If there was a homepage for the Digital City it might be straightforward to capture the Digital story of a place but there isn’t, which is perhaps why it is uncommon for people to try – but before we consider the Digital future, it’s important to explore where things have come from.

The local Digital histories of cities have impacted on their development as much as global technology milestones. In this new report, “Rebooting the Digital City, Digital Placemaking at the Edge” (Sept 2020) Stephen Hilton, Founder and Director of City Global Futures, gathers-up Bristol’s Digital Breadcrumbs; stories of significant events that have shaped the Digital City. 

The journey starts in 1900 with the opening of the first battery powered telephone exchange on Telephone Avenue, a landmark that still exists in the centre of Bristol. The story heads through the Bristol Channel, an early experiment in local cable TV  broadcasting; the development of pirate then community radio and the Rediffusion network, a web of pipes, ducts and cables that has been repurposed multiple times, to support touch screen kiosks, open wireless mesh networks and super connected city testbeds.  

After passing through a wide variety of creative Digital projects such as, Electric December and Playable Cities, which became increasingly embedded in the physical city, the story concludes with the Bristol Arts Channel. Launched during the pandemic and bringing up to date echoes of previous collaborative Digital experiments and paving the way for new hybrid business models based on physical : digital space.

What’s your Bristol Digital Breadcrumb; an event, project or moment in time that you feel is important to the city’s Digital story? Use the form below to tell us what, when and why?

The combination of global crises, the COVID-19 pandemic, Black Lives Matter and the Climate Emergency certainly feels like it is pushing the world closer to the edge, the question is can we avoid falling off?

Where will the Bristol Breadcrumb trail lead next? The “Rebooting the Digital City” report goes on to suggest that the pandemic has created an opportunity to shift the focus of Digital Placemaking towards “the Edge” powering-up local Digital networks and communities. 

The study presents ideas under three headings, Edge Computing, Communities with an Edge and Keeping it Edgy. It explores the pros and cons of “re-localising the Internet” and asks what might happen if we were to say “Hey Bristol” or “Hey Filwood” instead of always calling on Siri or Alexa. The aim is to sketch a possible future direction for Bristol as a Digital City but also to highlight ways in which other cities and places might build their own Digital Placemaking stories.

Read more about the Bristol+Bath Digital Placemaking Programme




Stephen Hilton researched and authored the “Rebooting the Digital City” study in Sept 2020 as an output of his Digital Placemaking Fellowship, supported by Bristol+Bath Creative R+D, part of the AHRC Creative Industries Clusters Programme.