We use cookies to give you the best personal experience on our website. If you continue to use our site without changing your cookie settings, you agree we may place these cookies on your device. You can change your cookie settings at any time but if you do , you may lose some functionality on our website . More information can be found in our privacy policy.
Please provide more information.
Stylus no longer supports Internet Explorer 7, 8 or 9. Please upgrade to IE 11, Chrome, Safari, Firefox or Edge. This will ensure you have the best possible experience on the site.
Brief Published: 5 Nov 2019

Could this Tech Get People Swimming in City Rivers?


As we explore in our Smart Cities Spotlight Trend, cities are developing tech-led interfaces that nudge consumers towards new interactions with urban environments. In New York, local design group Playlab’s digital art piece aims to build public support for a swimming pool in the East River.

Located at Pier 17 (between Manhattan and Brooklyn), the art installation uses sensors to monitor pollution levels. Fifty LED lights attached to these sensors change colour according to water quality, signalling whether it’s safe for swimming. The data collected can then be analysed on an online dashboard, providing in-depth information on metrics like salinity and pathogen levels, proving that the East River is not always as polluted as it’s believed to be. 

The installation supports Playlab’s work with local non-profit +Pool, whose goal is to install a public swimming pool in the East River. While public sentiment has been a barrier, allowing people to monitor chemical levels in the river is a clever way to engage with them. As we highlight in our Look Ahead 2020: Technology, this kind of grass-roots approach to urban innovation is becoming increasingly popular, as citizens become fed up with stalled government-led initiatives.

In 2017, Dutch brewing company Heineken donated $100,000 to Playlab, while NY art festival Tribeca Film Fest created a short documentary about the project. As brands take part in local activism – a trend we describe in Brands as Change Leaders – supporting initiatives like Playlab offers a first step towards conversations on topical issues like public infrastructure. Such projects also offer opportunities for brands to connect with regional communities.

For more on socially engaged tech, see 7 Tech Trends to Watch in 2019, EmTech 2019 and Tech’s Holistic Revolution, part of our Macro Trend Towards Our Sustainable Future.