Category: Uncategorized

FutureEverything2013

Notes:

I visited the Future Everything 2013 conference,  a ‘Summit on Ideas and Innovations’ between Creative Code, Future Cities and The Data Society taking place on march 20th – 21st in Manchester/UK. As so often when talking about Smart City the approach on the topic, bottom-up versus top-down was a major discussion point during the conference. Dan Hill (http://www.fabrica.it/) as first day’s keynote speaker mentions bottom-up neighbourhoods on one and top-down government regulations on the otherside, and in a later Tweet discussion their relationship’ @MAVhugs Yes. Except my message is top-down as well as bottom-up. The answer is “both, and” – not “or”. Active both sides x synthesis.’.

Hill mentiones five examples of failures he’s worked on:
Failure 1 – ‘The Cloud’: A proposal for an observation deck for the London Olympics 2012 developed by the MIT and Arup, that was intended to be a civic scale feedback devise [smart meter display] for London.
Failure 2 – ‘UTS Broadway’: Following the ‘opaque buildings’ idea, the project is a university building that displays on the outside what’s going on on the inside.
Failure 3 – ‘Barangaroo’/Sydney: Same kind of idea as UTS, just displaying data via different sized interfaces on cityscale
Failure 4 – ‘Masdar’/Abu Dhabi: Lightning pods on a piazza collecting light during the day and enlight it during the night, announcing in that way urban events.
Failure 5 – Sydney Metro: How do you use data to convey what’s going on in real time? How do we design trains and stations in order to serve as ‘third places’?

These projects failed not because the ideas weren’t great, but what was missing was the sense of why they were there, or to quote Cedric Price: “Technology is the answer, but what’s the question?”. According to Hill the answer can be found in the bottom up approach and the cultures of decision making, because yesterday’s institutions can’t produce the necessary outcomes for tomorrow (‘We have 18th century institutions facing 21st century problems.’ M. Steinberg). He mentions the London riots in that context and their relationship to technology: The condition of physical urban space and digital social media enabled what happened, at the same time the cleaning up process organized by the government via Twitter used the same technology themselves. A more peaceful example are the ‘Open Kitchen’ restaurant days in Helsinki [http://www.facebook.com/helopenkitchen] where food pop ups sell self-cooked food out of their windows or on the streets. Those pop ups don’t have any licencse and can be considered therefore as illegal, but as far as they are organized via social media in a highly flexible way there is nothing much what the government can do about it. Citizens become active and engaged, as result the street come alive: Active citizens = smart citizens.

With all this very ‘zeitgeist’-y public actions there’s a danger thou of being distracted by ‘Hipster Urbanism’ when we talk about networked movements. It’s
important to understand the bigger picture behind such actions from the crowd, what consequences they bring up. It’s not only about selling food on the streets, it’s about the change of codes (laws!) that are hidden in the dark. In that sense, the significant change that is happening now with this bottom-up process is that government has now a competitor to it’s top-down approach to which it needs to react. The reaction can be seen in the general open-data movement that is currently going on all over the world. The act of measuring is therefore a very important part within the Smart City context: we measure and produce data for efficiency and security, to understand the city as Usman Haque points out. This situation assumes that if we have enough data, we can make the city perfect. The open-data movement leads to the assumption, if we have enough data available someone will solve the problem.
However, Haque mentions that available open data like transport or PM-salaries is just for people to let off steam, but the problem with this is that we don’t know who stands behind the data and therefore it is far from being opaque.

Anthony Townsend mentions in his keynote on the second day that there is a different notion on smart cities and that the topic is not only about design, but big business. in this relation he mentions IBM that equipped Rio de Janeiro with a top of the line control center, in order ‘to be prepared for the World Cup 2014 and the Olympics two years after’. In respect to that the question comes up, if Latin America’s largest screen can be considered to be a good measure for good government… these technologies that are implemented into government are the same that have globalized economy. In that sense government works like business. Townsend mentions the assumptions of global technology players that you can cut/paste smart city systems from one city to another on one side, and the organic, subjective bottom-up DIY approach on the other. He draws parallels to the relationship to Robert Moses’ concepts for New York from the 1950’s and the Jane Jacobs actions happening at the same time. Moses suggested building superhighways through New York (top-down) as
solution towards urban optimization that got stopped by Jacobs’ crowd-sourced approach of activating people to protest against those (bottom-up). As result New York didn’t get the highwaysystem, whereas other northamerican cities like Atlanta or Houston did (copy/paste). These actions emasculated the whole process of urban planning: it stopped planners in thinking of optimization, but more towards human designs.
In this ‘battlefield’ as Townsend calls it, mayors are actually the real heroes managing difficult tasks to get things done. They have to decide what people need and what the consequences are. It’s those mayors who get presented those ‘smartcity-packages’ developed and designed by big computer firms like IBM, Siemens, Cisco and Intel as the ultimative solution for every problem they face in their cities – but Townsend worries if technology can offer value offers in that case. In the parallel a lot of DIY, open source and crowd sourcing projects are being developed by a lot of creative inventors towards sociability, the expandation of the the range of human experience and fun. Looking back into the 1970’s we had similar kinds of movement that can be found in the”People’s Computer Company”, a computer club in California towards decentralizing computer power, or in filmplatforms (pre-youtube) established by Red Burnes in the early 1980’s. As related to smart cities from the past Townsend also mentioned Patrick geddes’ approach towards city planning. As biologist, Geddes saw the city as organic structure that evolved and adapted to its occupation where citizens needed to be mobalized to take action. “A city is not a machine, not a place in space – it is drama in time.” On the opposit Ebenezer Howard described with cutting edge technology his ‘Garden Cities’ that blew away organic structure to make place for the new approach on urban planning.

Bulletpoints:
1. opt-in to smart:
2. roll your own network:
3. build a web, not an operating system
4. extended public ownership
5. transparent models
6. graceful failure – electric power
7. build locally, trade globally
8. cross-train designers (!!!)
Most important point: A new kind of professional is needed within the fields of science and culture. In order to do so, we need to cross train people in those
domains.
9. think long-term in real-time
10 crowd source with care
11. connect everyone
12. sound urban science
Geoffrey West ‘solved the city’ – You get double plus 15% of everthing if you double inhabitants of a city.
13. slow data – hipster idea
The copy/paste idea got discussed more at the debate later on. Townsend asks how much of the smart city can we make to measure & how much do we need to leave bespoke? He mentions that setting up the technique is easy (free wifi for New York project), the difficult part is dealing with the community and local conditions. Overall, 20% of the project budget goes towards technical equipment, the remaining 80% to local adaptions -> these 20% we can copy/paste, the rest not. (Lean Doode from Arup mentions the opposit later…).

Advertisements

Know your City.

Becoming Local:

Every second paper or article on smart city starts with about the same phrase on the increasing number of people moving into the cities, e.g. “An ever-increasing proportion of this globe’s 7 billion-strong population is living in or moving into cities; in the United Kingdom, this figure was projected to have already surpassed the 90% mark1. [The hidden image of the city -paper]” This is somehow a main reason to justify that cities must become smart in order to deal with the masses of people they are expecting (which opens up a massive market).  Not only the cities have to become smarter, but also the citizens that have just moved into them – they have to become local.

Now, modern technology offers a broad variety for migrants to stay in touch with the folks left behind. Telephone, email, social media and video calls create a strong bond between the two locations regardless of their global locations. Apart from the undoubtable convenience of those innovations it is important for migrants to grow identity with the local community. Major aspects of becoming local includes on the ‘social side’ building up new relationships, being familiar with local habits and the history, and on the ‘spatial side’ simply knowing your city.

The city includes different landscapes we experience with our senses that ‘make a place’ – smelling, hearing, seeing, feeling. There is a social landscape related to the social interactions we make (‘I don’t go to this shop because I don’t like the owner…’) and there are danger landscapes (a road can be safe for a 40 y old man, but not for a 20 y old woman). Also how we perceive the landscape can change with the degree of dwelling – how long we’ve lived at one place [Tim Ingold ‘The Perception of the Environment’].

When new to a city, one first begins to know the new urban environment close to his home, finding out about shop locations, work location and the route in between. The longer the person lives there, the larger the circles of exploration become. He knows more places and understands the network of the city. Patches of visited places and their connections make sense. Being local means knowing also the ‘back-paths’ besides the major roads and what they offer.

The question arises, how technology can support the process of becoming local by increasing urban exploration on one side, and supporting interaction with locals on the other. The best way to explore and a city is to walk – only in that way the small details can be seen, the hidden backpaths can be taken and the environment can be sensed.  In our everyday life we walk to get to a certain destination as efficient as possible, mostly taking a familiar route.  In order to increase urban exploration it is important to understand what makes us choosing a route between two points – what is the impact of the environment on our route decision. Therefore we need to differentiate the different elements within the urban environment.

Elements of the urban environment: The environment we live in defines itself on a static [physical, objective] and a dynamic layer [personal, general].

Physical [relating to Space Syntax theory]:

Input: Research on how the physical environment affects us socially and our behavior in terms of route finding can be found in architectural studies of Space Syntax. Space Syntax describes in the Natural Movement Theory, that ‘The configuration of the urban street network, which is the largest spatial pattern in the city, is in and of itself a key determinant of movement flows and so co-presence in space.’

Output: With the two methods of Integration [To-Movement, measuring accessability] and Choice [Through-Movement, assesses the degree to which each space lies on simplest or shortest paths between all pairs of spaces in the system] Space Syntax offers a measure to describe the usage of road segments defined by the urban layout. In this way it makes clear which areas are well integrated or segregated, which stands in close relation to the social development of those areas.

Personal [Emotional, Psychogeography, Kevin Lynch, urbangems, urbanopticon, mappiness]:

Input: The personal layer includes information about a person’s condition in a very moment based on my activity and surrounding. Theories of Genius Loci, the Situational Movement and Psychogeography have investigated on how the environment affects people’s emotions and leads them through the city. Kevin Lynch observed with Mental Maps the subject [‘The Image of the City’].

With the rise of modern technologies research has been done in investigating on people’s emotions in different situations using available online data or with crowd sourced data. Quercia et al use images of a city to describe people’s emotions or the recognizability of neighbourhoods [urbangems, urbanopticon]. Mappiness [MacKerron et al] is a mobile app mapping your emotions to a geo location by asking you at a random time during the day how you feel, about your environment you are in and the activity you’re doing.

Output: Urbangems offers a data set of 300 votes to geo located photos taken in the metropolitan area of London. The votes are based on 2d images viewed by the user on a laptop or pc and not at the actual location.

Mappiness relates to the environment in that way that it asks about the user’s feelings in his actual location and the activity he’s doing by combining it with the geo location.

General [voice of the crowd, location based social networks]:

Input: Attached to the information and feedback we perceive from the physical environment the digital layer offers us an enhanced and altered view on the cityscape by providing 24/7 detailed information about the current position and the closer environment. We are able to access other users shared opinions and recommendations as provided by social networks of the web 2.0. The data is freely available via APIs.

Output: The general layer gives feedback of the opinion of the crowd by using online available voting data from geo located social media [Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Flickr,…etc]. Besides the precise data, the content of the messages provides information same as the photographed objects.

Available Data: Check Ins: Facebook, Foursquare. Voting data, recommendations. Only in places, not in locations. // Location based messages: Twitter, Facebook. Shows where and when people are and what they talk about. Message content is difficult to evaluate (word-sensing). // Location based photos: Flickr, Instagram. Shows where and when people take pictures and of what (assumption – things they like).

Walking as Methodology:

Contributions of urban walking:

  • Health
  • Less usage of Public Transport
  • Exploring
  • Joy

Besides the contributions in terms of health and the positive effect on public transport I will focus in my research of how technology can support becoming local on Exploring and Joy, standing in close relation to each other.  In order to become local it is necessary to explore a place – the more you explore the more you get familiar with the new environment. Those explorations are necessary in order to find your way around same as to find pleasure at specific locations and places the urban fabric offers. Explorations can be done everywhere but not at anytime (rush vs. stroll) and probably not in any mood.

Off the track – What makes us changing the usual routes? Space Syntax theory offers a solid analysis and facts resulting from built urban space (physical). However, it does not include the other two additional layers (emotional and digital) which have an increasing importance in a modern city. The theory is being investigated and combined with elements of the emotional and digital layer, in order to seduce people to change their routing behavior and hence support urban exploration. The Hypothesis is that people might go somewhere if they know that they’ll go to some place or see something they might like, which is highly personal. Not everyone likes the London East, not everyone likes London Kensington. Everyone has a profile that shows interests and behaviors, which is now digitally accessable. However, digital social networks offering location based messages and check ins are logically generated at popular places – which is in relation to Space Syntax – and therefore only in places where migrants might go anyway (which does not support exploration). Exploration means to go ‘off the track’ also to places less popular by the crowd that might be very enjoyable by someone either way. Therefore it is necessary to evaluate sources to receive data for less popular areas as well.

Possible data for evaluation of less popular areas: Government data (crime rates), London Transport (analyzing people flows), Historical / Cultural data, Crowd Sourced data and shared information / Local knowledge (knowledge of the crowd about areas)

Towards localization: How can technology support becoming local in a new city?

Interlinked categories that came up during the process:

  • Walking: How can technology engage people to walk more?
  • Exploring: How can technology nudge people to enjoy exploring new places?
  • Sensing: Sensing urban space
  • Tagging: Sharing information, stories, etc… within the urban space
  • Connecting: What possibilities offer technology against urban segregation?
  • Integrating: Global / Local relationships – How can technology help people to strength their bonds with a new city they’ve just moved in?

An ever-increasing proportion of this globe’s 7 billion-strong population is living in or moving into cities; in the United Kingdom, this figure was projected to have already surpassed the 90% mark1. [The hidden image of the city -paper] Technology offers a broad variety for migrants to stay in touch with the folks left behind. Telephone, email, social media and video calls create a strong bond between the two locations regardless of their global locations. Apart from the undoubtable convenience of those innovations it is important for migrants to get familiar with the new environment they live in and in this respect with their city and its places.

Besides getting familiar with local habits and building up new social relationships, knowing your city is a major point in becoming local. When new to a city, one first begins to know the new urban environment close to his home, finding out about shop locations, work location and the route in between. The longer the person lives there, the larger the circles of exploration become. He knows more places and understands the network of the city better. Patches of visited places and their connections make sense. Being local means knowing also the ‘back-paths’ besides the major roads and what they offer. However, looking at different neighbourhoods of and the travel patterns within a city shows the problem of segregation as a result of social and cultural differences.

In order to become local it is necessary to explore a place – the more you explore the more you get familiar with the new environment. Those explorations are necessary in order to find your way around same as to find pleasure at specific locations and places the urban fabric offers. Explorations can be done everywhere but not at anytime (rush vs. stroll) and – as far as the best way to explore and experience a city is to walk – probably not in any mood.

To engage migrated citizens with their environment and to encourage them to explore the city, recommendations based on local knowledge can be highly useful containing specific information and stories about the new place. Besides physicality, urban space is formed by its inhabitants and the stories and social interactions they share day by day, which is an important part of becoming locally familiar with a place and as result to identify with the society (and in addition to add your own input, formed by your background).

In order to answer the mentioned question(s) I will develop a mobile application to test different approaches in general (it doesn’t has to be a routing system, but the further development of space recommender system and its testing at chi will be part of the broader investigations) and in terms of recommendations. It’s about ‘sensing’ a place, what can the place offer to me – whatelse is there?
I also thought about what would happen if someone could take his movement patterns and behavior from his origin city to his new environment? How can that be analyzed, then translated and mapped into another urban setting?

Migration: global/local relationships in the networked city

Talking about local / global relationships in the networked urban environment we need to talk about ‘migration‘ as well, that is especially in an multi-cultural melting pot like London interesting to investigate. People come from all over the world and move to cities leaving home, culture, family and friends behind. In the past such a move meant a big step as far a communication was limited to mail correspondance and the bare usage of the telephon. At the same time migrants brought the richness of their cultures and lifestyles into the city, makeing new relations between themselves within their community. [read: Laura Vaughn]

Over the time, modern communication technologies came up with a variety of highly sophisticated tools to strength the bonds between left behind family and friends and the ‘new life’ – mobile phones with increasing lower rates, email, online social networks on location based systems, skype and video conferencing make physical distance disappear and offer 24/7 access wherever you are. The digital global gets connected to the physical local.

In times of segregation, the question naturally arises how technology can support the idea to build up and strength bonds to the local environment in order to support diversity and help migrants to integrate, to identify with the new life and to stimulate the exchange of multi-cultural knowledge between communities.

Global opinions for local interests.

With the introduction of the internet to the public and the rise of digital technologies we experience a shift in our understanding of space. Mobile computing devices and ubiquitous computing in urban landscape make the physicality of distance disappear – the modern citizen is digitally connected to everybody at anytime and anywhere. The result of this sophisticated network is a highly globalized world which effects economy same as personal interests, decisions and opinion making of its inhabitants. The introduction of web 2.0 with its methods of comment, recommender and voting systems offers a broad online platform for people all over the world to share experiences and exchange opinions and recommendations about an unlimited variety of topics. Global opinions meet local interests.

In this paper we explore the possibilities of using global voting data to enrich locally the modern citizen’s urban walking experience. We investigate the relationship between physical and digital urban navigation and describe a new approach to wayfinding by implementing common digital online methods of comment and recommender systems into the physical world. Those methods are being translated into the urban environment, using Facebook voting data to generate an alternative to the shortest route, as suggested by common pedestrian route finder systems, in order to maximize the pleasure of a urban stroll. Initial findings highlight the general importance of the walking experience to the public and suggest that implementing recommendations, based on social media voting systems, in route finding algorithms for mobile applications enhance the pleasure of urban strolling. The testing of the system in a real world context together with collected feedback and the observations throughout the design process stimulate the discussions of wider issues and highlight the potential for a Space Recommender System as location based mobile experience, based on public preferences.

Rewising: The Path is the Reward…

As mentioned the SRS offers a set of predefined facilities the user can choose from based on Facebook categories (coffee shops, museums,.. etc) and SRS generates the route based on the number Likes for each location. One can assume that a higher pop-ularity leads to a higher vote, thus to more ‘gravity’ within the route generation. However, taking a closer look at the output shows that the system cannot differentiate in terms of popularity which is strongly related to the global range of the facility, if it is a ‘global player’ like ‘Starbucks’, a smaller local chain or a single business. That makes it difficult to differentiate if the recommendation follows local or global interests, if it is ‘insider (local) knowledge’ or the voice of the (global) crowd which is a highly interesting question.
The difference of the facilities of these categories is another challenge to the system. At the moment the system treats a shop same as a pub and a museum same as a restaurant, not taking into account the different types of customers it attracts (global / local) and their behavior. For further research it is very important to be able to differ-entiate between those two in order to understand the global and local relationship.
For a more general and global view on the subject it is important to point out that the environment used for the test represents an organically grown European urban development and does not take into account other city layouts. Urban layouts differ in terms of shape and scale, based on culture and history and have a big impact on peo-ple’s walking behavior [19].

(extract from my paper “Following the voice of the crowd: Exploring opportunities for using global voting data to enrich local urban context” as submitted for CAADfutures 2013).