multiple and evolving real life contexts’.

  2. hi Harri, sorry I don’t have indications more specific than the ones reported in my post. You’ll notice that the first author of the paper is also my source – Veli-Pekka Niitamo. I guess you might just ask him 🙂 (drop me an email to lgalli at pobox dot com, I think I have his contacts info somewhere).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *