shannon_mattern + urban_planning   182

What's Behind the Backlash Over Sidewalk Labs' Smart City? - CityLab
But there has been no guarantee about who would own the data at the core of its proposal—much of which would ostensibly be gathered in public space. Also unresolved is the question of whether this data could be sold. With little transparency about what that means from the company or its partner, some Torontonians are wondering what Waterfront Toronto—and by extension, the public—is giving away.

After all, Sidewalk Labs is a sister company of Google, the world’s largest search engine and digital advertising company. Monetizing the data that users hand over is the business model that has propelled Google to its status as an IT giant, capable of tracking and guiding society’s desires, decisions, and movements—highly valuable capabilities marketers want, too.

But in Quayside’s case, it’s not clear how, or who, would pay for Sidewalk Labs’ ambitious building plans. Some observers surmise that selling data is likely part of the financing mix.
google  sidewalk_labs  toronto  urban_planning  smart_cities 
september 2018 by shannon_mattern
Model Conflicts - e-flux Architecture - e-flux
Solving the interconnected issues of unaffordable housing and inadequate public services, and the resulting lack of socio-economic opportunity, would require an approach far more coordinated and comprehensive, and likely much more complicated, contentious, and conflict-ridden than housing production alone.

Indeed, previous policy makers have proposed just that. In January 1966, US President Lyndon B. Johnson launched a program that would become known as Model Cities, and housing was only one part of its tool kit. Model Cities was driven by the urgency to address the racialized disparity between the poverty of the nation’s older cities and the prosperity of its newer suburbs—a tension that was becoming increasingly apparent in the repeated rebellions taking hold of what was then referred to as “the ghetto” since 1964.5 The program aimed to show that by coordinating federal programs for social, economic, and physical renewal in close cooperation with residents, clearly defined target areas—low-income and generally majority-minority neighborhoods—could be “turned around” within five years....

in early 1968, New York City’s central Model Cities Committee commissioned documentary filmmaker Gordon Hyatt to document the community participation processes and shed light on the program’s goals and methods. It is unclear who the intended audience of this production would be, but very likely the idea was to have a tool to easily communicate the basic goals, structure, and results of Model Cities to the general public. The production, later titled Between the Word and the Deed, involved five cameramen filming over a period of two years. The sixty-minute film was delivered precisely at the moment when the program was reorganized and key staff replaced; the original enthusiasm for the program had already waned, and the film was never shown publicly....

the Model Cities program was originally called, was conceived as a corrective to two existing federal urban programs. The first was urban renewal, a federal land write-down program on the books since 1949, which had subsidized cities’ slum clearance and rebuilding efforts, and had rarely benefitted the poor who were displaced through such clearance. The second was the Community Action Program (CAP), which since 1964 had channeled federal money directly to community groups to use toward social services and local programs. Coordinated by the federal Office of Economic Opportunity, mayors disliked CAP since the funding bypassed elected officials....

Model Cities was a small, brief, and too-quickly discredited program. It was conceptually on the cutting edge in recognizing that we cannot build our way out of socio-economic inequality, but instead need coordinated and comprehensive approaches to solving structural problems. The program provoked conflict and confusion through its unclear mandate for “widespread citizen participation,” and yet its very openness is what led to productive debate and the development of experimental approaches. This openness was quickly curtailed and restructured into more conventional power hierarchies, and in the process of centralizing, the program’s comprehensive aspect was sacrificed for the politically expedient delivery of housing. Model Cities thus leaves us with a cautionary tale: we cannot promote socio-economic change through housing alone, as tempting as it may be to succumb to the clarity of residential unit counts. Rather, we need to embrace what Model Cities celebrated as a “comprehensive” approach, with its inevitable messiness and harder-to-measure outcomes.
urban_planning  model_cities  housing  public_process  public_design 
august 2018 by shannon_mattern
Machines in the Valley
This project explores the post-World War II development of environmental politics in Silicon Valley. Machines in the Valley seeks to investigate, represent, and analyze the social, political, and environmental changes to document Silicon Valley’s consequence for California and American history.

Silicon Valley represented a new vision for the American West’s political economy, an economic and political project marrying pastoral idealism with high tech urbanism. The urban form of the valley sought to overcome the urban industrial model of the Northeast and Midwest that had dominated the industrial centers of the U.S. As the Rust Belt decayed, discourse about what to do with this flagging industrial economy emerged in the 1960s and 1970s. A moment of possibility emerged for Silicon Valley. But as developers, planners, and business leaders tried to implement their vision, it ran into conflict with the suruban vision of open spaces, access to leisure, and freedom from pollution that white collar workers had come to expect. An environmental politic formed concurrently with the growth regime in Santa Clara County, and these two visions for the landscape came into contact with one another.

Between 1945 and 1990, the Santa Clara Valley experienced profound environmental change during an unprecedented wave of urban and industrial growth. With those changes came conflict over landscape change. Answering that question means extending historian Kenneth Jackson’s observation that “the space around us—the physical organization of neighborhoods, roads, yards, houses, and apartments—sets up living patterns that condition our behavior.” In Silicon Valley, the attitudes, ideas, and values that people impart on to nature—biological and idealized—reveals how ideas about nature played out in postindustrial American society. By examining the ways that people created place, the politics they engaged in to protect that place, and examining the physical changes to the landscape that resulted, my research argues for the importance of understanding how space creates politics. The story revolves around whose space Silicon Valley would become: A postindustrial trend-setter? A fertile and beautiful agricultural producer? A countryside paradise? A metropolitan leader?
media_city  landscape  urban_planning  silicon_valley  environment 
august 2018 by shannon_mattern
Policing Is an Information Business | Urban Omnibus
Policing and urban planning have a lot in common. Both cops and planners’ ostensible goal is to make the city a more livable place, though this goal is constantly haunted by a question: Livable for whom? Both transform a public’s experience of a city, generally by imposing and enforcing rules and systems that change how people move through space. In the United States, public understanding of both professions is to some extent influenced by romanticized media narratives which heavily emphasize cities like Los Angeles and New York. Both sectors have a particularly heavy fetish for maps and data as mechanisms for understanding and shaping cities, a fetish that has intensified in the past few decades thanks to advances in technology.

Where the two professions diverge starkly is in matters of time and violence. Where urban planning might be considered a slower, bureaucratic, deliberative process, policing is expected to engage with and respond to city conditions and events in real time — or, increasingly, ahead of time. And unlike urban planners, cops are permitted to respond with firearms and Tasers.

That being said, planning is fully capable of enacting slower, more systemic acts of violence onto a city, and like policing, such violence can be enabled and plausibly denied by sufficiently complex data and maps. Where the urban planner has eminent domain and urban renewal, the police officer has crime hotspots and risk terrain modeling. Where a planner might control a city through highway design and traffic flows, a police department’s automated license plate readers or mobile cell site simulators render public movement into potential patterns of criminal behavior...

Of course, as tremendous instruments of power and violence, maps have been used by police (agents of the former, authorized to hold a monopoly on the latter) for decades. But in the 1990s, the emergence of desktop GIS software for and in police departments dramatically increased the data collection and storage capacities of that “information business.” The technology’s adoption coincided with the era of NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton and his avuncular lieutenant Jack Maple. This is where many histories tend to pinpoint the transformational moment for crime mapping: Bratton and Maple tracking turnstile jumpers in the New York City subway system, Maple outlining a four-point theory of policing management on a napkin at Elaine’s restaurant (“Accurate, timely intelligence; rapid deployment, effective tactics; relentless follow-up and assessment”), New York’s crime rate precipitously falling thanks to the data-driven innovations of CompStat....

The first CompStat maps were made with pins, paper, and transparent acetate. The NYPD technically didn’t have the budget to support their cost, so the New York City Police Foundation provided a $10,000 donation. Although the department would eventually switch to computerized maps, displayed on eight foot-by-eight foot screens in One Police Plaza, the image of police officers fumbling with pushpins and acetate film they could barely afford suggests a surprisingly scrappy origin story for a management strategy so often associated with precision and technical expertise — even if its own name is both vague and technically meaningless....

With the suspension of traditional legal oversight over surveillance, the NYPD Intelligence Bureau expanded the geography of threats to public disorder beyond the broken window and inside the perfectly-maintained façades of mosques, restaurants, and internet cafés in predominantly Muslim communities.

That geography fell primarily to the purview of the Demographics Unit, which employed a mix of street-level surveillance and undercover work with mapping and analysis of publicly available data.
predictive_policing  smart_cities  governance  urban_planning  policing  mapping 
june 2018 by shannon_mattern
Crisis and Contingency at the Dashboard - Journal #90 April 2018 - #90 April 2018 - Journal - e-flux
This urban dashboard heralds what Shannon Mattern calls “the age of Dashboard Governance.”2 Originating in the multiscreen Bloomberg terminals tracking real-time market activity against current events and historical trends, the urban dashboard is the state appropriation of the techno-political form produced at the intersection of the datafication of capital and the capitalization of data. The key image here is a centralized, seemingly all-seeing platform with the power to aggregate, analyze, and visualize the data gathered from across the city’s network of sensors, and from which “weak signals” pointing towards an emerging crisis or opportunity can be identified and acted upon....

As crisis frames the Smart Nation’s urban dashboard, the latter turns the former into a material-semiotic operation, pegging motion to vision as it drives down the road and clears the dirt, reinscribing the geo-body of the nation as it does. While in most parts of the world, the infrastructure of the city renders it a political exception to the rest of the country, in Singapore the Smart Nation recuperates the nation through an infrastructure of crisis.
smart_cities  singapore  big_data  urban_planning  dashboards  my_work  surveillance  crisis 
april 2018 by shannon_mattern
5G Cell Service Is Coming. Who Decides Where It Goes? - The New York Times
But who gets to decide when, where and how it gets delivered is still a heated fight.

The new technology, known as 5G, delivers wireless internet at far faster speeds than existing cellular connections. But it also requires different hardware to deliver the signals.

Instead of relying on large towers placed far apart, the new signals will come from smaller equipment placed an average of 500 feet apart in neighborhoods and business districts. Much of the equipment will be on streetlights or utility poles, often accompanied by containers the size of refrigerators on the ground. More than 300,000 cell stations now provide wireless connections, and 5G will bring hundreds of thousands — perhaps millions — more.

The prospect of their installation has many communities and their officials, from Woodbury, N.Y., to Olympia, Wash., insisting that local governments control the placement and look of the new equipment. They say that the cell stations could clutter neighborhoods with eyesores and cost the communities a lot of potential revenue.
cell_phones  telecommunications  infrastructure  nimbyism  urban_planning 
march 2018 by shannon_mattern
City Noise Might Be Making You Sick - The Atlantic
Similar approaches can work today. Instead of punishing individual transportation workers whose trucks may be too old, a more comprehensive solution could target the Department of Transportation, with demands to repave worn roads with the porous asphalt configurations used in Europe to reduce tire noise. Likewise, any move toward using renewable energy sources will result in a quieter environment, as coal and oil extraction are extremely noisy labors. At the local and state level, demanding funding for repairs and improvement to outdated transit infrastructure will greatly reduce the noise caused by trains, cars, and trucks.

Urban-planning approaches to eliminating noise on a city-by-city basis can be as simple as taking a single lane away from cars and giving it to bicycles, people, or green space. Improving, expanding, and properly funding public transit removes cars from the road, both reducing the sound they produce and replacing it with quieter options like trams and high-speed light-rail. In architecture, acoustics should play a greater role in all structures, from mundane apartment buildings to the grandest art museums. Noise control should be a consideration from the very first planning stage, rather than tacked on as an afterthought.
urban_planning  sound_space  noise  sound_design 
february 2018 by shannon_mattern
Sidewalk Labs: Google’s Guinea-Pig City in Toronto - The Atlantic
The framework agreement also calls for an “Urban Innovation Institute” at Quayside. Sidewalk’s vision document seems to see it as a quasi-­academic organization, “a place for collaboration and discussion, and an unprecedented opportunity for faculty and students to test their ideas in a real urban environment.” But it doesn’t talk about partnering with any of Toronto’s many universities and colleges. It’s unclear whether this would be an academic research unit subject to an academic ethics review board, or a private resource where researchers would work on Sidewalk’s technology portfolio. Sidewalk’s spokesperson told me the matter had not been settled....

To facilitate those interactions, a public-engagement plan offers many ways Torontonians can engage. They include live-streamed talks, public roundtables, Sidewalk Toronto “pop-up stations,” a “design jam” with architects and planners, and a two-day CivicLabs workshop on “issues like mobility, housing, and inclusion.” Interested citizens can also send their children to a free “Sidewalk Toronto Summer Kids Camp.”....

If the Sidewalk Toronto project were implemented as described in the vision document, the area would become some of the most heavily surveilled real estate on the planet. Sidewalk describes neighborhoods “over-provisioned” with “a broad range of sensors” to “enable parallel experimentation with multiple technology approaches.” Data from these sensors would be stored and processed to feed controls for everything from the ambient temperature of buildings to crosswalk signals to the assigned uses of adaptable private and public spaces. As the Eastern Waterfront is optimized to Sidewalk’s standards, whatever those are, the tech underlying also benefits, primed for redeployment in other locales.

When I asked about data gathering, Lasher responded, “We’re not going to gather up all Torontonians’ data and sell it, we’re not building Sensorville.” But in this case, the sale of resident data might be of less concern than its use. Residents and visitors to the Sidewalk site would provide valuable benefit to Sidewalk, allowing their daily lives to help optimize technology for Sidewalk’s broader commercial venture. Harvesting data from citizens, including children and those in need of affordable housing, is an aspect of the Sidewalk Toronto project that deserves careful thought....

If “ubiquitous sensing” (Sidewalk’s term) is a goal within the Sidewalk Toronto neighborhood, its effects are already being felt in the rest of Toronto. Doctoroff is talking about launching tech pilots “right now” in different locations around the city, beyond Quayside. These pilot projects would let Sidewalk show off its tech and drum up enthusiasm over a long planning cycle. They might also normalize the experience of being a free-range experimental population within the city....

Sidewalk has defined the terms of the conversation, placing government and critics in the position of responding to Sidewalk’s techno-utopian picture book, and casting themselves as enemies of innovation if they dispute it....

The power of storytelling is nothing new to Doctoroff. In Greater Than Ever, his new book on his time in the Bloomberg administration, Doctoroff talks at length about preparing detailed, emotionally affecting presentations to sell city officials and private funders on the idea of a New York Olympic bid in 1996. Doctoroff’s presentation invoked West Side Story, Lincoln Center, Central Park, and the Statue of Liberty to convince his audience that “hosting the Olympics could spur New York’s next big leap forward.” Sidewalk’s vision document plucks on similar urban heartstrings, anchoring itself with hand-drawn illustrations of hyper-local Torontonian landmarks and icons. ...

Perhaps it’s more useful to review the vision document less as a promise, and more as a statement of Sidewalk’s urbanist ideology. It offers a blueprint for Alphabet’s idea of a city, whether in Toronto or elsewhere.

Take real estate, for example. The document emphasizes affordable housing and a diversity of planned neighborhoods. But the reconfigurable buildings Sidewalk proposes are structured in a way that seems to preclude long-term, individual ownership of an apartment or a storefront. Residential and commercial spaces appear to be designed for brief, transitional tenancies, built for “ongoing and frequent interior changes around a strong skeletal structure.”...

Sidewalk’s emphasis on pop-up shops, fast-cycling start-ups, and next-gen bazaars doesn’t seem to balance innovation with the routine needs of a livable neighborhood. Sidewalk likes to invoke Jane Jacobs, for whom Toronto was an adopted home, when talking about the benefits of flexible zoning. But Jacobs also emphasized the need to avoid fast turnover in businesses and residences, so that stable neighborhoods could develop. ...

Sidewalk also seems to want to sidestep existing land-use policies to accomplish its goals. It says “outmoded regulations” hold cities back from achieving their full innovative potential. In order for Sidewalk’s “climate-positive,” “adaptable” buildings to be deployed at a large enough scale to be cost-efficient, “a new paradigm in the building code” will be required. Likewise, innovations in transport and energy production “may require substantial forbearances from existing laws and regulations.” Sidewalk advocates “outcome-based” building and zoning codes, a style of regulating construction and development that relies on modeling and real-time monitoring to allow “flexible buildings” to be used for a broad range of uses in real time.... Sidewalk’s “city of the future” might best be compared to a special economic zone, an area of regulatory exemption that allows it to innovate to its heart’s content, beyond the normal laws of its host municipality.
sidewalk_labs  sensors  surveillance  smart_cities  zoning  urban_planning 
february 2018 by shannon_mattern
How cities can use machine learning to track citizens - Curbed
Whyte’s Street Life Project was a revelation. Whyte offered nuggets not of gold, but of actionable data, which helped shape city policy: peak versus off-peak activity, average densities, walking patterns. Called “one of America’s most influential observers of the city,” Whyte’s insights and hard-earned wisdom informed New York’s 1969 city plan, helped revise its zoning code, and turned once-squalid Bryant Park into a prized public space.

What’s inspiring and a little mind-boggling about Whyte’s process is that until relatively recently, planners still practiced that type of time-consuming manual observation. Infrared cameras and other technologies have been around for years to make data-gathering easier. But often, going beyond surveys, personal observations, and educated guesses required hand counts and film study.

With smartphones in our pockets, and smart city technology increasingly embraced by local leaders, it may seem like we’re already awash in a flood of urban data. But that’s a drizzle next to the oncoming downpour that may radically transform our understanding of cities and how they function. Two rapidly rising technologies—computer vision and machine learning—offer the potential to revolutionize understanding of urban life....

Planners will use all that data to ask questions, and make decisions, about people, says Justin Hollander, a professor at Tufts University who runs the Urban Attitudes Lab and explores the intersection of design and technology. Human-centered design, as pioneered by urbanists such as Jan Gehl, will enter a new phase. It will threaten traditionally analog methods of design, turning planning into more of a science.

“When I worked as an urban planner, we did the best that we could to shape buildings, streets, and sidewalks to meet environmental and economic development goals,” says Hollander. “But we never got into the head of the people who used these spaces.”...

WeWork’s level of vertical integration—the same company designs, remodels, and operates the space—explains why they’ve embraced this technology in ways that standard architecture firms haven’t. As owners, they can react to the data and fix areas that are underperforming, a luxury available to few other designers. They can also anticipate user needs: By feeding data through machine-learning algorithms, they can predict how much a particular proposed meeting room will be used before it’s even built.

Capturing intent, and then creating a circular relationship between designing and building—analysis, design, evaluation, then redesign—suggests how this technology can lead to more human-focused design and urban planning....

As Aggarwala’s company begins outreach, planning, and eventually design for its smart city project in Toronto, the most high-profile effort to build a neighborhood “from the internet up,” he says one of the guiding factors is designing a natural space for pedestrians. Crossings should feel safe. Pavement with embedded LED lights could change color based on changing uses, offering subtle cues. Dynamic wayfinding and signage, which showed directions to coffee shops in the morning, will switch in the evening to highlight nearby restaurants and bars. Adaptive traffic signals will recognize pedestrians, cyclists, and transit vehicles at intersections to improve safety, and an autonomous shuttle might ferry residents across the neighborhood. He wants to design something so interactive and understanding that people will put down their phones....

if changes to the city’s physical landscape are made in parallel with changes in usage and demographics, it would represent a shift in urban planning, policy, and budgeting. A team of researchers from MIT, Harvard, and the National Bureau of Economic Research published a study that used years of Google Street View imagery and machine learning to identify the physical improvements that increased perceptions of neighborhood safety over time (including population density, a higher proportion of college-educated adults, and a higher proportion of Hispanic residents living in the neighborhood). Apply those findings in reverse, and cities could track neighborhoods and adjust to future safety issues before they become serious problems.

“Now, we’ll finally be able to adjust capital plans and budgets with actual data,” he says. “You can win arguments because you have the numbers. In the past, it was just about doing what’s been done in the past, because that’s safe. Nobody could attack you for that, until now.”

Scaling these technologies to the city level, and blanketing an entire neighborhood with cameras and sensors (what Aggarwala and others have described as a “digital layer”), requires extensive infrastructure spending and bandwidth costs. Toronto has the advantage of Sidewalk Labs funding development and data collection—and the privacy concerns that come with a private company gathering unprecedented amounts of information about the public. ...

The company recently designed its own monitor and camera—housed in a PVC pipe, it looks a bit like a cup dispenser—that can be affixed to any utility pole or street sign. A low-cost solution, which recently won an award as one of the top five most promising technologies at the international Smart City Expo World Congress, it’s already been installed in four U.S. cities, with three more regions in the planning stages....

In Numina’s short existence, it’s already helped cities start that data-design feedback loop. In Jacksonville, Florida, a city with one of the highest pedestrian fatality rates in the U.S., Numina sensors were set up at a dozen intersections. At one site, near a bus station, constant monitoring discovered that, amid the bustle of passengers arriving and boarding, there was one pathway pedestrians repeatedly took to jaywalk. The city thought it might need to redesign the entire intersection. Instead, data showed the most quick and effective fix was creating a mid-block crossing with $30 worth of paint....

Sussman has been focused on figuring out how humans react to architecture on a more unconscious level. By staging photo comparisons, and tracking minute facial reactions, she’s gained a better understanding of the kinds of design that make us happy: active and busy fenestration patterns, like the ones found in Paris and Boston, engage viewers. Symmetry, like the canals of Amsterdam, calms, while large, blank facades, like those found on some Brutalist buildings such as Boston’s City Hall, confuse, since they don’t offer more information when viewers get closer, an innate expectation of our reptile brains.

Hollander, who collaborates with Sussman, has taken this line of experimentation and inquiry even further, with experiments that tested the health and well-being of people in certain areas and neighborhoods.... Using an array of biometrics, including electroencephalograms (EEGs), to measure brain activity and facial analysis, he tracked whether certain improvements and renovations made any difference in how people felt about the buildings....

Aggarwala argues that systems being developed now would actually have much more potential privacy protection than the video projects of William H. Whyte: All they need for analysis is a figure’s outline, which can provide information without compromising anybody’s individual identification. Planners and designers can still create cities and spaces that feel “like any other place, but better,” without violating privacy.

As the physical world becomes more digital, we will find ourselves facing the same issues exploring the sidewalks as we do using a web browser: What’s the right balance between privacy and convenience, or personalization and surveillance?
machine_learning  machine_vision  urban_data  smart_cities  urban_planning 
january 2018 by shannon_mattern
Playing the Metropolis of Tomorrow
We use video games as an alternative model of computation to speak about
real conditions, and allow people to inhabit these worlds through playable interfaces.
video_games  urban_planning  simulation 
december 2017 by shannon_mattern
Microscopic Colonialism - e-flux Architecture - e-flux
In the 1920s, sanitary discourses entered urban planning in a more radical form, as the principle of spatial segregation took hold. In European cities this was manifested in the zoning legislations that sought to keep apart the different urban functions (housing, industry, leisure) on sanitary grounds. At the same time, in the colonies, the separation of Europeans and non-Europeans was justified with the need to shield the former from diseases (such as malaria) supposedly harbored by the latter.27 Using medical knowledge to grant racial theories a new level of pseudoscientific legitimacy, colonial administrators formalized and enforced residential segregation. In Douala, the larger city of the German Kamerun, the chief physician went even further, arguing that the African part of the city had to be separated from the European one by a “neutral zone”—a strip of vacant land one kilometer wide that would minimize the possibilities of contagion. The concept of the neutral zone was subsequently taken up by colonial planners all around Africa, and by architects too.28
In October 1928 Auguste Tilkens, governor general of the Belgian Congo, wrote to the Ministre des colonies in Brussels, relating his visit to Léopoldville which he had undertaken to study the implementation of a zone neutre. In the lette
urban_planning  public_health 
december 2017 by shannon_mattern
Desperately Seeking Cities | Online Only | n+1
The value of the Amazon contest is that it has laid bare a fundamental contradiction of contemporary urban life. Amazon appealed to cities—cannily, it must be said—to narrate themselves: what makes them unique, such that Amazon should locate there? The result was that all cities ended up putting forward the same, boring virtues and “legacy assets”: some parks, some universities, some available land, some tax breaks, some restaurants. Each city, it turned out, was indistinguishable from every other city: “thirty-six hours . . . in the same beer garden, museum, music venue, and ‘High Line’-type urban park.” By the same token, all cities were forced to realize their basic inadequacy: that ultimately, all their tireless work to cultivate their urbanity amounted to nothing if they did not have Amazon....

The most serious academic riposte to the urbanist ideology has been Michael Storper’s Keys to the City (2013), which demonstrates comprehensively what one might always have guessed, and what the Amazon contest has proven: the location of businesses, rather than the walkability, density, and diversity of a city, determines its economic health. A statistically insignificant portion of the country will up and move to Dallas because they are fiending for breakfast tacos that they can sort of walk to, near a private-public partnership-funded park that caps a freeway where they can sort of enjoy them. Most people, however, move to a place in search of jobs, not “urbanism.” ...

Among the calls most prominent—a takeover of the local party structure, an end to mass incarceration, a guarantee of healthcare, reinvestment in schools—there is still the unfinished work of planning. Left untouched, cities will rely on Amazon to do it for them.
media_city  amazon  placemaking  branding  urban_planning  smart_cities 
november 2017 by shannon_mattern
Ostrom in the City: Design Principles for the Urban Commons – The Nature of Cities
Elinor Ostrom’s groundbreaking research established that it is possible to collaboratively manage common pool resources, or commons, for economic and environmental sustainability. She identified the conditions or principles which increase the likelihood of long-term, collective governance of shared resources. Although these principles have been widely studied and applied to a range of common pool resources, including natural and digital commons, there has not been a serious effort to apply them to the urban commons. Can the Ostrom design principles be applied to cities to rethink the governance of cities and the management of their resources? We think they cannot be simply adapted to the city context without significant modification....

Ostrom’s ideas cannot be used in the city the way they were in the nature. Ostrom’s framework needs to be adapted to the reality of urban environments, which are already congested, heavily regulated and socially and economically complex. Without such adaptation, Ostrom’s design principles will be lost in translation.

This is why, starting ten years ago, we both began to explore the governance of the urban commons as a separate body of study (first investigating individually how different kinds of urban assets, urban public space such as community gardens and urban infrastructure such as urban roads, could be reconceived as urban commons, and later jointly to conceive the whole city as a commons). We realized that we needed a different approach to bridge urban studies and commons studies and therefore to pose a slightly different set of questions for governance of the urban commons. We also needed to define a different set of design principles for the commons in the city and the city itself as a commons.
urban_design  urban_planning  commons 
august 2017 by shannon_mattern
A History of Zoning in Three Acts - Part I — Strong Towns
Zoning is an umbrella term for a (usually) vast set of regulations that determine where you can build, what you can build, and what activities you can engage in on your property. Some common building elements that are covered by zoning include:

Height
Setbacks (how far from the property line your building can be)
Lot coverage (how much of your land can be used for buildings)...

To understand the legal underpinnings of US zoning, it is important to understand two legal concepts: nuisance and police power. In essence, nuisance law concerns cases where one person’s activity has a negative effect on another person’s property. Under nuisance law, if you dump toxic chemicals that leach onto my land, I can sue you in court for damages.

Police power refers to the ability of a government to regulate the affairs of its citizens in order to ensure the “health, safety, morals, and general welfare” of its people. That phrase is important and one we will revisit on occasion throughout this series. Police power is important because it represents a proactive action to prevent or eliminate harm. For zoning, the idea is that a city can regulate the use of land in order to avoid the nuisance conditions before they happen. This is a concept we will investigate further in part two of this series.

Given its theoretical underpinnings in nuisance and police power, modern zoning was not invented out of thin air. There are many examples of regulations, foreign and domestic, even from pre-Constitutional times, dictating the legal use of real property and the form of buildings thereon.
urban_planning  zoning 
august 2017 by shannon_mattern
Theaster Gates on the Politics of What We Preserve | NewBlackMan (in Exile)
'We preserve the legacy of some people and cultures, while allowing others to fade into obscurity —  but make no mistake, says innovative artist Theaster Gates, that process isn't neutral. His new exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario, How To Build a House Museum, takes a closer look at what we deem worthy of memorializing, what we bother to preserve, and why it matters.'
archives  libraries  community_art  community_archives  urban_planning  theaster_gates 
august 2017 by shannon_mattern
IASC: The Hedgehog Review - Volume 19, No. 2 (Summer 2017) - Saving the Soul of the Smart City -
But the smart city as it is actually coming into being raises a darker question: What would we be willing to trade for a cleaner, safer, more efficient, more sustainable, and even more pleasurable urban existence? For cities across the world, this is the overwhelming challenge of daily governance. Closer to home, we confront this question in our worries over the loss of autonomy and privacy amid the technological web of surveillance and interconnectedness we are spinning for ourselves. We confront it in the ways such smart technologies are already optimizing the quality of life for some while only intensifying inequality for others. At the deepest cultural level, we confront the question of autonomy versus convenience in the ways such technologies generate new forms of social control that are accepted because they appear to be backed by the authority of science and have been proven effective at improving our aggregate well-being. Taking a hard look at the smart city requires that we ask not only where it might fail to live up to the promises of its boosters, but also where it is successful and how it might nonetheless still fail us as citizens and as human beings....

But Bloomberg is not alone in his obsession with bringing data and measurement into the study and management of cities. Once again, long-standing intellectual aspirations are finding renewed vigor in the new science of cities. Quantitative urbanism, as it has come to be known, is focused on discovering the deep, universal laws of urban life and reducing what once seemed irreducible—the buzzing chaos of cities—to mathematical formulas by which to better manage its key functions....

“The ballet of the good city sidewalk,” Jacobs famously wrote, “never repeats itself from place to place, and in any one place is always replete with new improvisations.”28 Such emergence, as Hannah Arendt reminds us, can come only “against the overwhelming odds of statistical laws and their probability, which for all practical, everyday purposes amounts to certainty; the new therefore always appears in the guise of a miracle.”29

Some, Jacobs and Arendt would agree, can come only through the civic friction that physical proximity and cultural particularity generate, and which can lead to genuine dialogue with our neighbors. But some, the philosopher Charles Taylor would remind us, come ultimately through the cultivation of the skills and virtues that power our commitments to working for the good of one another, even possibly at the expense of our own convenience and comforts. If the smart city is to contribute to a thriving human ecology oriented toward truth, justice, and goodness as well as prosperity, beauty, and sustainability, we stand in urgent need of a deep ethical and political turn that will help us cultivate the unoptimizable things for the purposes of making the city not just smart, but wise.
smart_cities  my_work  urban_planning  big_data  urban_intelligence 
july 2017 by shannon_mattern
City Planning Launches New Civic Tech Project
NYC Planning Labs, a new unit in the Department of City Planning introduced on Monday, is a next step in both civic technology and city planning. Planning Labs will use open platforms that will engage people outside of city government, but largely work to provide tools to others at City Planning, so they can find solutions to the city’s planning challenges as New York continues to grow and the de Blasio administration moves ahead with its affordable housing, community development, and other initiatives.

The new effort intends to “bring civic data to life through interactive maps and visualizations, create tools to help New Yorkers better understand the built environment, and build simple web-based tools to streamline internal workflows,” according to the NYC Planning Labs website....

One of the systems created during this time was the NYC Facilities Explorer, which can show exactly how many education centers, libraries, parks, public safety facilities, and health and human services are available in any given area of the five boroughs.

Equipped with a color-coded legend, this interactive map makes massive amounts of data  far easier to digest than a spreadsheet and can clearly show which communities have more or fewer resources....

to implement and promote the use of agile methods, human-centered design, and open technology to support the above, maximizing the benefits of community-driven product development.”...

Web map explorers can have flaws. Missing records or inaccurate data can sometimes skew the visual information, and while this is not the only type of technology NYC Planning Labs will be working with, it is an example of how even modern systems have weaknesses....

Whong also said, “We will be taking on small builds to maximize reach around the agency. These projects must have a well-defined problem and may include new interfaces for the agency's map and data products, or lightweight web tools...We are not limited just to web-based projects, and may also have hardware, IoT [Internet of Things], or design-oriented engagements with our customers.”
urban_planning  urban_tech  smart_cities  civic_tech  civic_engagement 
july 2017 by shannon_mattern
A Neighborhood Plan Created Through Text Messages - CityLab
This isn’t necessarily a radical or new platform—community board meetings, for instance, have been around a long time, serving as spaces for residents to come out and get involved in their own neighborhoods. But the crowdsourcing efforts behind the Brownsville Plan carved out a new kind of space for neighborhood engagement.
In a collaboration with the online platform coUrbanize, the department put up signs all over the neighborhood—in vacant lots and subway stations, in front of storefronts and restaurants—that asked residents to text thoughts about what they would like to see more of, or what needed improvement. The prompts were open-ended: “This space could use some love. What would you put here?” or “It’s kinda dark down here… How can we make Livonia a safer, friendlier street?”

Community input began last July and included dozens of advocacy organizations, the collaboration with coUrbanize, and the help of around 500 residents. Once a resident texted a response, they received a reply that would allow them to get updates on the planning process and keep them in the loop with details on future activities and meetings. The call for texts was kept open for six months, and the comments submitted (either via text or online) were mapped and categorized in a manner that made clear what residents thought Brownsville needed more of, and what the neighborhood should hold on to (the community garden, for example, needs to remain, according to one resident)....

Engaging the neighborhood in city planning isn’t a new concept, but it’s not always easy to do. “It’s a great idea to have an option of gathering information via text—it makes it accessible, especially for those who might not be able to attend community events because they’re homebound or working overtime,” says Giovania Tiarachristine, neighborhood planner at HPD. However, this platform is only complementary to the more personal crowdsourcing happening on the ground—“we can’t build a plan solely on online engagement,” Tiarachristine says. ...

How did the idea of using text messages to create a plan for one of New York’s poorest neighborhoods come about? According to Kawitzky, there has been a growing collaboration between municipalities and online platforms. Neighborland, mySidewalk, and Textizen were a few platforms they considered before landing on coUrbanize.“It’s becoming more routine for cities to integrate tech and data in their planning process,” he says. This has led to more and more startups getting involved in urban planning and design, points out Karin Brandt, cofounder and CEO of coUrbanize. “Cities and towns have a lot of interest in handling data now,” she says. “Technology can strongly support new kinds of crowdsourcing.”...

coUrbanize’s texting and mapping strategy has been used in similar capacities by the city of Boston as well as in suburban New Jersey. Brandt has noticed that, in any neighborhood, the first step is asking residents questions they can answer without industry jargon. “In planning meetings, they might talk about something like zoning, which requires a degree of specific knowledge,” she says. But by simply asking residents to share ideas about their neighborhood, the barrier to participation is lowered—and it takes about five seconds. “If you make the first step easy, you’ve increased your odds,” she adds.
smart_cities  urban_planning  civic_engagement  public_process  texting 
july 2017 by shannon_mattern
Model Lab
When cities tackle transportation problems, they create simulation models in which travelers move about cities: going to work, dropping children off at school, running errands. Typically these simulations are based on survey data that is expensive, coarse, and infrequently collected. As the pace of transportation innovation accelerates, cities need more accurate, real-time data to effectively inform planning decisions.

By relying on high fidelity data, new approaches to modeling can lead to faster policies and greater consensus. Location-based data can be anonymized to protect consumer privacy and then made useful to urban planners, leading to models that are informed with fresher, cheaper, and more precise data than ever before. If cities can improve data quality, reduce planning time, and extract good ideas from the community, we can create a future in which governments are more nimble, responsive, and effective.
sidewalk_labs  modeling  urban_planning  smart_cities  urban_data 
june 2017 by shannon_mattern
NYC Planning Department launches 'Labs' unit to boost innovation - Technical.ly Brooklyn
A new unit from the NYC Planning Department will aim to make the work of planning the systems of this enormously complicated city easier, more efficient and more open. (The group’s full charter was posted to GitHub, for example.)

The NYC Planning Labs announced itself to the world Monday morning, with a promise to incorporate state-of-the-art technology and best practices to the Planning Department. Mapping guru Chris Whong will head the unit.

“We are focusing on small projects that can go from concept to shipped in 4 to 6 weeks, with our customers being the internal divisions of the agency,” a message from the NYC Planning Department reads. “These can be web map explorers similar to the NYC Facilities Explorer, interactive data visualizations and animations, or simple purpose-built data tools that replace or complement our Planners’ routine workflows.”
big_data  mapping  data_visualization  urban_planning 
june 2017 by shannon_mattern
What Will Google’s Smart City Look Like? | StateTech Magazine
StateScoop reports that the goal of the smart city will be to address five intensifying issues plaguing urban living and development, including:

The rising cost of housing — Pre-made modular housing units could cut down construction costs by 30 percent.
Long commutes — A system that enables all modes of transit — ridesharing, public transit, driverless cars, walking and cycling — could reduce congestion.
Environmental sustainability — Implementing thermal transfer technologies could reduce costs and cut back on wasted energy.
Ubiquitous connectivity — A solid, high-speed connectivity infrastructure that provides online access to residents is necessary to enable the city’s technology aims and provide data-driven services.
Creating a new “public realm” — Introducing self-driving cars can help open up space for pedestrians and public parks, the types of spaces that define cities.
“The future of cities lies in the way these urban experiences fit together and improve quality of life for everyone living, working and growing up in cities across the world,” Doctoroff said at the conference. “Yet there is not a single city today that can stand as a model — or even close — for our urban future.”

Chasing Cheaper Urban Living Through an Idyllic Smart City

Sidewalk Labs has been pursuing the idea of a smart city built from the ground up for some time now, recently engaging in a “thought experiment” around introducing technologies in every aspect of city life.

Doctoroff is pursuing the idea that “a combination of digital technologies — ubiquitous connectivity, social networks, sensing, machine learning and artificial intelligence, and new design and fabrication technologies — would help bring about a revolution in urban life,” he writes in a November blog post.

The idea is to revolutionize urban experiences, but the issue is also that existing buildings and city infrastructure are not built to be connected. Starting from scratch could help to infuse these technologies throughout the new infrastructure.

“We recognized that you can never truly plan a city. Instead you can lay the foundations and let people create on top of it,” Doctoroff wrote.
The new 12-acre strip in the downtown district in Toronto, built on smart city values and internet backbone, will look to test the models Sidewalk Labs has been theorizing: how connected tech can improve city life at every level.

“We’ve found that applying urban innovations at scale could reduce cost of living by 14 percent compared to surrounding metro areas for an average family in America,” Doctoroff told StateScoop.
sidewalk_labs  smart_cities  toronto  urban_planning 
june 2017 by shannon_mattern
Why do we Talk about Cities as Laboratories? – Andrew R. Schrock – Medium
Robert Kohler’s book Landscapes and Labscapes traced the lab-field border in biology in the late 19th — 20th century. The boundary between lab and field was frequently crossed and re-crossed. Dirt from the field was brought into the laboratory, while researchers took tents full of research instrumentation into the field. A labscape was a “cultural zone with its own complex topography of practices and distinctions.” The hybrids Kohler traced over time enabled ways to balance control and openness while translating research to the broader public. Biologists in the late 19th century used a lineage of natural history to solidify public appeal. By the 1930s and 1940s “practices of place” emerged where biologists augmented field practices to treat particular places as sites for making causal claims through systematic observations and interpretations. The flow not only went both ways, but enabled new hybrid research concepts such as the “natural experiment” to enter the scientific world.
Perhaps the most famous study of the laboratory is Latour and Woolgar’s Laboratory Life from 1979. They approached labs with an anthropologist’s eye. Most radically, they suggested that facts were socially constructed through instrumentation, lab talk, and publications. While the copious volumes in “laboratory studies” they founded evades easy summary, the distinction between inside and outside is particularly important....

In 1915’s The City, sociologist Robert E. Park described cities as complex, autonomous environments. They were “the natural habitat of civilized man” — living environments composed of traditions, cultures, behaviors and machinery mutually influencing one another. Cities also gave tangibility to the most pressing social problems. Chicago was the site of research and the Chicago School of Sociology that advocated an egalitarian and organic perspective on urban life.
To Park, the laboratory metaphor denoted the city simultaneously as a field site, source of empirical data, and site of experimentation. The prevailing wisdom of the day was that cities were harmful and dehumanizing. Park, by contrast, situated cities as beneficial ecosystems. Cities could be mapped and studied much an oceanographer would research a coral reef or a forester would approach a forest. The empirical “bottom-up” approach to social research Park and his collaborator Eve Burgess suggested was enormously influential on urban sociology....

In 1937, around the same as “practices of place” were taking off in biology, Park explicitly started framing cities as “social laboratories.” At the time, sociology was searching for legitimation as a social science. He took an ecological perspective on cities, framing them as living organisms. This was exciting and cutting-edge stuff at the time: thinking about all the moving parts of transportation, individuals, housing, and businesses that comprise cities as being “alive.” Approaching cities as laboratories provided insight into human collectivity and made social problems visible, but also controllable.

Park used scientific methods of maps and surveys to gain insight on human attitudes and behavior. These data, then, could capture the various moving pieces that constituted urban life.

The history of “city as lab” gives coherence to the range of public and private actors that adopt the metaphor. They seek recognition as authorities with empirical knowledge and the ability to intervene in unruly cities. They are activated by a bundling of ideas that reminds us of Park’s interest in cities simultaneously as a “truth spot,” a site for experimentation, and an opportunity for legitimizing reform. City-lab enthusiasts want to show that that particular interventions can lead to tangible positive results for residents. “City as laboratory” is a perfect metaphor for progressive improvements to civic life.
cities  urban_planning  laboratories  chicago_school 
may 2017 by shannon_mattern
A first step toward creating a digital planning laboratory is populating it
At Model Lab, we believe robust simulation tools can help illuminate and inform the benefits and costs of transport-related service, policy, and infrastructure decisions. To understand how transportation interventions impact communities, the models we build need to adequately represent every person living in a community today and every person expected to be living there tomorrow. Our first step in creating a model system that achieves this goal is a toolkit we call Doppelgänger. What’s unique about Doppelgänger is that it pairs two cutting-edge technical capabilities — convex optimization and Bayesian Networks — into the same open source modeling tool, enabling the urban planning community to take a significant step forward with population analysis...

To protect the privacy of respondents, Census data is delivered at different geographies and across different periods of time. For example, the best estimate of the number of households in a community may be available for each Census block from the Decennial Census (last conducted in 2010), and the best estimate of household income may be the five-year rolling data product from the American Community Survey for each Census tract. Combining these disparate data sets to create a coherent and complete representation of what is happening in a community at any point in time is difficult. It’s a bit like trying to completely understand a subject from photos that are taken from different angles, at different points in time, from different distances. Further complicating the problem, urban planners like to use non-Census data sets, such as school quality, that may introduce yet another set of geographies (e.g., school districts)....

Doppelgänger is here to help. It belongs to a class of tools that urban modelers refer to as “population synthesizers.” As their name implies, population synthesizers create synthetic populations — virtual communities with detailed descriptions of the households and people that live in them. These tools attempt to consume all of the data sets created by the Census Bureau (as well as other sources) to create a complete and internally consistent virtual representation of a given community. More broadly, Doppelgänger enables planners to create a set of virtual households that accurately reflects real neighborhoods, cities, regions, or states, along any dimension relevant to the problem at hand. ...

Bayes Nets act as a means of extracting useful relationships from one data set that can then be applied to other data sets. For example, consider a data set that, for a relatively small sample of households, contains information on each household’s number of people, income, and number of vehicles. We can train a Bayes Net on this data to understand the relationship between these three variables. ... The relationships labeled in the graph as A, B, and C are, in a Bayes Net, probability vectors relating outcomes in the destination box conditional on the outcomes of the origin box. Now consider a much larger data set of households that describes only the number people in each household and their household income — this data set is silent on household vehicles. If we believe that the Bayes Net trained on the smaller data set is relevant to the larger data set, we can use the Bayes Net to estimate household vehicle levels in the larger data set. In other words, we can use the Bayes Net to infer the number of vehicles each household owns.
urban_planning  urban_data  smart_cities  modeling  prediction  mapping  methodology  population 
may 2017 by shannon_mattern
A key to democratizing urban solutions is building better models
So how do urbanists seek information on the potential efficacy of urban planning solutions? We build models. As Sidewalk reimagines cities for the digital age, Model Lab is exploring new ways to approach modeling as a means toward addressing big urban challenges. Models can be used to shape, test, get stakeholder feedback on, and adjust ideas related to land use, transportation, government processes, and many other areas of city life....

The conceit of transportation models (and those looking at other areas of urban life) is that by representing individual decision-making we can learn something about how these decisions lead to a collective impact on a system, and in turn, about how the impacted system affects individual decision-making....

What would make a traveler more or less willing to share a ride? What is the traveler trying to optimize? Cost? Time? Comfort? Convenience? All of the above? A first pass of model variables may include: time and cost, relative to other alternatives; a willingness to share a small space with other people; the physical difficulty of entering or exiting a shared vehicle; and, the perceived burden of out-of-my-way travel necessary to serve other passengers. Does your model have any variables we missed?...

Thinking about how individual preferences intersect with policies — or infrastructure and services — is only the beginning of the fun of building models. Our next step is to translate these preferences and policies into mathematical expressions and then turn these mathematical expressions into computer simulations. Then we compare, over and over, the performance of these simulations against observed outcomes. When we’re done we have a model — one that we hope is useful...

Models provide the opportunity to create a dispassionate venue in which ideas can be explored and tested by anyone interested in the topic at hand. To achieve this goal we must first build models that resonate with decision-makers and the public as credible, legible, realistic, and compelling. We must then allow anyone the ability to create their own solutions, and investigate and explore solutions created by others....

Efforts to improve models using these advances are already underway. Firms such as AirSage, Teralytics, and Streetlight Data have introduced mobile location data to the transportation planning field. Researchers and practitioners are now using location-based data to test the usefulness of machine learning techniques to urban planning problems....

The model provides immediate feedback on how each alternative performs in terms of traffic congestion, transit travel times, transit mode share, greenhouse gas emissions, and other measures. The small groups tinker with their ideas, seeking to optimize the measures they feel are most important — informing their group discussion. The modeling tool used in the workshop is the same one that will be used throughout the project’s life. This consistency allows people to engage at the same level as professional planners do.... The city planners encourage the participants to be skeptical of the model results and question the assumptions driving the simulation. Models are only as good as the information we put into them, and important assumptions are often contentious. The modeling software allows the groups to adjust certain assumptions about behavior or future land developments. After leaving the meeting, residents are encouraged to try out other ideas and alternatives with the model, which are accessible online....

Today, the planning work I’ve described above can take months, if not years. If cities can reduce this time to weeks and extract good ideas from the community, we can create a future in which residents are more engaged and governments are more nimble, responsive, and effective.
urban_planning  models  modeling  simulation  governance  public_process 
april 2017 by shannon_mattern
Jane Jacobs and the Death and Life of American Planning
a swelling perception, especially among young scholars and practitioners, that planning is a diffuse and ineffective field, and that it has been largely unsuccessful over the last half century at its own game: bringing about more just, sustainable, healthful, efficient and beautiful cities and regions. It was there because of a looming sense that planners in America lack the agency or authority to turn idealism into reality, that planning has neither the prestige nor the street cred to effect real change.

To understand the roots of this sense of impotence requires us to dial back to the great cultural shift that occurred in planning beginning in the 1960s. The seeds of discontent sown then brought forth new and needed growth, which nonetheless choked out three vital aspects of the profession — its disciplinary identity, professional authority and visionary capacity....

It is well known that city planning in the United States evolved out of the landscape architectural profession during the late Olmsted era. Planning’s core expertise was then grounded and tangible, concerned chiefly with accommodating human needs and functions on the land, from the scale of the site to that of entire regions. One of the founders of the Chapel Hill program, F. Stuart Chapin, Jr. (whose first degree was in architecture), described planning as “a means for systematically anticipating and achieving adjustment in the physical environment of a city consistent with social and economic trends and sound principles of civic design.” 3 The goal was to create physical settings that would help bring about a more prosperous, efficient and equitable society. And in many ways the giants of prewar planning — Olmsted Jr., Burnham, Mumford, Stein and Wright, Nolen, and Gilmore D. Clarke — were successful in doing just that...

The postwar period was something else altogether. By then, middle-class Americans were buying cars and moving to the suburbs in record numbers. The urban core was being depopulated. Cities were losing their tax base, buildings were being abandoned, neighborhoods were falling victim to blight. Planners and civic leaders were increasingly desperate to save their cities. Help came soon enough from Uncle Sam. Passage of the 1949 Housing Act, with its infamous Title I proviso, made urban renewal a legitimate target for federal funding. Flush with cash, city redevelopment agencies commissioned urban planners to prepare slum-clearance master plans. Vibrant ethnic neighborhoods — including the one my mother grew up in near the Brooklyn Navy Yard — were blotted out by Voisinian superblocks or punched through with expressways meant to make downtown accessible to suburbanites. Postwar urban planners thus abetted some of the most egregious acts of urban vandalism in American history. Of course, they did not see it this way. Most believed, like Lewis Mumford, that America’s cities were suffering an urban cancer wholly untreatable by the “home remedies” Jane Jacobs was brewing and that the strong medicine of slum clearance was just what the doctor ordered....

Thus ensued the well-deserved backlash against superblock urbanism and the authoritarian, we-experts-know-best brand of planning that backed it. And the backlash came, of course, from a bespectacled young journalist named Jane Jacobs. Her 1961 The Death and Life of Great American Cities, much like the paperwork Luther nailed to the Schlosskirche Wittenberg four centuries earlier, sparked a reformation — this time within planning. To the rising generation of planners, coming of age in an era of cultural ferment and rebellion, Jacobs was a patron saint. ... But change did not come easily; the field was plunged into disarray. A glance at the July 1970 Journal of the American Institute of Planners reveals a profession gripped by a crisis of mission, purpose and relevance....

So thoroughly internalized was the Jacobs critique that planners could see only folly and failure in the work of their forebears. Burnham’s grand dictum “Make no little plans” went from a battle cry to an embarrassment in less than a decade. Even so revered a figure as Sir Ebenezer Howard was now a pariah. Jacobs herself described the good man — one of the great progressives of the late Victorian era — as a mere “court reporter,” a clueless amateur who yearned “to do the city in” with “powerful and city-destroying ideas.” 6 Indeed, to Jacobs, not just misguided American urban renewal but the entire enterprise of visionary, rational, centralized planning was suspect. She was as opposed to new towns as she was to slum clearance — anything that threatened the vitality of traditional urban forms was the enemy. It is largely forgotten that the popular United Kingdom edition of Death and Life was subtitled “The Failure of Town Planning.” How odd that such a conservative, even reactionary, stance would galvanize an entire generation.....

The Jacobsians sought fresh methods of making cities work — from the grassroots and the bottom up. The subaltern was exalted, the master laid low. Drafting tables were tossed for pickets and surveys and spreadsheets. Planners sought new alliances in academe, beyond architecture and design — in political science, law, economics, sociology. But there were problems. First, none of the social sciences were primarily concerned with the city; at best they could be only partial allies. Second, planning was not taken seriously by these fields. ...

This brings us to the first of the three legacies of the Jacobsian turn: It diminished the disciplinary identity of planning. While the expanded range of scholarship and practice in the post-urban renewal era diversified the field, that diversification came at the expense of an established expertise — strong, centralized physical planning — that had given the profession visibility and identity both within academia and among “place” professions such as architecture and landscape architecture. ...

The second legacy of the Jacobsian revolution is related to the first: Privileging the grassroots over plannerly authority and expertise meant a loss of professional agency. In rejecting the muscular interventionism of the Burnham-Moses sort, planners in the 1960s identified instead with the victims of urban renewal. New mechanisms were devised to empower ordinary citizens to guide the planning process. This was an extraordinary act of altruism on our part; I can think of no other profession that has done anything like it....

The fatal flaw of such populism is that no single group of citizens — mainstream or marginalized, affluent or impoverished — can be trusted to have the best interests of society or the environment in mind when they evaluate a proposal. The literature on grassroots planning tends to assume a citizenry of Gandhian humanists. In fact, most people are not motivated by altruism but by self-interest....

...the same community activism has at times devolved into NIMBYism, causing several infill projects to be halted and helping drive development to greenfield sites. (Cows are slow to organize.) It’s made the local homeless shelter homeless itself, almost ended a Habitat for Humanity complex in Chapel Hill, and generated opposition to a much-needed transit-oriented development in the county seat of Hillsborough (more on this in a moment). And for what it’s worth, the shrillest opposition came not from rednecks or Tea Party activists but from highly educated “creative class” progressives who effectively weaponized Jane Jacobs to oppose anything they perceived as threatening the status quo...

The third legacy of the Jacobsian turn is perhaps most troubling of all: the seeming paucity among American planners today of the speculative courage and vision that once distinguished this profession. ...

Most of what was embraced post-Jacobs must remain — our expertise on public policy and economics, on law and governance and international development, on planning process and community involvement, on hazard mitigation and environmental impact, on ending poverty and encouraging justice and equality. But all these should be subordinated to core competencies related to placemaking, infrastructure and the physical environment, built and natural. I am not suggesting that we simply toss in a few studio courses and call it a day. Planners should certainly be versed in key theories of landscape and urban design. But more than design skills are needed if planning is to become — as I feel it must — the charter discipline and conscience of the placemaking professions in coming decades....

in addition to being taught courses in economics and law and governance, students should be trained to be keen observers of the urban landscapes about them, to be able to decipher the riddles of architectural style and substance, to have a working knowledge of the historical development of places and patterns on the land. They should understand how the physical infrastructure of a city works — the mechanics of transportation and utility systems, sewerage and water supply. They should know the fundamentals of ecology and the natural systems of a place, be able to read a site and its landform and vegetation, know that a great spreading maple in the middle of a stand of pines once stood alone in an open pasture. They need to know the basics of impact analysis and be able to assess the implications of a proposed development on traffic, water quality and a city’s carbon footprint. And while they cannot master all of site engineering, they should be competent site analysts and — more important — be fluent in assessing the site plans of others.
urban_planning  jane_jacobs  urban_history  pedagogy 
march 2017 by shannon_mattern
We’re Already Building New Cities – HOTHOUSE – Medium
In 2000, only 8,000 people lived in these Central Florida flatlands. By 2015, the population had exploded to 157,000, a city larger than Charleston, South Carolina or Kansas City, Kansas. Of those, 100,000 had joined the community since 2010.

The Villages has taken the concept of an age-restricted retirement home to an industrial scale. As a community, it is organized into 32 Neighborhood Centers, 17 Village Centers, and eight Regional Centers. It also operates 39 golf courses, its own television news channel, and a robust events calendar (51 events happening on the day I write this)....

The poorest zip code in the United States isn’t in rural West Virginia or Chicago’s South Side. It’s nestled in the northern suburbs of New York City: 10950, or the Hasidic community of Kiryas Joel.

While The Villages is one of the oldest communities in the United States, KJ is the youngest — its median resident is 13 years old. Kiryas Joel is unique in that much of its growth comes not from immigration, but from the fecundity of its residents; the median household has six children. One resident was able to name 2,000 living descendants when she passed away at 93.
Poverty is endemic in Kiryas Joel. More than 40% of the community is on food stamps, and 62% of all families in KJ live below the poverty line, many on various forms of government assistance. The community’s isolation is deep-rooted: most residents speak Yiddish at home, and 46% speak English “not well” or “not at all”....

So what do these new cities have in common, and what lessons might a modern city-builder take from their development?
1. They each focus on a very specific audience.
2. They are practical, not utopian.
3. They’re both from the right side of the aisle.
4. Local political domination was an early goal with social cohesion and low employment as weapons.
5. They moved fast and didn’t over-engineer it.
urban_planning  new_cities 
february 2017 by shannon_mattern
Reimagining cities from the internet up – Sidewalk Talk – Medium
If you compare pictures of cities from 1870 to 1940, it’s like night and day. If you make the same comparison from 1940 to today, hardly anything has changed. Thus it’s not surprising that, despite the rise of computers and the internet, growth has slowed and productivity increases are so low.

So our mission is to accelerate the process of urban innovation, and over the past year we’ve been exploring ways to do just that.

Larry Page wrote at the time of our formation that it was critical “to start from first principles and get a big-picture view of the many factors that affect city life.” So we started by conducting a detailed thought experiment: What would a city look like if you started from scratch in the internet era — if you built a city “from the internet up?” What I mean by that is a place where ubiquitous connectivity is truly built into the foundation of the city, and where people use the data that’s generated to enhance quality of life....

In the process, we wrestled together with the technologist-urbanist divide. Our technologists pushed the teams to think big, challenge conventional assumptions about how things work, and leapfrog slow change. Our urbanists reminded us of the importance of data privacy, the complexity of land use, the greatness of diverse communities and vibrant streets, and the many other externalities that are ever-present in dense environments.
We also studied every prior or current effort to integrate technology into new cities or urban districts. All too often, such efforts took a top-down approach — forgetting that cities aren’t primarily about tech-infused buildings or shiny new tools, but the people and communities whose character makes the place so unique. We recognized that you can never truly plan a city. Instead you can lay the foundations and let people create on top of it....

In that sense, we drew inspiration from great platforms like the web, which thanks to open, flexible foundations has enabled creation from people around the world. In a city built from the internet up, we imagined a flexible physical layer (such as street grids, open utility channels, and upgradeable digital infrastructure) with adaptable software (such as privacy rules, regulations that lay out approaches to city management, and principles of governance) that would empower people to build and change “applications” much faster than is possible in cities today....

Our thought experiment was just the start of an ongoing learning process about the nature of urban life. But we’ve reached some broad views about the type of place you might get if you reimagined a city with ubiquitous connectivity designed into its very foundation. We think you get a place that gives people more of what we love about cities with less of what we don’t. A place that’s adaptable, constantly evolving with changing demands, technologies, and tastes. A place that’s personalized for our needs and desires. A place that’s shareable in a million new ways. A place that’s more transparent, with greater trust among neighbors and greater faith in government. A place that feels like a city but functions like a local community....

And that’s why we’re first creating a series of labs to work in close partnership with local communities to develop tools that meet their challenges.
Led by entrepreneurs-in-residence, these labs will consist of hyper-focused, cross-disciplinary teams of policy experts, engineers, product managers, and designers — a full range of urbanists and technologists. They’ll be empowered to advance an idea into a functional prototype that can be tested in the real world, drawing on the Sidewalk team for business development, talent acquisition, communications, and administrative support. Our hope is that many of them will eventually be spun into new companies that create useful tools, products, and services for cities. ...

Sometimes their efforts will develop through pilot projects designed with city agencies or in partnership with organizations, like Sidewalk’s current effort with Transportation for America to tackle mobility challenges. Other times we might hold competitions, recognizing the success of contests like the U.S. DOT Smart City Challenge. The aim is to keep these labs open: engaging the public, sharing what we’ve learned, and refining our ideas....

Model Lab will focus on the challenges faced by communities as they attempt to build consensus on affordability, sustainability, and transportation needs. It will explore the role of new modeling tools along with online collaboration and communication....

A large-scale district holds great potential to serve as a living laboratory for urban technology — a place to explore coordinated solutions, showcase innovations, and establish models for others to follow. Sidewalk is having conversations with community leaders about what truly integrated urban solutions might entail, and we’ve already fielded inquiries from communities around the world interested in exploring such a partnership.
sidewalk_labs  urban_planning  smart_cities  infrastructure  labs  entrepreneurship  methodology  zones 
december 2016 by shannon_mattern
Sidewalk Labs Spinoff Could Be Coming to Your City – Next City
A year after Google-backed smart city tech company Sidewalk Labs launched, the company plans to expand its reach with a network of themed labs. The labs will work with cities to churn out products focused on issues such as citizen engagement, internet connectivity, transportation and access to public space.

Dan Doctoroff, CEO of Sidewalk Labs, explained the move in a blog post Wednesday, saying that the labs will be led by entrepreneurs and consist of “hyper-focused, cross-disciplinary teams of policy experts, engineers, product managers, and designers  —  a full range of urbanists and technologists.”

The first eight or nine could be up and running within six months to a year, with more to follow. The first four have already been named: Build Lab will tackle housing affordability by exploring ways to construct more affordable and flexible buildings; Care Lab will look at health challenges faced by low-income residents; Manage Lab will focus on how cities can use data to relieve budget pressures and improve efficiency; and Model Lab will explore tools to make transportation more affordable and sustainable.

“The aim is to keep these labs open: engaging the public, sharing what we’ve learned, and refining our ideas,” Doctoroff wrote.

The idea is also that these entities will spin off as separate companies, creating a network of tiny Sidewalk Labs across the U.S. They’ll also partner with other organizations or city agencies, similar to Sidewalk’s current partnerships with U.S. DOT and Transportation for America.

Doctoroff elaborated on the creation of a “living laboratory district” too. He wrote that there isn’t a “single city today that can stand as a model for our urban future,” and that such a district with “real-world conditions” could be the best way to try out solutions.

It could take the form of a similar “living laboratory” effort recently started in Spokane, Washington. Six partners, including the city and Washington State University, are using the 770-acre University District as a “blank canvas” to test out smart city tech. The effort is driven by the city’s new smart cities lab, and aims to answer “some of the thornier questions around smart cities collaborations,” such as who governs the partnership and who owns data gathered by a private company for the city.
sidewalk_labs  smart_cities  urban_planning 
december 2016 by shannon_mattern
Google Might Hold a Contest to Make One City the Most Advanced in the World | Inc.com
Now, Sidewalk Labs is shedding more light on those plans. In a blog post yesterday, CEO Dan Doctoroff confirmed that the company is scouting locations for the city of the future, and might hold a competition to determine the eventual location.

Doctoroff writes that the project would serve to "explore coordinated solutions, showcase innovations, and establish models for others to follow." The city of the future, in Sidewalk Labs' view, would offer free high-speed Wi-Fi for all and would include automated trash systems, sustainable energy, and self-driving cars.

When applied on a citywide scale, Doctoroff says, these advancements could reduce greenhouse emissions by two-thirds and save the average resident an hour of time each day, due largely to transportation improvements.

Many of the urban improvements Sidewalk Labs envisions stem from autonomous driving. The company predicts this innovation will reduce the need for on-site storage, since people will be able to cheaply order goods on demand--thus meaning they require less living space and cheaper rents. And eliminating parking spaces would mean more outdoor open areas. "It would put everyone within a short walk of a park," Doctoroff writes.
sidewalk_labs  urban_planning  smart_cities 
december 2016 by shannon_mattern
Should I Pursue My Passion or Business? – Medium
For the next 6-months, I am joining YCombinator Research’s New Cities project as an Explorer. My goal? Create an open, repeatable system for rapid cityforming that maximize human potential. It is a vastness and complex challenge — and one that makes me so happy that I want to tap dance to work. Like any other epic journey, we’ll start small and learn fast: Everything we learn, we will be publishing online.
I am not giving up entrepreneurship. This is just another form. I am trusting that amazing experiences will teach me to be a better entrepreneur.
I can’t do this alone. YC can’t do this alone. This is our problem to solve together. To be successful, we’ll need investors, industries, governments, charities, citizens, and critics. I know many of you have been waiting for a project like this. (If you have lots of land for a new city, let us know.)
Why now?
I’m done complaining about cities. I want to be a part of a solution. I want cities for the poor and the rich, the locals and the transplants, the freaks and the geeks, and the young and old....

Affordable, dynamic cities are a sustainable solution to a world thirsting for innovation....

And cities are resilient. Rome. Tokyo. Istanbul. Lagos. Cities often outlast kings and empires. City-states were the original superpowers. Yet, mass migration to mega-cities have only occurred in the last 50 years. Cities are young trees of life that have just started to bear fruit....

Every great city benefited from historically advantageous starting conditions that cannot be recreated. But I believe technology can seed fertile starting condition across nations and geographies.
urban_planning  solutionism 
october 2016 by shannon_mattern
Flow - a Sidewalk Labs company
The twentieth century’s most important piece of transportation infrastructure was the highway. Today, our most important infrastructure is digital: the data and communication tools enabling cities to understand and shape the decisions of travelers on our roads and rails.

Flow builds digital tools for cities to enable more efficient, equitable, and sustainable transportation for people.
urban_planning  smart_cities  big_data  transportation  sidewalk_labs  google 
august 2016 by shannon_mattern
What's Boston's Score Today? City Launches Data Platform To Track Progress On Services | WBUR News
You can now track how well city services are being handled in Boston with one dashboard.

The mayor’s office on Friday launched CityScore, a new initiative that uses data to grade how well the city is performing on everything from fire department response time to school attendance to fixing potholes.

The platform — which resembles Fenway's Green Monster scoreboard — is designed to provide a “nearly real-time” indication of what’s happening in the city across areas such as public safety, education, constituent satisfaction, health and human services, and basic city services.

“This overview of city metrics allows us to take immediate action within our departments to improve city services to make our city safer and smarter,” Mayor Marty Walsh said in a statement.

Here’s how it works: CityScore takes a look at metrics from different city departments and combines them into a single number that represents the city’s overall performance. Scores are compared to either a goal set by the city or a historical performance average. A score of 1 means the city is meeting its target. A score of less than 1 means the city is not meeting its target. And a score of more than 1 means the city is exceeding its target.
big_data  dashboards  measurement  urban_planning  smart_cities 
july 2016 by shannon_mattern
See How Your Town’s Transit Stacks Up to Hundreds of Other Cities | WIRED
Nearly every major American city now has an open data policy, as do a growing number of smaller locales. It’s a great way to generate useful applications without dipping into precious government funds. The best part about these outside applications is that they (usually) make the government in question look great—and its services more functional, too. A recent survey conducted by the Transit Cooperative Research Program found 66 percent of responding agencies believe open data policies improve the perception of their transparency; 78 percent think more of the public is aware of their services.

With the help of open data, Albuquerque, New Mexico, was able to reassign workers—whose jobs had just entailed fielding calls from confused bus riders—to more useful tasks. Los Angeles created an app that helps users choose the best mobility option for their commute, including light rail, buses and bike share. Boston incorporates metrics from nearly every part of city government to create a real-time “CityScore“, which makes it easy for citizens to keep tabs on how well officials are doing their jobs.

Open data policies also happen to open transit agencies up to outside criticism. If data is going to be helpful, it should point out “where transit is underperforming, and diagnose why.” Amin says. Sometimes, “lines that appear to be well-served aren’t [being] used at the rate you would expect.”
transportation  open_data  urban_planning 
july 2016 by shannon_mattern
The City is Not a Lab | ARPA Journal
THE CITY IS NOT A LAB
In most academic fields, laboratories are controlled environments for experimental research. They allow certain conditions to be held constant while others are intentionally manipulated through calibrated control mechanisms, ultimately to offer the unfettered opportunity for reactions to occur in a way that also allows precise measurement. Such environments are specifically designed to eliminate the presence of confounding variables and to mitigate the effects of bias, as well as other internal and external validity concerns. They produce conditions for a specific form of research that rarely produces, let alone measures, externalities. By this definition, the lab is both a spatial and methodological construct, comprised of environmental enclosures at multiple scales and a set of stochastic means by which to model and measure isolated conditions....

The city is not a model of a thing, but the thing itself. As base and reductive as it seems, this is a crucial distinction for applied research on urban systems conducted within and upon the city. It is not merely a question of nomenclature, but one with increasingly profound effects on the meaning of our findings, the modes of research design, and the social products of research when applied. Not only does the city fail to produce the necessary conditions for controlled inquiry, it also produces the opposite in abundance. Cities are dynamic spaces. Their control mechanisms are not calibrated against absolute baseline values; they are modulations in complex systems yielding both relative and relational results. Researching urban systems is itself a study in bias, operational confounding, variable interdependence, and four-dimensional hyperspecificity, to such an extent that typically conceived validity concerns are rendered moot and generalizability is not only imprudent, but often downright impossible....

As techniques for urban information sensing, creation, collection, storage, and sharing continue to proliferate, we are often confronted with the hope that more datadata

related tag:
big data may help flesh out our models such that they come to represent (rather than abstract) the city itself. While the promise is alluring, “more information” is not synonymous with “more informed.” Instead, it is quite likely that more data without better methods will exacerbate our analytical shortcomings and ameliorate only the research community’s anxieties about what we simply do not know. The ethical implications of this are twofold: (1) the danger of false knowledge claims, and (2) the likelihood of very real and very human unforeseen effects of the research when actively applied to urban contexts.
urban_research  urban_planning  laboratories  methodology  big_data 
july 2016 by shannon_mattern
‘The town as a place of social intercourse has been taken for granted throughout the whole of civilisation’
The idea of the town as a place of assembly, of social intercourse, of meeting, was taken for granted throughout the whole of human civilization up to the twentieth century. You might assemble in the Forum at Pompeii 100 yds. by 50 or round the market cross, 10 yds. by 5, but you assembled; it was a ritual proper to man, both a rite and a right. Nor in the general way did you have to explain whether your motives were proper or profane. Men are gregarious and expect to meet. In all ages but ours, that is. Today, partly from hurry, partly from worry, partly from pressure of motor traffic, we are forgetting to meet, and the various kinds of policemen, in and out of uniform who direct our affairs, are busy making it impossible for us to meet, by making little gardens of such of our open spaces as are not already roundabouts, railing them round, ornamenting them into islands of rustic absurdity and then, if possible, locking them up....

Because the motor car demands first, a pedestrian-free permanent way; second, a smooth surface; third, vast open acreage for parking lots. The first neutralizes the space for use, the second destroys the character of the space by introducing a neutral floor, the third eats up all unfenced urban openings for car-storage. There is a fourth danger which has nothing to do with traffic and that is the deliberate attempt by what one might term the ‘eternal prefect’ mentality to prevent natural assembly.

At its worst this outlook regards assembly as synonymous with idleness (hanging about at street corners) but often it springs from no more than a distaste to have the steps of the cross worn out by loungers. Actually most steps are all the better for loungers, ‘loungers’ being the expression of distaste northern puritans use for anyone who has the time to sit or stand around enjoying life.
urban_form  urban_planning  public_sphere  transportation 
july 2016 by shannon_mattern
Y Combinator's Plan to Build a New City? | Wired
LAST WEEK, Y Combinator, the Silicon Valley startup accelerator that helped launch companies like Dropbox and Airbnb, announced it was launching an ambitious project of its own. The “New Cities” initiative will study freshly minted cities, and how to plan, design, and build them from scratch....

Ideas about new cities are not new,” says Nikhil Kaza, who studies urban development processes in the University of North Carolina’s Department of City and Regional Planning. “But they’re intriguing… they all have influenced the way we live now.” Consider Garden Cities of To-Morrow....

Cheung believes Y Combinator’s plan is different. In the blog post that announced the project, she and Altman vow to avoid designing yet another “crazy libertarian utopia for techies.” Instead, Cheung says the initiative will look to models like Shenzhen. Cheung cites the Chinese city—a fishing village that in 1980 was designated a Special Economic Zone, to be morphed into a tech R
infrastructure  smart_cities  sidewalk_labs  urban_planning  solutionism 
july 2016 by shannon_mattern
From Smart City to Quantified Community: A New Approach to Urban Science | NYU Center for the Humanities
Today, the convergence of two phenomena – the ability to collect, store, and process an expanding volume of data and the increasing level of global urbanization – presents the opportunity and need to use large-scale datasets and analytics to address fundamental problems and challenges of city operations, policy, and planning. Unfortunately, the techno-centric marketing rhetoric around “Smart Cities” has been replete with unfulfilled promises, and the persistent use (and mis-use) of the term Big Data has generated confusion and distrust about potential applications of technology in cities. Despite this, the reality remains that disruptive shifts in ubiquitous data collection (including mobile devices, GPS, social media, and synoptic video) and its analysis will have a profound effect on urban policy and planning and our collective understanding of urban life.

There is an opportunity now to learn from the mistakes of the past and to use new data streams and computing capabilities not in a singular quest for optimal solutions, but rather to enhance and support how communities identify, define, and collectively try to address their most pressing challenges. Problems vary by neighborhood, time, and demographics. Needs are defined by personal expectations, feelings, and values. Practitioners in the emerging field of urban informatics should recognize the importance of difference and develop a grounded appreciation of the social and behavioral dynamics of place.

At NYU’s Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP), I am leading work on a major research initiative called the Quantified Community (QC), which will soon expand as it becomes a founding partner of NYC’s Neighborhood Innovation Labs initiative. The intent is to use new methods to collect, fuse, and analyze data to enable improved neighborhood planning and urban design, and, ultimately, positively impact quality-of-life for those who live in cities by addressing persistent questions on how the built environment shapes individual and collective outcomes. This goal is grounded in the need to engage the local community and let residents better understand and ultimately define problems and needs, and to use data analytics to advance potential ways to reduce or eliminate these challenges. It is an experiment in every sense, as many of the “what, why, and how” questions of community data science still remain to be answered, although we are making progress.

We have initially launched the QC in three very distinct neighborhoods: at Hudson Yards, a ground-up “city-within-a-city” on the far west side of Manhattan; in Lower Manhattan, a mixed-use neighborhood that attracts residents, workers, and visitors; and, most recently, in Red Hook, Brooklyn, an economically-distressed community facing significant development and demographic changes. In each of these communities, we are working with different constituents to define problems and build an “informatics infrastructure” to support community planning and local decision-making. At Hudson Yards, which is still a construction site, our partner is the developer who is designing and building the project. In Lower Manhattan, we are partnering with the local non-profit Business Improvement District, whose goals are to improve quality-of-life in the area to increase the neighborhood’s attractiveness to residents, workers, and tourists. And in Red Hook, we are collaborating with a community organization that provides social service support and workforce training for neighborhood residents.
smart_cities  big_data  data_analytics  urban_planning  methodology 
july 2016 by shannon_mattern
The Moral Economy of Tech
People who excel at software design become convinced that they have a unique ability to understand any kind of system at all, from first principles, without prior training, thanks to their superior powers of analysis. Success in the artificially constructed world of software design promotes a dangerous confidence....

First, programmers are trained to seek maximal and global solutions. Why solve a specific problem in one place when you can fix the general problem for everybody, and for all time? We don't think of this as hubris, but as a laudable economy of effort. And the startup funding culture of big risk, big reward encourages this grandiose mode of thinking. ...

Instead of relying on algorithms, which we can be accused of manipulating for our benefit, we have turned to machine learning, an ingenious way of disclaiming responsibility for anything. Machine learning is like money laundering for bias. It's a clean, mathematical apparatus that gives the status quo the aura of logical inevitability. The numbers don't lie....

More broadly, we have to stop treating computer technology as something unprecedented in human history. Not every year is Year Zero. This is not the first time an enthusiastic group of nerds has decided to treat the rest of the world as a science experiment. Earlier attempts to create a rationalist Utopia failed for interesting reasons, and since we bought those lessons at a great price, it would be a shame not to
surveillance  methodology  programming  california_ideology  solutionism  urban_planning 
july 2016 by shannon_mattern
The Incomplete City — Medium
This also meant we couldn’t outline the trajectory of the whole week, except in the loosest possible terms. This had the effect of keeping the students focused entirely on the task at hand, whilst also embodying, or perhaps simulating, a condition of the design practice we were trying to explore: designing around what and who you know, the stage at-hand; not over-building or over-planning; ensuring each stage of development is well-rounded, yet leaving some spaces, infrastructures and decisions deliberately incomplete, in order to enable adaptation. By focusing on each stage, and the hinge to the next, and working at human-centred scale, each stage of development could be coherent, fulfilling, productive, sensitive, full of life.

This is the opposite of the ‘Field of Dreams’ “build it and they will come” model of urban planning and development, whose signature features are a large infrastructure spend requires vast property development to pay for it, wrapped up in planning processes that rarely take people into account, and which take years developing an overly complete plan that rarely actually happens, before delivering compromised generic ‘spec’ buildings, over-sized, largely static infrastructure, and spaces that remain pretty vacant for years. ...

We talked about a more iterative model, wherein you start small and grow. That simple idea might seem typical of informal urban development, whether pre-modern European or slum/favela elsewhere, but we wanted to see if that dynamic of constant evolution, with each stage being coherent and human-centred, could be unlocked in non-slum conditions too, through the use of new infrastructures, partly, but also through more sophisticated decision-making approaches centred on participation, unlocked through the ideas of co-ownership of land, buildings and infrastructure. The ability to not have to dig over-sized, over-capitalised and inert infrastructure into the ground — as well as the ability to design housing with the people that will live in it; to share lighter, more resourceful services and infrastructures; to think ahead about the hinge to the next move, and in doing so, enable an agile form of development — opens up a transformational adaptability which should, in turn, fundamentally inform urban planning and design.

...‘an atlas of urban elements’ – in short, using my phrasing of ‘smaller than a building, bigger than a phone’, the elements that comprise an everyday infrastructural layer in the city: solar cells, vehicles, chicken coops, bus-stops, biodigesters, steps, allotments, swimming pools, street signs, traffic lights, pylons, footbridges, ticket machines, urinals, graffiti, trees, kiosks, bikes and so on....

Yet we were asking the students not to work in terms of buildings but in terms of elements; and so this was connecting ‘network urbanism’ with another Bow-Wow book I’d picked up; their collaboration with the Berlin-based Kooperatives Labor Studierender, which contained a chapter exploring, via some lovely drawings, how particular urban conditions were triggered by such elements: a boom-box/bike contraption enabling a karaoke arena; a bespoke waterproof plastic bag for clothes, enabling swimming in a Basel river; the chairs in a Parisian public garden tracing the daily patterns of activity. This was important as it showed Bow-Wow work focused not on buildings, but on urban conditions, as well as the role of non-building elements in their production with people.

...We then asked the students to work in groups of three, drawing from the atlas of elements in order to create a ‘neighbourhood’ for 100 people to live, work and play in. Buildings were supplied to students as simply rectangular shapes, cut out of trace, upon which they could write the function of the building, such as ‘library’ or ‘church’ and so on. This meant the students didn’t worry over the form of buildings, but about their function as part of a greater play—a neighbourhood—and thus about the connections and spaces in-between buildings, about their presence and relationship with other things, about their role as part of a greater ensemble, rather than the solipsistic mode that most architecture is practiced within. In essence, we asked them to focus on urban design, rather than architecture as typically practiced....

The next stage involved halving the scale on a photocopier, down to 1:200 scale, and enlarging the neighbourhood to make it work for 200 people. So, halving and doubling simultaneously. This shift-zoom of scale is something else we reiterated – this notion that urban design means working from the scale of the door-handle up to the city-block, back and forth. As we begin to increase scale, we also asked students to think what needs to change; what needs to be consolidated, what alters in relationship, what new functions need to emerge. ...

Then, with strong 500-person neighbourhoods emerging, at 1:200 scale, we asked them to start merging; to find a neighbourhood they want to join with. This was a fascinating exercise in negotiation— “I have data centre, you have favela!”—a kind of frenzied speed-dating for chunks of city. But importantly, we focused the students on thinking through strategic relationships—what should connect with what, and why?—and what needs to change.
urban_design  urban_planning  infrastructure  pedagogy  participation  mapping  cartography 
july 2016 by shannon_mattern
Silicon Valley’s Latest Startup Offering Is a Whole City
Y Combinator, the startup accelerator and investment firm that helped produce Airbnb, Dropbox, and Instacart, is embarking on a creation project arguably more ambitious than any company.
"We want to build cities," wrote Y Combinator partner Adora Cheung and President Sam Altman in an announcement slated for release Monday. YC Research, Y Combinator’s nonprofit arm, plans to solicit proposals for research into new construction methods, power sources, driverless cars, even notions of zoning and property rights. Among other things, the project aims to develop ways to reduce housing expenses by 90 percent and to develop a city code of laws simple enough to fit on 100 pages of text. Eventually the plan is to actually produce a prototype city. "We’re not trying to build a utopia for techies," says Cheung, the project’s director and the former CEO of failed housecleaning startup Homejoy. "This is a city for humans."...
solutionism  urban_planning  optimization  methodology  statistics  smart_cities 
june 2016 by shannon_mattern
KPF Urban Interface
As cities continue to grow at an exceptional rate—doubling in population by 2050—policy makers, designers and developers face exponentially more complex challenges. Fortunately, such innovations as urban data collection, scenario analysis and 3D visualization allow us to more quickly understand and better design for contemporary cities. KPF Urban Interface leverages new thinking and technology in our professional practice, along with research collaborations with universities and government agencies, in the service of more livable, profitable, equitable and resilient cities.
interface  urban_planning  interfaces  smart_cities  open_data 
june 2016 by shannon_mattern
The Future of The 'Smart City' - The Takeaway - WNYC
Over 85 percent of the world’s population will likely live in a city by the end of the 21st century. Today in a special hour-long broadcast, we're exploring what the urban centers of the future will look like. This is what you'll hear today:

Hudson Yards is the largest private real-estate development in U.S. history and is transforming a significant portion of the west side of Manhattan. We tour this massive testing ground for "smart city" urban data science with Daniel Doctoroff, CEO of Sidewalk Labs and former deputy mayor of New York; Jessica Scaperotti, an executive at Related Companies, which is overseeing the project with Oxford Properties Group; and Jay Cross, president of Hudson Yards.
Those who design "smart cities" rely on big data from urban infrastructure and city residents. Though data can make a city more efficient, it can also make it less diverse and open the door to predictive policing. Adam Greenfield, founder and managing director of Urbanscale and author of "Against the Smart City," discusses the consequences of high-tech urban development.
Data collection is a huge part of the "smart city" movement. For a look at how data is collected, implemented, and used in places like Hudson Yards, we turn to Constantine Kontokosta. He's professor of urban informatics and head of the Quantified Community Research Lab at NYU's Center for Urban Science and Progress.
Do you live in a city? What do you love about it? And what needs to work better? Takeaway listeners from around the country weigh in on those questions today. 
The "smart city" may be the latest trend in urban planning, but the fundamentals haven't changed, at least not according to Roberta Brandes Gratz, an urban planner, founder of the Center for the Living City, and author of "We're Still Here Ya Bastards: How the People of New Orleans Rebuilt Their City." She's also a disciple and peer of Jane Jacobs, urban critic and mother of modern urban planning. 
In New York City, community boards give voice to residents as development and investments shape neighborhoods for decades to come. Now, Community District 4 in Manhattan is home to Hudson Yards. Delores Rubin, vice chairwoman of Community Board 4, explains how the project is impacting the people in the neighborhood. 
smart_cities  big_data  urban_planning  great_men 
june 2016 by shannon_mattern
Model City: Rule of Innovation | newnewgames
Today, a network of civic innovation advocates seeks to apply the principles of the tech sector to the city’s management. While proponents of civic innovation encompass a range of actors—from new media entrepreneurs to urban policy think tanks—the movement’s strongest institutional expression can be found in the mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation. Created by Lee in 2011 to “embed startup DNA into government,” the office aims to encourage the city’s “innovation ecosystem” without intervening in market effects. Besides building public-private partnerships and promoting a culture of innovation within City Hall, the office’s main goal is to put public resources, data and space, to more entrepreneurial ends.

At the level of political reason, civic innovation entails redefining the role of city government and re-envisioning it along the lines of an enterprise. Not only should government be lean and flexible, it should also be transparent and competitive by providing open access to public resources as part of a strategy to attract human and financial capital. Modeling government on a startup calls for re-imagining the relationship between residents and the institutions of collective decision-making as one in which customers ostensibly co-create with market suppliers by receiving services from and providing input to them via web platforms. A crucial distinction exists in this vision between government-as-startup and startups themselves. Though the former should be modeled on the latter and evaluated as such, its activities should be limited to fostering market conditions. Tim O’Reilly, the tech-publishing entrepreneur and coiner of the term Web 2.0, suggests that “In this model, government is a convener and an enabler rather than the first mover of civic action.” Rather than pursue social welfare through redistributive policies, government is relegated in this view to laying the groundwork for market competition.

...Better Market Street offers a model for urban living that yokes everyday conversation and discovery – social life writ large – to the dictates of market innovation. ...

The transformation of the city at large into a lab for innovation has taken hold through processes of exclusion. Indeed, the current administration has targeted Mid-Market with heightened policing and public health measures, such as nightly sidewalk hose-downs, to clear the street of undesired elements. At its root, civic innovation is based on an inclusive, if narrowly defined, notion of participation. As long as individuals follow the rules, they are welcome to play. But rubrics must be learned. “In the past,” suggested, “monuments were made of bronze. In the future, monuments will be made of code. They will continue to instill civic values, but they will use different strategies.” ... With the city figured here as a workshop for innovation, public space becomes a terrain upon which to mold urban subjects themselves into lean startups or self-investing bits of human capital.
smart_cities  innovation  urban_planning  civic_engagement  civic_tech  citizenship  start_ups 
may 2016 by shannon_mattern
Alphabet’s Next Big Thing: Building a ‘Smart’ City - WSJ
Google parent Alphabet Inc. has legions of Web developers. Soon it might be in need of real-estate developers.

In coming weeks, top executives at the Mountain View, Calif., technology giant are set to weigh a pitch from Alphabet’s urban technology-focused subsidiary, Sidewalk Labs, on a plan to delve into an ambitious new arena: city building.

According to people familiar with Sidewalk’s plans, the division of Alphabet is putting the final touches on a proposal to get into the business of developing giant new districts of housing, offices and retail within existing cities.

The company would seek cities with large swaths of land they want redeveloped—likely economically struggling municipalities grappling with decay—perhaps through a bidding process, the people said. Sidewalk would partner with one or more of those cities to build up the districts, which are envisioned to hold tens of thousands of residents and employees, and to be heavily integrated with technology.

The aim is to create proving grounds for cities of the future, providing a demonstration area for ideas ranging from self-driving cars to more efficient infrastructure for electricity and water delivery, these people said.

... it is unclear who would cover the cost of such an endeavor—tens of billions of dollars—since large-scale development typically requires buy-in by third-party investors over a period of years or decades. But one key element is that Sidewalk would be seeking autonomy from many city regulations, so it could build without constraints that come with things like parking or street design or utilities, the people said...

“What would you do if you could actually create a city from scratch,” he said. “How would you think about the technological foundations?”

Past efforts to build “smart” cities or districts integrated with technology have failed, he said, because typically urban planners and tech executives don’t understand each other.

“That is why the combination of Google, which focuses on the technology, and, me, who focuses on quality of life, urbanity, etc., we think is a relatively unique combination,” he said.

One challenge the company would face would be that the history of city-building and large-scale urban development projects is full of failures and disappointments. Cities built from scratch, like Brasília or Canberra, Australia, are viewed as antiseptic and without the vibrancy of more organic cities.
sidewalk_labs  google  smart_cities  infrastructure  urban_design  urban_planning 
april 2016 by shannon_mattern
A Reaction to “Technology and the Future of Cities”: Uneven Development and Expertise in the ‘Smart City’ | Georgia Tech Center for Urban Innovation
The report focuses on these ‘urban development districts,’ arguing that “[d]istricts offer larger cities the chance to take on these challenges in bite-sized stages” (p. 8).  It is true that smaller scale, test-bed or ‘living lab’-style implementations are useful for assessing the utility and interoperability of certain technologies or approaches. However, it is important to recognize what an urban development strategy built entirely around these spaces means for cities as a whole: continued uneven development.

In short, these test-beds aren’t problematic only because of issues related to combining and interlinking incommensurable systems that are, and will continue to be, developed in isolation from one another. The focus on specific intra-urban territories risks reinforcing and deepening the social and spatial inequalities within cities. Even though American cities have long since given up on what Stephen Graham and Simon Marvin called the ‘modern infrastructural ideal’ of pervasive and integrating infrastructural connections...

It is also worth noting the broader context of these district-level implementation strategies in the history of urban economic development. Recall the evolution of various ‘zones’ -– ‘free trade zones,’ ‘enterprise zones,’ ‘empowerment zones,’ ‘promise zones’ -– designated for special services or tax advantages intended to drive development into such territories (and, necessarily, away from or out of others). Literature on this matter records mixed results and significant debate...

The technoscientific orientation of the report instead privileges experts in the sciences and engineering from both academia and from industry. Indeed, the burgeoning field of ‘urban science’ — founded on the principle that the conventional urban social sciences have been insufficiently scientific — occupies a prominent place in the content, as well as construction, of the report. This prominence of ‘urban science’ contrasts with a conspicuous absence of established disciplines such as urban geography, urban sociology, urban history, urban economics, urban anthropology, and urban planning.

This report is yet another signifier that the production of urban knowledge, especially that which is deemed useful for governance and administration, is increasingly disconnected from the last century of in-depth urban scholarship. Today, instead, urban knowledge is increasingly focused on the ability to gather, process and analyze massive datasets about any number of urban (or not-so-urban) phenomena.
smart_cities  infrastructure  zoning  zones  urban_planning  science 
april 2016 by shannon_mattern
What Happened to the Great Urban Design Projects? - The New York Times
I described “This Bridge Will Not Be Gray” to him, emphasizing Eggers’s observations about infrastructure needing to be bold and courageous and how that certainly wasn’t how infrastructure was being conceived of today. We agreed that needs to change, something he understands deeply — he just wrote a book on it: “Where We Want to Live: Reclaiming Infrastructure for a New Generation of Cities,” in which he makes a passionate case for infrastructure as catalyst, arguing that our collective imaginations and energy can transform the places we live in.
infrastructure  urban_planning  sublime 
march 2016 by shannon_mattern
Manual for Acoustic Planning and Urban Sound Design
The notion of establishing the role of the urban acoustic planner emerged from the work of R. Murray Schafer in the 1970s. Several decades later, this idea has developed not only through the continual evolution of the soundscape concept and approach, but also in reaction to fundamental changes of how urban space is planned, mediated, and represented. This project will serve as an interface between a mid-sized, contemporary urban region (Dublin, Ireland) and a series of research practices and design strategies that place an emphasis on the acoustic dimension of public spaces, civic architectures, and urban experiences.
The project’s core methodologies are influenced by the concept of sonic effects emanating from CRESSON (Centre de recherche sur l’espace sonore et l’environnement urbain), by projects discussed via the International Ambiances Network, as well as by research outputs emerging from the Soundscape of European Cities and Landscapes (COST TUD0804) project that ended in 2013. These methods will be extended by observations filtered from contemporary praxis focused on sensory urbanism, experiential architecture, and related technologies. The project will also emphasize the sound installation practices of a select set of sound artists, demonstrating how the methods illustrated through these projects’ design and implementation might cross over from the context of contemporary art into the fields of architecture and urban design.
sound_design  urban_design  urban_planning  sound_space 
february 2016 by shannon_mattern
About | Intersection
Our Technology & Design team designs and builds automated, personalized and integrated products and experiences across digital and physical environments.

As the largest municipally focused Media company in the U.S., we are dedicated to helping cities transform public assets into platforms for innovation and revenue.
Together, we work at the intersection of digital and physical, technology and media, cities and citizens—building on the strengths of both companies to create value for citizens, governments and brands and improve life in cities around the world.
google  media_city  smart_cities  urban_informatics  urban_planning  public_space  wifi 
january 2016 by shannon_mattern
Is India's 100 smart cities project a recipe for social apartheid? | Cities | The Guardian
In architectural renderings, Gujarat International Financial Tec-City resembles a thicket of glassy blue skyscrapers soaring above the Sabarmati River in Gandhinagar, capital of the western Indian state of Gujarat. Its “signature towers” include the Diamond, a 410-metre spire resembling an icy stalagmite, and the 362m Gateway Towers, a bendy, sinuous version of Rem Koolhaas’s CCTV headquarters in Beijing.

By 2021, the creators of Gift City, as it is commonly known, promise to surround these towers with world-class infrastructure which will provide residents with round-the-clock power and water, a “district-cooling system” that sluices chilled water through buildings, and an automatic garbage disposal system sending excrement hurtling through sewage pipes at 90kph – “faster than most Indian trains”, as the journalist Manu Joseph dryly observed.

The beating heart – or rather, robot brain – of Gift City is its “Command and Control Centre”, which keeps traffic moving smoothly and monitors every building through a network of CCTVs. In a country where more than 300 million people live without electricity, and twice as many don’t have access to toilets, Gift City’s towers sound like hypertrophic castles in the sky. But they are an essential part of the Indian government’s urban vision, one that it wants to see replicated a hundred times across the country....

Yet many experts and planners fear that such “insta-cities”, if they are made, will prove dystopic and inequitable. Some even hint that smart cities may turn into social apartheid cities, governed by powerful corporate entities that could override local laws and governments to “keep out” the poor.... “I am describing the unfeasibility and undesirability of a thoughtless smart-city vision,” he says. “When you invest so much without thinking about services and low-cost housing and governance, then you will end up creating enclaves that keep out the poor.”...

In their present form, Bhandari adds, smart cities are essentially rechristened Special Economic Zones (SEZs); neo-liberal business-friendly zones exempt from taxes, duties and stringent labour laws. They are also subject to what urban scholars say is a form of “privatised governance”, due to a constitutional amendment that renders local governments powerless. All of which, according to Bhandari, makes them inherently and unreservedly exclusionary. ...

Naidu, with not a little wistfulness, said that smart cities “would have clean water, assured power supply, efficient public transport and would not be polluted or congested”. A concept note from his ministry, last revised in December, explains that they will “have smart (intelligent) physical, social, institutional and economic infrastructure”, guaranteeing their residents employment opportunities and “a very high quality of life, comparable with any developed European city”....

To make sure that no one trespasses on its immaculate privatopia, Palava plans to issue its residents with “smart identity cards”, and will watch over them through a system of “smart surveillance”.... “Smart cities will be heavily policed spaces,” he says, “where only eligible people – economically productive consumers (shoppers) and producers (employees) – will be allowed freedom of walking and travel, while ambient and ubiquitous surveillance will be tracked so as to anticipate the ‘anti-socials’.” As such, Nayar adds, smart cities will be “more fortresses than places of heterogeneous humanity, because they are meant only for specific classes of people”. One class to be served, the other to be surveilled and contained....

“The smart city paradigm comes from mid-scale European cities, and they’re meant to make existing infrastructure work in a more integrated way, whether it’s waste, habitation or transport connectivity,” says Gautam Bhan, a researcher with the Indian Institute for Human Settlements in Delhi. “But Indian cities struggle with the absence of networks. Just 16% of Indian cities have underground sewage drainage systems. No technology can make the system work better if basic services don’t exist.”...

“Having islands of well-serviced smart cities amidst a vast sea of poorly-serviced and impoverished villages leads to what urban scholars have called the juxtaposition of the citadel and ghetto,” says Sai Balakrishnan, an urban scholar at Rutgers, who studies land conflicts and urbanisation in India. “If the government does succeed in building these premium 100 smart cities, but does nothing to alleviate poverty and poor services in the surrounding areas, it could well lead to a politically volatile situation. These visible forms of spatial inequalities engender social mistrust and even violence.”...

Nowhere is this combination of political volatility and spatial inequality more striking than in the giant expressway projects snaking across the country’s hinterland since 2006. These six-to-eight lane highways, intended to thread together luxury townships and special economic zones, often come up on fertile farmland that is forcibly acquired under the pretext of fulfilling a “public purpose”....

Every new smart city, she suggests, signals yet another “temporary secession, each of them setting in place a new social order that will not be easy to reverse, and that takes urban planning dangerously away from the public domain”. A hundred smart cities could spawn a thousand shadow cities, simmering with resentment and rage.
smart_cities  political_economy  governance  privatization  surveillance  urban_planning  shadow_infrastructure 
december 2015 by shannon_mattern
From SimCity to, well, SimCity: The history of city-building games | Ars Technica
I'm going to take you on a whirlwind tour through the history of the city-building genre—from its antecedents to the hot new thing.

While extremely limited in its simulation, Doug Dyment's The Sumer Game was the first computer game to concern itself with matters of city building and management. He coded The Sumer Game in 1968 on a Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-8 minicomputer, using the FOCAL programming language. David H. Ahl ported it to BASIC a few years later retitled as Hamurabi (with the second 'm' dropped in order to fit an eight-character naming limit).
The Sumer Game, or Hamurabi, put you in charge of the ancient city-state of Sumer. You couldn't build anything, but you could buy and sell land, plant seeds, and feed (or starve) your people. The goal was to grow your economy so that your city could expand and support a larger population, but rats and the plague stood in your way. And if you were truly a terrible leader your people would rebel, casting you off from the throne.

The game captured many a player's imagination, and several more expanded versions soon emerged, with different localities but the same core systems. Of these, George Blank's 1978 Apple II game Santa Paravia and Fiumaccio was perhaps the most notable, as it introduced several types of buildings (or "public works") that you could buy/construct.

With Santa Paravia, most of the elements of a city-building game were in place. You had taxes, buildings, disasters, population growth and decay, approval ratings—even a map of your kingdom that displayed at the end of each turn. But the most crucial ingredient of the genre was missing (and no, it wasn't that the game was still turn-based). Santa Paravia felt as though you were playing a computerized board game, not experimenting with wooden blocks and model train sets.
games  media_architecture  media_city  urban_media  urban_planning 
october 2015 by shannon_mattern
The Round City of Baghdad
The first nucleus of the city of Baghdad was the “Round City” (Madinat al-Salam) founded by the Abbasid caliph al- Mansur in 762 BC and completed in 766 BC on the west bank of the Tigris in a strategic location in the middle of Mesopotamia. The original plan, of almost 1km in diameter, followed a defensive scheme with four axial gates while the caliph’s domed residence and a congregational mosque were located at the centre together with two other administrative buildings, the “police” and the commander of the guards.
middle_east  urban_history  Iraq  urban_form  urban_planning 
october 2015 by shannon_mattern
cityofsound: Essay: 'The commodification of everything', for 'SQM', by Space Caviar (Lars Muller)
As an example of the so-called sharing economy, Airbnb possesses similar dynamics to urban mobility services like Uber and Lyft, which exploit a redundancy or inefficiency of space or resource use, supposedly a product of a twentieth-century approach to managing such things: through designation, planning, licensing. Just as Ravintolapäivä found ways of using urban space in the grey areas left over by high-level approvals, services like Uber and Airbnb offer entirely new urban services by thriving in similar gaps. Is this apartment a hotel? Is this private car a taxi? The software supporting all these activities trans- forms inefficiencies—the ‘redundancy’ of unused parked cars or unoccupied rooms—into the raw material for new services. In doing so, it changes our perception of the city’s fabric. This is as big a challenge for the business of urban planning as it is for the Hiltons’ business. 

However, underpinning such approaches, at least in commercial services like Airbnb, is a clear ideology. This could be described as the capitalistic ideal of maximising resource utilisation, a ‘commodification of everything’ applied to domestic space. It can manifest itself in the skirting of as much local regulation and taxation as possible, for the sake of better user interfaces for urban space. ‘Sharing economy,’ then, is a complete misnomer. ...

there is something intriguing in that malleability and fluidity of domestic urban space that Ravintolapäivä and Airbnb enable, whether in Helsinki or San Jose. Could it suggest a more fractal organisation of space within the city, perhaps more in tune with many twenty-first-century conditions, in which an apartment can shift mode from residential to commercial to industrial over the course of an afternoon, at the behest of network logics?

In fractal planning, zoning is something that occurs at the level of the room, within the home, rather than at the neighbourhood level. Where zoning previously applied to broad sweeps of urban fabric, we now apparently have the tools to rezone a bedroom or living room as commercial property within a residential container, at least for a period of time. Again, the tools enable an apparent fluidity of space, at least in terms of fractal subdivisions of domestic fabric, rather than larger, more permanent schemes. Ravintolapaiva and Airbnb magic up restaurants and hotels out of our interiors. Will we begin to actively design residential space within this in mind? Might we see Airbnb-ready apartments emerging from architects’ drawing boards soon? How will this shift our notion of the home, as a retreat from the public? The inside from the outside? ...

Given the the traces left by digital transactions, such services are arguably easier to identify and manage than previous processes (as long as municipalities are literate in such ‘big data’ approaches.) Authorities could easily ensure that taxes are paid, and that activities are safe; yet this requires a shift in stance, from inhibiting activity via the hefty blocking moves of regulation, to instead observing point-clouds of transactions and managing accordingly, knowing when to innovate through regulation, and knowing when to innovate through creating better public services themselves, taking advantage of many of the same dynamics....

Here is a possibility to dissolve previously calcified boundaries between residential, commercial and industrial, between individual and collective space in the city, between bottom-up and top-down. Whether it does so beneficially will depend on how much we care about the idea of the city as a public good, and how adept we are at absorbing and redirecting disruptive forces for civic returns.
zoning  sharing_economy  urban_planning  infrastructure  governance 
october 2015 by shannon_mattern
Post-Postcolonial Sensory Infrastructure | e-flux
The 1950s saw a tribe of modernist planners and architect-adventurers who ventured to the newly independent countries of Asia and Africa like modernized versions of nineteenth-century European colonial travellers. Le Corbusier in Chandigarh, Doxiadis in Islamabad, and Buckminster Fuller in Africa and India were all part of this traffic to the Third World. Pushed by local regimes to set up showcase cities, and even by US and Soviet foreign policy coffers, architect-travellers were in fact on the sidelines of a significant urban transformation initiated by lesser-known transnational urban planners and designers who worked to plan and develop actually existing cities with large populations, such as Delhi, Lagos, Beijing.

In 1950s Delhi, for instance, the Ford Foundation sponsored a major exercise by US urbanists to design a city masterplan.....

The Delhi Masterplan designed by Mayer and his team incorporated a technocratic grid that would deflect migration flows to the periphery, and protect an urban core that assured sovereignty for postcolonial power. It was the model of the city as an urban machine, with neighborhoods as cellular units, linked by a technocratic hierarchy of functions and power. This was a model city with a centralized command regime, with designated legal subjects. The design was a dramatic performance of postcolonial sovereignty for the new regime. The nationalist city would oversee the proper circulation of people and things through careful zoning and state control of all land....

The last few decades have seen the unraveling of this model of urban planning, a tiringly familiar story that played itself out in Asia, Africa, and partly in Latin America. In Delhi, for example, the very forms that the technocratic machine sought to control—economic proliferation, urban sprawl, pirate markets, and migration—all imploded and rendered the control model inoperable. The exact infrastructures that were the hallmark of a new modernity—electricity, roads, water pipes—became locations for new conflicts and claim-making by subaltern populations. The already tottering planning machine splintered, and the technocratic hierarchies of the plan became meaningless. As urban regimes lost the ability to sustain the definitional aspects of the city, infrastructures became the site of new experiments. Pirate cities saw populations poach existing sites: overpasses, unused urban land, abandoned spaces. Remarkably, almost to the letter the post-planning mise en scène resembled Deleuze’s fragmentary notes on “control society.”
urban_planning  piracy  informal_infrastructure 
august 2015 by shannon_mattern
Uncovering the Early History of “Big Data” and the “Smart City” in Los Angeles | Boom: A Journal of California
Like many smart, new ideas, however, it’s not new. It’s not even new to Los Angeles, which has been pursuing computer-assisted data and policy analysis for decades. Beginning in the late 1960s and through most of the 1970s, the little-known Community Analysis Bureau used computer databases, cluster analysis, and infrared aerial photography to gather data, produce reports on neighborhood demographics and housing quality, and help direct resources to ward off blight and tackle poverty.....

A data-rich snapshot of LA from forty years ago, the report didn’t categorize Los Angeles into the usual neighborhoods or community plan areas, but into scattered clusters with names like “the singles of Los Angeles,” “the suburbs from the fifties,” “richest of the poor,” “gracious living,” and more.[7] The nomenclature was seemingly drawn more from market research than traditional city planning reports.

I mentally filed it away as just another 1970s urban experiment, an attempt to sort and categorize places across LA’s expanse. As I read more about the methodology, however, I became intrigued by the Community Analysis Bureau’s ambition to create an “Urban Information System” that could be applied to tackle the problems of the day. I wondered whether this urban intelligence had influenced city policy or programs. How had the bureau fared as the politics of planning, poverty alleviation, and land use in the city changed? ...

In the years after World War II, that know-how and faith in machines translated, in part, to an interest in computer-assisted social analysis, thanks to the availability of both mainframe computers and large federal grants during the Cold War. Social scientists in particular were interested in exploring the possibilities that data and computers could bring to public policy, as were city planners and architects. In A Second Modernism: MIT, Architecture and the ‘Techno-Social’ Moment, Arindam Dutta writes that for them, “the emphasis on assembling, collating, and processing larger and larger amounts of data” was “paramount in the postwar framing of expertise.”....

ata was the key to know-how, and Los Angeles was key to the techno-optimism of the era. Although the region’s lingering reputation may be for unchecked sprawl and popular entertainment, twentieth-century LA was highly planned—and proud of the systems on which it depended: its networks of streetcars and freeways, its flood control and water infrastructure, and its intentionally fragmented municipal and quasi-public governance. Southern California had a huge high-tech cluster in the aerospace industry....

In 1962, the city submitted a proposal to the Ford Foundation seeking funding for “A Metropolitan Area Fact Bank for the Greater Los Angeles Area.” In proposing the “fact bank,” the mayor’s office noted that Los Angeles “was one of the first non-federal government agencies to use electromechanical and electronic data processing systems in accomplishment of its day-to-day service rendering tasks...

In forming the Community Analysis Bureau, Los Angeles sought new tools to address the old challenges of deteriorating housing by providing detailed local data to identify neighborhoods showing early signs of obsolescence. The city had razed “blighted” housing in Chavez Ravine in the early 1950s[17] and, when the CAB launched in the late 1960s, was using federal funding to redevelop the Bunker Hill area.[18] The bureau’s data would help identify blighted areas across the city for renewal efforts like these and inform measures aimed at alleviating the poverty that led to blight in the first place....

First, however, the bureau had to digitize and centralize relevant information from the US Census, the Los Angeles Police Department, the LA County Assessor, and other private and public sources using the city’s existing IBM-360 mainframe computers. As a partial step toward a comprehensive Los Angeles Urban Information System, the bureau created a database using 220 staff-identified data categories as the nucleus of its database. This eventually expanded to 550 categories available to analyze individual census tracts....

Even with a vast array of data at their fingertips, evaluating the physical state of more than a million housing units spread out over Los Angeles’s nearly 500 square miles was an enormous challenge for the bureau—so bureau staff took to the air. A 1970 report from the bureau noted that “the use of color infrared (CIR) aerial photography offers immediate aid as a relatively inexpensive means of locating those areas most affected by conditions of blight and obsolescence....

The bureau’s data and analyses were intended to spur interventions in the city. An early report on the bureau’s methodology used the analogy of a “thermostat that samples changes in data… and, based on these measurements, or studies, makes recommendations to operating and staff agencies of the City as to the differences in the desired City climate and the actual.”[32] The city’s data-driven climate control would help to regulate everything from crime rates to unemployment to traffic....

But the ultimate failure of the Community Analysis Bureau suggests that data analysis needs to be better linked to planning, policy, and even advocacy. The bureau wasn’t closely allied with social movements that might have pushed for changes related to the agency’s findings, nor was it sufficiently integrated into the structure of decision making and budgeting in the city. With no core constituency in the heart of city government, the bureau’s findings were easy to dismiss as interesting but inessential factoids. Bureau employees predicted this problem in 1970 in a report that noted, “Political realities must be very carefully amalgamated with the tools of technology. This amalgamation will be difficult at best since, by design, the conclusions of technology tend to be objective, while those of politics tend to be subjective and emotional.”[
data  smart_cities  Los_Angeles  algorithms  urban_design  urban_planning  urban_policy  infrastructure  flowcharts  data_visualization  statistics  census  urban_archaeology  urban_history  photography  aerial_photography 
august 2015 by shannon_mattern
Welcome to Paju Book City, the South Korean town inspired by Hay-on-Wye | Cities | theguardian.com
Paju Book City – with a touted ratio of 20 books to every human – arose as “a place devoted to planning, producing and distributing books by well-intentioned publishers”, according to its website, in the dramatic, slightly contorted English typical of Korean publicity materials. “Our [purpose] is simple and clear: the city aims to recover the lost humanity.”

Said humanity has gone missing, apparently, in older cities such as Seoul – and this brave attempt at rediscovering it has been inspired by Wales’s famously bibliophilic market town of Hay-on-Wye. Sadly, the South Korean version has produced not a town or city in any sense but rather, a literary theme park, built to aesthetic principles of a rigidity in league with Disneyland. And yet, perverse as it may seem to concentrate so many bookshops and reader-friendly coffee spots well outside Korea’s cultural centre, the place has proved popular with Seoul’s weekend literati....

No designer city in South Korea, however, has attracted more attention than Songdo, the skyscraper-intensive, apparently eco-friendly ‘smart city’ built along reclaimed waterfront land in Incheon, home of the country’s largest international airport.... The $40bn price tag of this largest private real-estate development ever includes not just all those skyscrapers but a convention centre, a network of bicycle paths, four universities, an arts complex called the Tri-Bowl (so named for its shape, which brought to my mind Brasilia’s National Congress Building), an enormous shopping mall (with unexpected sculptures including a series of glazed-eyed office workers, frozen in mid-stroll through its fountains), and an elaborate Central Park, complete with canals you can traverse by renting a rowboat or buying a ferry ticket.

I went on a Sunday and, to my mild surprise, saw plenty of families doing both. I’d heard Songdo so often called a ‘ghost town’ – and one doomed to remain so, especially on weekends – that I half-expected to find myself alone on the water. Yet a crowd of Koreans rode the ferry alongside me, snapping pictures of all the same features of Central Park I did: the informal take-a-book-leave-a-book library booth; the tiny island populated exclusively by rabbits; the trio of fountains shaped like urinating little boys, their trousers dropped and faces expressing unbridled glee...

Living in Songdo wouldn’t feel like purgatory, but it would, at 35 miles and about 50 subway stops from central Seoul, feel like exile. Despite its technological sophistication, architectural profile and stated aims, it can seem strangely provincial; only here, in this flags-of-the-world-bedecked ‘international city’, have I had my foreignness pointed out by a passing child.
korea  songdo  smart_cities  urban_planning  paju 
august 2014 by shannon_mattern
Sonifying Urban Rhythms - Towards the spatio-temporal composition of the urban environment - D-L Ricerca
This thesis is concerned with the composition of
the urban rhythms generated by urban design and
planning. It recognises the temporal limitations of
the graphic urban masterplan, with its tendency
of being static and singular in the composition
of urban experience. Thus it proposes the
integration of rhythm into the urban design and
planning process, with the aim to improve the
temporal quality of urban design. In order to
represent these urban rhythms, as designed in the
graphic masterplan, we propose their sonification. A
Sonified Urban Masterplan (SUM) tool was developed,
allowing the sonification of multiple layers of
maps (raster or vector images) along a number
of paths of interest. An urban sonic code was
then developed in order to map the relevant
graphic urban parameters into sound parameters.
This sonification strategy was applied to the
city of Paris as a case study, producing a
sonified set of maps whose composition could be
‘listened’ to over time. Temporal issues concerning
human movement, transport infrastructure, activity
distribution, and the structuring of urban form
and design elements could be represented and
heard
sound_space  urban_planning  data_sonification  rhythmanalysis 
april 2014 by shannon_mattern
Good Night: A Dazzling New Era of Metropolitan Light | Places
Urban street lighting was, for Mayakovski, nothing less than a locus of modernism.... seen through the poet’s eyes, electric light decisively manifested what other arts could only evoke — a new vision calibrated to the technology and turbulence of modern society... in pulling back nighttime’s mantle of darkness, artificial lighting doubled the duration of industrial production and enabled the instrumentalization of the other half of the diurnal cycle. Indeed, much of the motivation for improving urban lighting sprang from electric utilities that needed higher nighttime loads to use the capacity they had built up to meet skyrocketing daytime demand... Advocates of City Beautiful, for instance, were recommending that light be graded across the city, with the bright lights of downtown giving way to dimmer and warmer effects in residential neighborhoods. Where such ideas were put in place, the city as a whole exhibited diverse lighting that underscored its distinct parts...

today technicians can pinpoint light nearly down to the photon and, equally important, they can measure responses to light at a neural level. [4] Taken together, these changes are enabling designers to investigate in ever-greater detail what is known as mesopic vision, that is, vision under mixed lighting conditions, in contrast to the even photopic lighting of broad daylight and the scotopic vision of near darkness... Leading designers and firms — including Light Collective, Light Cibles, Agence Concepto, ACT Lighting Design, Philips Lighting, Arup Lighting — now conceive entire cities as luminous canvases for creating effects that are simultaneously evocative, urbanistically sensible and environmentally responsible... as cities seek to reposition themselves in the wake of suburbanization, deindustrialization and globalization, lighting has become a versatile means of adding amenity and meaning — for instance, improving orientation and developing visual motifs — to the nighttime environment... As transit networks become increasingly complex — as they integrate bicycles, shuttles, trams, automobiles, railcars and pedestrians — lighting can help both to differentiate modes and to visually unify the systems... lighting become a means to revitalize distressed or underused areas... A whole new field of guerrilla lighting has emerged, too, with flash-mobs wielding light grenades or sudden light graffiti attacks on a skyscraper executed from innocuous vans parked blocks away. With information and D.I.Y. tutorials on everything from LED-Throwies to Light Bombing events to L.A.S.E.R. tag, the art collective Graffiti Research Lab has become a clearinghouse for guerilla lighting tactics, and various politically motivated groups are deploying light projections to broadcast their messages at large scales, seemingly in violation of property rights yet with no outright vandalism... nearly animate, the material world has become since the introduction of digital technologies. Light, the most immaterial of effects, makes the digital visible and in doing so confers the possibility that it can also become substantial.
media_city  light  urban_planning  electricity  infrastructure 
april 2014 by shannon_mattern
About | Transparent Chennai
Transparent Chennai aggregates, creates and disseminates data and research about important civic issues facing Chennai, including those issues facing the poor. Our work aims to empower residents by providing them useful, easy-to-understand information that can better highlight citizen needs, shed light on government performance, and improve their lives in the city, one issue at a time. Our goal is to enable residents, especially the poor, to have a greater voice in planning and city governance.

Our work is unique because we actually create maps and data to understand issues facing city residents. We believe that a lack of data has sometimes allowed for government to evade its responsibilities to provide basic entitlements to all city residents, and to exercise force with impunity over informal settlements and workers. We work closely with individuals and citizens’ groups to create data that can help them counter inaccurate or incomplete government data, and make better claims on the government for their rights and entitlements.
data_visualization  mapping  urban_planning  government 
february 2014 by shannon_mattern
How Zappos' CEO Turned Las Vegas Into a Startup Fantasyland | Wired Business | Wired.com
Late in 2011, Hsieh became even more legendary by announcing almost larkishly that he’d be leading a $350 million effort to rejuvenate a blighted stretch of Las Vegas’ downtown, home to some lower-end casinos and motels and not a whole lot else. His plan was to spend much of his own personal fortune to transform this lifeless area about a mile north of the neon blitz of the Strip into an entrepreneurial tech nirvana... Never mind that neither Hsieh nor many of the people he’d hired had any experience in urban renewal or community development or the notorious grinding slowness of making change in a big city: The website for the Downtown Project, as Hsieh’s enterprise was formally known, cheerfully declared its intention to transform downtown Las Vegas into “the most community-focused large city in the world.”...

A run-down Motel 6 has been razed to make room for an outdoor mall, which will be built out of stacked shipping con­tainers; a corner building that previously held a 7-Eleven is being refashioned into a 150-seat theater called Inspire. By the time I visit in spring 2013, the Downtown Project’s staff has grown so big they have left Check-Cashing and are operating out of various other coworking spaces and newly opened cafés around the neighbor­hood. Dropping by Coterie one afternoon, Hsieh props his laptop on a shelving unit stuffed with graphic T-shirts and spends 20 minutes answering emails.

He refers to what he is doing—the open and ambulatory nature of his days—as “being collisionable.” Hsieh is a believer in the idea, popular in organizational psychology, that random, unplanned interactions between people often yield the most innovative results... “It’s the Downtown Project’s big bet,” Hsieh says, “that a focus on collisions, com­munity, and colearning will lead to happiness, luckiness, innovation, and pro­ductivity. It’s not even so big a bet,” he adds. “Research has been done about this on the office level. It’s just never really been applied in a consolidated way to a city revitalization project.”...

It can seem, just as Hsieh says, like downtown Las Vegas is one enormous in-progress brainstorm, a fantastically bankrolled exercise in municipal free association. At his apartment in the Ogden, where he often hosts meetings, Hsieh maintains a wide wall covered in multicolored Post-it notes filled with ideas from the community about what the neighborhood still needs. (Hardware store! Gay bar! Community garden! Cupcakes!) Rather than actively recruit personnel to fill various niches, Hsieh and his team encourage people who show interest—or who interest them—to come visit, stay for a while, and find their own way. ...

Many of the people we encounter are the beneficiaries of the Downtown Project’s largesse, having received seed money from Hsieh’s VegasTechFund. Of the $350 million total commitment, $200 million is going toward buying real estate in the neighborhood—Hsieh and his team are snapping up old motel complexes and commercial buildings that haven’t flourished in decades. Another $50 million has been earmarked for small businesses, $50 million goes to the TechFund, and $50 million more is being steered toward improving education, including the development of a private preschool.

Hsieh, for his part, seems delighted in his seedling investments. Some people have gone through an informal pitch process. Others appear to be friends, or friends of friends, whose business plans have been vetted by members of the Downtown Project team.
urban_development  renewal  Internet  media_city  urban_planning  branded_places  new_urbanism  las_vegas 
january 2014 by shannon_mattern
Urban Omnibus » Against the Smart City
“Several decades from now cities will have countless autonomous, intelligently functioning IT systems that will have perfect knowledge of users’ habits and energy consumption, and provide optimum service…The goal of such a city is to optimally regulate and control resources by means of autonomous IT systems.”... What we encounter in this statement is an unreconstructed logical positivism, which, among other things, implicitly holds that the world is in principle perfectly knowable, its contents enumerable, and their relations capable of being meaningfully encoded in the state of a technical system, without bias or distortion. As applied to the affairs of cities, it is effectively an argument there is one and only one universal and transcendently correct solution to each identified individual or collective human need; that this solution can be arrived at algorithmically, via the operations of a technical system furnished with the proper inputs; and that this solution is something which can be encoded in public policy, again without distortion. (Left unstated, but strongly implicit, is the presumption that whatever policies are arrived at in this way will be applied transparently, dispassionately and in a manner free from politics.)...

However thoroughly Siemens may deploy their sensors, to start with, they’ll only ever capture the qualities about the world that are amenable to capture, measure only those quantities that can be measured. Let’s stipulate, for the moment, that these sensing mechanisms somehow operate flawlessly, and in perpetuity. What if information crucial to the formulation of sound civic policy is somehow absent from their soundings, resides in the space between them, or is derived from the interaction between whatever quality of the world we set out to measure and our corporeal experience of it?...

Other distortions may creep into the quantification of urban processes. Actors whose performance is subject to measurement may consciously adapt their behavior to produce metrics favorable to them in one way or another. For example, a police officer under pressure to “make quota” may issue citations for infractions she would ordinarily overlook; conversely, her precinct commander, squeezed by City Hall to present the city as an ever-safer haven for investment, may downwardly classify[2] felony assault as a simple misdemeanor...

What about those human behaviors, and they are many, that we may for whatever reason wish to hide, dissemble, disguise, or otherwise prevent being disclosed to the surveillant systems all around us?... And what about the question of interpretation? The Siemens scenario amounts to a bizarre compound assertion that each of our acts has a single salient meaning, which is always and invariably straightforwardly self-evident — in fact, so much so that this meaning can be recognized, made sense of and acted upon remotely, by a machinic system, without any possibility of mistaken appraisal...

The most prominent advocates of this approach appear to believe that the contingency of data capture is not an issue, nor is any particular act of interpretation involved in making use of whatever data is retrieved from the world in this way. When discussing their own smart-city venture, senior IBM executives[5] argue, in so many words, that “the data is the data”: transcendent, limpid and uncompromised by human frailty. This mystification of “the data” goes unremarked upon and unchallenged not merely in IBM’s material, but in the overwhelming majority of discussions of the smart city...

In urban planning, the idea that certain kinds of challenges are susceptible to algorithmic resolution has a long pedigree. It’s already present in the Corbusian doctrine that the ideal and correct ratio of spatial provisioning in a city can be calculated from nothing more than an enumeration of the population, it underpins the complex composite indices of Jay Forrester’s 1969 Urban Dynamics[8], and it lay at the heart of the RAND Corporation’s (eventually disastrous) intervention in the management of 1970s New York City.[9] No doubt part of the idea’s appeal to smart-city advocates, too, is the familial resemblance such an algorithm would bear to the formulae by which commercial real-estate developers calculate air rights, the land area that must be reserved for parking in a community of a given size, and so on.

In the right context, at the appropriate scale, such tools are surely useful. But the wholesale surrender of municipal management to an algorithmic toolset — for that is surely what is implied by the word “autonomous” — would seem to repose an undue amount of trust in the party responsible for authoring the algorithm. At least, if the formulae at the heart of the Siemens scenario turn out to be anything at all like the ones used in the current generation of computational models, critical, life-altering decisions will hinge on the interaction of poorly-defined and surprisingly subjective values: a “quality of life” metric, a vague category of “supercreative[10]” occupations, or other idiosyncrasies along these lines...

Given the significant scope for discretion in defining the variables on which any such thing is founded, we need to understand that the authorship of an algorithm intended to guide the distribution of civic resources is itself an inherently political act. And at least as things stand today, neither in the Siemens material nor anywhere else in the smart-city literature is there any suggestion that either algorithms or their designers would be subject to the ordinary processes of democratic accountability...

But the more enduring lesson for proponents of data-driven policy has to do with how the study’s results were applied. Despite the mantle of coolly “objective” scientism that systems analysis preferred to wrap itself in, RAND’s final recommendations bowed to factionalism within the Fire Department, as well as the departmental leadership’s need to placate critical external constituencies; the exercise, in other words, turned out to be nothing if not political...

For all of the conceptual flaws we’ve identified in the Siemens proposition, though, it’s the word “goal” that just leaps off the page. In all my thinking about cities, it has frankly never occurred to me to assert that cities have goals. (What is Cleveland’s goal? Karachi’s?) What is being suggested here strikes me as a rather profound misunderstanding of what a city is. Hierarchical organizations can be said to have goals, certainly, but not anything as heterogeneous in composition as a city, and most especially not a city in anything resembling a democratic society...

By failing to account for the situation of technological devices inside historical space and time, the diversity and complexity of the urban ecology, the reality of politics or, most puzzlingly of all, the “normal accidents”[14] all complex systems are subject to, Siemens’ vision of cities perfectly regulated by autonomous smart systems thoroughly disqualifies itself. But it’s in this depiction of a city as an entity with unitary goals that it comes closest to self-parody.
data  big_data  methodology  urban_planning  smart_cities  algorithms  politics 
november 2013 by shannon_mattern
Michael Flowers of New York Analytics Speaks on Urban Data - Guggenheim Blogs
Flowers, whose official title within NYA is Director of Analytics, discussed the projects NYA works on, and explored how data analysis can improve city life. Explaining that NYA deals in three main areas: “day-to-day operations,” “economic and development interests,” and “disaster relief” efforts, he walked the audience through examples of projects in each area. One “day-to-day operations” project he described helped the city prioritize where to send its limited number of housing-inspection agents...

a small-business owner looking to open a shop or restaurant, rather than contacting commercial real estate brokers and hiring someone to do market research, can find arguably more helpful information—like foot traffic on a particular street, thanks to subway turnstile counts—through NYA, and use that data to decide where to open up a new store.

Flowers and audience members alike seemed excited about the ways in which technology that enables the collection and dissemination of data will continue to enhance the way cities function. One member of the audience did ask about the ethical implications of making so much information available to the public. Flowers acknowledged that there is potential for wrongdoing, but reiterated his belief in the system, “the value in democratizing analytics,” and the merit of government transparency: “The reality is, the more we can let people know about their government, the better we are.”
big_data  analytics  urban_planning  open_data 
october 2013 by shannon_mattern
Wired 12.12: Roads Gone Wild
Hans Monderman is a traffic engineer who hates traffic signs. Oh, he can put up with the well-placed speed limit placard or a dangerous curve warning on a major highway, but Monderman considers most signs to be not only annoying but downright dangerous...

Monderman is one of the leaders of a new breed of traffic engineer - equal parts urban designer, social scientist, civil engineer, and psychologist. The approach is radically counterintuitive: Build roads that seem dangerous, and they'll be safer...

The common thread in the new approach to traffic engineering is a recognition that the way you build a road affects far more than the movement of vehicles. It determines how drivers behave on it, whether pedestrians feel safe to walk alongside it, what kinds of businesses and housing spring up along it. "A wide road with a lot of signs is telling a story," Monderman says. "It's saying, go ahead, don't worry, go as fast as you want, there's no need to pay attention to your surroundings. And that's a very dangerous message."
urban_planning  safety  walking 
august 2013 by shannon_mattern
Who's Your Data? Urban Design in the New Soft City: Places: Design Observer
ather than designing the shape, you will design the logic whereby the software constructs a thousand shapes you never would have conceived. In experienced hands, such a digital design platform can support a new level of clarity in elaborating program requirements or revealing forms latent in new functional needs and technical capabilities, unconstrained by habit or the atavisms of pre-smart buildings and cities.

This order of meta-design may be profoundly attractive to engineers, as it shifts the emphasis in defining the form of a building to something more like planning, in which the protagonist designs and tests rule sets through mathematical simulation against desired outcomes — as opposed to the current practice of designing a building and testing a proposed final form against benchmarks (think LEED analysis software), or simply foisting the design on the urban fabric and leaving it to posterity to adapt or replace (think New York Penn Station).

The key here is understanding planning as a process of designing rule sets driven by explicit goals and values, in other words a kind of algorithmic or parametric composition, and understanding design as a playing through of those rule sets in the context of a living human settlement in a context of its own, the physical realities of built and natural systems. The languages of planning, design, art and engineering may still be foreign to one another, but their media have already converged...

Open-source urban design gives professionals access to the raw data and material they need to answer the important questions: how does this thing or place actually work, and how can it really work better? Who will ultimately be stuck with the outcome? Who will buy, not buy, sell, quit, or move in or away down the road? Further, a new soft space is emerging in which it is no longer necessary to isolate design from the general flow of public discourse: a personal computer can now be used to address a design improvement or alternative to a virtual model of the present city. The future of civic engagement may involve citizens sending code to the planning commission, as previous generations sent irate letters to the editor or city council...

this kind of open ideation platform offers new opportunities to get and give value in the formulation of requirements and the development of consensus early and often. For an artist or designer, it is becoming practical to engage user and neighbor groups much more deeply and effectively: any family or community with a computer and internet access can be “in the game,” in a virtual world whose perceptual range offers a God’s-eye-view of regional mapping tools as well as an eyes-on-the-street perspective. The openness of the environment can actually provide a medium for more adventurous concepts than conventional competitions or “living lab” initiatives, in which teams of researchers and officials experiment on/in/with people, homes and communities on the tacit understanding that nobody will do or say anything too crazy to the customers...

The necessary infrastructure is either already in place, or can be assembled from available technologies — public data and public-interest social networks and real-time 3D planning and distributed collaboration software platforms. But the media and informational assets of the digital public domain are not merely infrastructure. Like a train station or a public square, they are also works of public art that express shared values and aspirations. It makes no sense to provide public access to data whose sources and parameters are effectively secret, or to provide simulation, planning and design tools whose logic is off-limits for critical evaluation or reconfiguration.
urban_planning  algorithms  smart_cities  open_data 
june 2013 by shannon_mattern
100 Urban Trends - BMW Guggenheim Lab
e.g., "Evolutionary infrastructure is an approach to infrastructure, city planning, and architecture that allows for natural and artificial systems to work together to create a more inhabitable landscape. It refers to the idea that both engineered and natural systems must be considered as reciprocal evolutionary forces. Large-scale architectural commissions that have become dominant in recent years, where architects are required to take on projects that encompass city blocks or neighborhoods, mean that a more holistic approach to infrastructure is now possible and necessary."
urbanism  urban_studies  urban_planning  guerilla_urbanism  infrastructure  placemaking 
may 2013 by shannon_mattern
Sim City: An Interview with Stone Librande - Venue
Geoff Manaugh: While you were making those measurements of different real-world cities, did you discover any surprising patterns or spatial relationships?

Librande: Yes, definitely. I think the biggest one was the parking lots. When I started measuring out our local grocery store, which I don’t think of as being that big, I was blown away by how much more space was parking lot rather than actual store. That was kind of a problem, because we were originally just going to model real cities, but we quickly realized there were way too many parking lots in the real world and that our game was going to be really boring if it was proportional in terms of parking lots...

It was pretty straightforward to look at Pittsburgh, the dirty city, and understand why it was going to fail, but you have to try to understand why the clean one might fail, as well. If you have one city—one path—that always fails, and one that always succeeds, in a video game, that’s really bad design. Each path has to have its own unique problems...

Food isn’t in the game, but it’s not that we didn’t think about it—it just became a scoping issue. The early design actually did call for agriculture and food systems, but, as part of the natural process of creating a video game, or any situation where you have deadlines and budgets that you have to meet, we had to make the decision that it was going to be one of the things that the Sims take care of on their own, and that the Mayor—that is, the player—has nothing to do with it....

So, there are what we call “hardcore players.” Primarily, they want to compete, so we give them leader boards and we give them incentives to show they are “better” than somebody else. We might say: “There’s a competition to have the most people in your city.” And they are just going to do whatever it takes to cram as many people into a city as possible, to show that they can win... On the other end of the spectrum, there are the “creative players” who are not trying to win—they are trying to tell a story. They are just trying to create something beautiful. For instance, when my wife plays, she wants lots of schools and parks and she’s not at all concerned with trying to make the most money or have the most people...

Technically, the big difference is the “GlassBox” engine that we have, in which all the agents promote a bottom-up simulation. All the previous SimCity games were literally built on spreadsheets where you would type a number into a grid cell, and then it propagated out into adjacent grid cells, and the whole city was a formula.

SimCity 4 was literally prototyped in Excel. There were no graphics—it was just a bunch of numbers—but you could type a code that represented a particular type of building and the formulae built into the spreadsheet would then decide how much power it had and how many people would work there. It just statically calculated the city as if it were a bunch of snapshots...

Because our SimCity—the new SimCity—is really about getting these agents to move around, it’s much more about flows. Things have to be in motion. I can’t look at anybody’s city as a screenshot and tell you what’s going on; I have to see it live and moving before I can fully understand if your roads are OK, if your power is flowing, if your water is flowing, if your sewage is getting dumped out, if your garbage is getting picked up, and so on.
media_city  media_architecture  sim_city  video_games  urban_planning  infrastructure  databases 
may 2013 by shannon_mattern
No one likes a city that's too smart | Richard Sennett
Thanks to the digital revolution, at last life in cities can be brought under control. But is this a good thing?

You don't have to be a romantic to doubt it. In the 1930s the American urbanist Lewis Mumford foresaw the disaster entailed by "scientific planning" of transport, embodied in the super-efficient highway, choking the city. The Swiss architecture critic Sigfried Giedion worried that after the second world war efficient building technologies would produce a soulless landscape of glass, steel, and concrete boxes. Yesterday's smart city, today's nightmare... Masdar is a half-built city rising out of the desert, whose planning – overseen by the master architect Norman Foster – comprehensively lays out the activities of the city, the technology monitoring and regulating the function from a central command centre. The city is conceived in "Fordist" terms – that is, each activity has an appropriate place and time. Urbanites become consumers of choices laid out for them by prior calculations of where to shop, or to get a doctor, most efficiently. There's no stimulation through trial and error; people learn their city passively. "User-friendly" in Masdar means choosing menu options rather than creating the menu...

Songdo represents the stupefying smart city in its architectural aspect – massive, clean, efficient housing blocks rising up in the shadow of South Korea's western mountains, like an inflated 1960s British housing estate – but now heat, security, parking and deliveries are all controlled by a central Songdo "brain"...

A more intelligent attempt to create a smart city comes from work currently under way in Rio de Janeiro. Rio has a long history of devastating flash floods, made worse socially by widespread poverty and violent crime. In the past people survived thanks to the complex tissues of local life; the new information technologies are now helping them, in a very different way to Masdar and Songdo. Led by IBM, with help by Cisco and other subcontractors, the technologies have been applied to forecasting physical disasters, to co-ordinating responses to traffic crises, and to organising police work on crime. The principle here is co-ordination rather than, as in Masdar and Songdo, prescription.

But isn't this comparison unfair? Wouldn't people in the favelas prefer, if they had a choice, the pre-organised, already planned place in which to live? After all, everything works in Songdo. A great deal of research during the last decade, in cities as different as Mumbai and Chicago, suggests that once basic services are in place people don't value efficiency above all; they want quality of life. A hand-held GPS device won't, for instance, provide a sense of community.
smart_cities  infrastructure  urban_planning 
march 2013 by shannon_mattern
cityofsound: Essay: On the smart city; Or, a 'manifesto' for smart citizens instead
During this time, what we might call a Urban Intelligence Industrial Complex (led by IBM, Cisco, General Electric, Siemens, Philips et al) has emerged and continues to try to insert itself into urban agendas; with little success, in comparison to the marketing spend, it must be said. One can imagine a quiet fading away of all those “Smarter Planet” promotional schemes soon, actually.

But it’s clearly not an idea that’s going to go away (for reasons good and bad.) I was be asked by both the London School of Economics and Volume magazine, separately, to write about the smart city (both were related to different speaking engagements.)...

Technology is culture; it is not something separate; it is no longer “I.T.”; we cannot choose to have it or not. It just is, like air... given that technology and culture have fused (arguably, always had) the issue is now a cultural one; what kind of culture do we want in our cities? How do we orient ourselves, with regards to today’s particular technological cultures?...

So the goal is entirely constructive, and to shift the debate in a more meaningful direction, oriented towards the raison d’etre of our cities: citizens, and the way that they can create urban culture with technology...

Big data + social media = urban sustainability?... Yet is there a tension between the emergent urbanism of social media and the centralising tendencies of urban control systems? Between the individualist biases inherent within social media and the need for a broader civic empathy to address urban sustainability? Between the primary drivers of urban life and the secondary drivers of infrastructural efficiency?...

Efficiency as cul-de-sac... Instead of the smart city, perhaps we should be more preoccupied with smart citizens. The smart city vision tends to focus on infrastructure, buildings, vehicles, looking for a client amidst the city governments that procure or plan such things... We don’t make cities in order to make buildings and infrastructure. We make cities in order to come together, to create wealth, culture, more people...

Enter the smart citizens... the most interesting and productive use of contemporary technology in the city is here, literally in the hands of citizens, via phones and social media... in the face of institutional collapse, active citizens are knitting together their own smart city, albeit not one envisaged by the systems integrators and technology corporations. But do they enable more complex decision-making?...

It’s an entirely informal urbanism, taking root in the cracks left by urban planning, city governance and market forces. But does it scale beyond the window-dressing of tactical planter boxes?....

It is not enough to simply “make the invisible, visible”, to use the already well-worn phrase in urban informatics. But change might happen through creating convenient, accessible ways to try something different, and then multiplying that through social proof and network effects, reinforcing through feedback...

...we need to bind the energy and dynamics of social media—those active citizens—to active government too... Perhaps an equally active form of governance, in a symbiotic relationship with active citizens, is required to take such emergent activity and productively absorb it into the city more broadly. This might look to concieve these activities as strategic rather than simply tactical, through participating. It would enable a city to stop being Maginot Line'd and instead imagine how each one-off pop-up might actually be thought of as a Trojan Horse for a wider systemic change... one can design a system, or culture, in which individual actors are aware that they are part of a wider interdependent system of complex movements, with positive end results—safer, smoother—at a systemic level as well as individual... Removing all "regulation" at this micro-level turns out to be the safe and effective thing to do as it relies on active citizens, not abdicating responsibility for wider systems and acting as an individual or outsourcing the decision-making to traffic lights. So removing regulation, though not governance, here implies far greater personal responsibility. It is not simply "self-interested actors maximising personal gain”—it relies on smart, engaged, aware and active citizens, rather than the passive systems that smart city visions are often predicated upon...

Smart buildings have systems that automatically turn off lights in meeting rooms... does removing the conscious decision-making element make us less likely to be aware, to care, about our impact on the environment? Are we becoming passive citizens in response to our systems getting smart?... with passive citizens that asymmetry of power is likely to remain intact; if not made worse, as citizens devolve their decision-making and responsibility to software, as well as city government. Their awareness of their environment diminishes in line with their ability to do something about it. While those promoting smart buildings clearly mean to Do The Right Thing, the subconscious focus on what technology can do, as opposed to what it should do, could be entirely counter-productive...

the centrepiece of Cisco's pavilion was a mocked-up "urban control centre", a "NASA Mission Control"-like environment but for urban processes. Cisco staff were dressed up in lab-coats, pretending to operate screens with no connections, as if they were a urban physicians, carefully nurturing and treating the city, massaging it into a safe, secure, efficient condition. Well-meaning, but ultimately a little like the main street in an old Western; all facade....

When reviewing the [New Songdo] promotional literature, we read Stan Gale suggesting that equipping the buildings with pervasive Telepresence videoconferencing might "take anxiety out of where do I meet, need to be?"

Sorry, but is this a problem? Who gets anxious about this? Meeting different people in different places is one of the joys of urban living, one of its clear advantages. A good city is replete with a variety of spaces and scenarios in which to conduct a business meeting, run a workshop, chat through a idea, share your problems, read a book, have an affair, or simply create chance encounters. The idea that dealing with physical space and finite time is problematic might actually reveal a deeper issue that a particular culture has with these "constraints" on humanity, a kind of machine thinking. It describes a desire to control experience, obliterating serendipity. It would subdue the city’s ability to generate encounter with the other, which as Sennett and others have pointed out, is perhaps the great “civilising” condition of cities...

Infrastructure companies, whether cars and highways or screens and routers, look to increase traffic on their infrastructure. It is in their interest....

Unproductive efficiency versus productive inefficiency?...

As Kevin Slavin has said of trading software, we are now writing code that we cannot read. Here, the machine thinking that often underpins sustainable city visions could be seen as the equivalent of a kind of "high-frequency trading for urban processes". as well as an overly simplistic reading of ecosystems...

If you want to get things done, do you turn to government as your potential employer? Not at the moment, not often enough. Yet what if government was directly and boldly prototyping new versions of itself, using these new technologies? It might be that a sense of public good, of civic responsibility, can be found within a re-calibrated approach to municipal government...

if sustainability fundamentally requires us to think long-term, and with the welfare of others in mind, we must surely create decision-making cultures that not only take into account but actively counter the tendencies of these swirling vortices of individualism and short-termism. If, after Eliel Saarinen, we need to think of our house in terms of the neighbourhood, of the neighbourhood within the city, of the city symbiotically connected to its wider region, and so on, we will have to actively build systems with this in mind. Like judo, we might need to use the powerful dynamics of social media against itself...

Our shared civic culture is being allowed to atrophy in the face of a powerful hegemony reinforcing a sophisticated individualism as its organising principle...

There are clear benefits to a more contemporary urban infrastructure—in efficiency, yes, but also in firmness, commodity, delight...

Do we have smart citizens at the core of our smart cities? Are our governance cultures and tools in the right shape to genuinely react to the promise of The Network?

Are we sure that these ideas—drivers and enablers, unpredictability and inefficiency, prototyping and pivoting, personal and civic responsibility, meaningful activity from citizens and government, the city as public good—are part of the smart city vision?
urban_planning  smart_cities  infrastructure  social_media  guerilla_urbanism  governance  public_process  regulation  agency  interface 
march 2013 by shannon_mattern
Justin Davidson Explores the Addictive World of SimCity -- New York Magazine
SimCity is a mostly nonviolent computer game (if you don’t count the occasional ­giant-lizard attack), but at times it feels more savage than the usual gore-splattered fare. It allows the player—or multiple players, spread across the globe—to build communities, block by block, and then run them into the ground. Such a centralized system requires constant attention. When the player gets distracted (or wanders away for a snack), crime can spike, budgets can crumble, and unemployment can go haywire. The pursuit of prosperity is booby-trapped. The slightest misstep is enough to turn your shiny new metropolis into 1968 Newark...

Yet you are not God. It is the programmers who have shaped the topography, distributed natural resources, and equipped us amateur bureaucrats with all the data, maps, and charts we need to make rational, terrible decisions. It is they who demand growth but box it into tiny borders, who see no value in old buildings, who force people into their cars. Maybe the software makes it possible to cultivate an equitable, sustainable, livable city and keep it flourishing, but I haven’t achieved that level of mastery...

The wizards at Electronic Arts seem to understand cities as market-driven algorithms. Input people, rules, and resources, and the results are stability, growth, and wealth. There is some rough justification for this attitude. The physicist Geoffrey West has plowed through vast quantities of urban data from all over the globe—frequency of illnesses, miles of roadway—and shown that cities become more efficient as they grow...

As Pip City grew, we worked out three guiding principles for a fine fake metropolis. The first is Money Equals Happiness. Success is measured in a fattening budget and a growing population... The second principle: Zoning Is Destiny. Developers are a compliant bunch. Merely paint a green stripe along a road, and they will start madly constructing houses. A blue commercial zone triggers burger shacks, pet stores, and dental offices... The third item in the catechism of virtual planning is Transit, Schmansit. The game has plenty of public-transportation options, but as in most of America they can easily be ignored. There is no subway, no bike paths, no separated bus lanes.
urban_planning  media_city  media_architecture  video_games  algorithms 
march 2013 by shannon_mattern
The Arsenal of Inclusion and Exclusion – MAS CONTEXT
Recent books like Edward Glaeser’s Triumph of the City celebrate the capacity of cities to bring people together to hook up, swap ideas, and influence and inspire each-other, but it’s important to remember that our cities are pretty good at keeping people apart, too. More than forty years have passed since the Fair Housing Act outlawed discrimination in the sale, rental, and marketing of homes, in mortgage lending, and in zoning, and still most Americans live in communities that are racially, economically, generationally, and even politically and religiously segregated.

How can we explain this? What produces segregation? Is racial segregation merely the legacy of policies and practices—like racial zoning or racial and religious covenants—that the Fair Housing Act rendered illegal? Or are there newer, subtler things that continue to produce racially homogeneous communities?

This map — and the forthcoming book that it appears in — is meant to support that latter claim. Hidden in the map are forty commonly-used, contemporary “weapons” in what we call the “Arsenal of Exclusion & Inclusion,” a collection of policies and practices that are used by architects, planners, policy-makers, developers, real estate brokers, community activists, neighborhood associations, and individuals to wage the ongoing war between integration and segregation, between NIMBY (not in my back yard), and WIMBY (welcome in my back yard).
borders  zoning  illustration  urban_studies  policy  urban_planning 
march 2013 by shannon_mattern
N.Y.U. Center Develops a ‘Science of Cities’ - NYTimes.com
THE notion of a “science of cities” seems contradictory. Science is a realm of grand theory and precise measurement, while cities are messy agglomerations of people and human foible. But science is precisely the ambition of New York University’s Center for Urban Science and Progress. Founded last year, the center has been getting under way in recent weeks, moving into new office space and firing off its first project proposal to the National Science Foundation... The initiative at N.Y.U. is part of a broader trend: the global drive to apply modern sensor, computing and data-sifting technologies to urban environments, in what has become known as “smart city” technology... The N.Y.U. center’s partners include technology companies like I.B.M., Cisco Systems and Xerox, as well as universities and the New York City government...

City governments, like other institutions, have collected data for years to try to become more efficient. There have been some notable achievements, like CompStat, the New York Police Department’s system for identifying crime patterns, introduced in the mid-1990s and later widely adopted elsewhere. What is different today, says Dr. Koonin, is that digital technologies — sensors, wireless communication, storage and clever software algorithms — are advancing so rapidly that it is becoming possible to see and measure activities in an urban environment as never before. “We can build an observatory to be able to see the pulse of the city in detail and as a whole,” Dr. Koonin explains. Dr. Koonin’s digital “observatory” of urban life raises questions about privacy. He is keenly aware of that issue, and vows that the center is engaged in science rather than surveillance...

“I’d like to create SimCity for real,” Dr. Koonin says, referring to the classic computer simulation game. To help, Dr. Koonin is forging partnerships with government laboratories to tap their expertise in building complex computer simulations, like climate models for weather prediction. The path to SimCity will come step by step, through tackling specific projects.

The first one is a program to monitor and analyze noise. The largest single cause of complaints to New York’s 311 phone and online service is noise. It is a quality-of-life issue, Dr. Koonin says, and one related to health, especially when noise disrupts sleep. The 10-member project team includes music professors, computer scientists and graduate students. The group will use the city’s 311 data, but also plans to employ wireless sensors — tiny ones outside windows, noise meters on traffic lights and street corners, perhaps a smartphone app for crowdsourced data gathering. To inform policy choices, data on noise limits for vehicles and muffler costs might be added to the street-level noise readings. Then, computer simulations could predict the likely effect of enforcement steps, charges or incentives to buy properly working mufflers for vehicles without them. The project, Dr. Koonin says, might also pull in data on traffic flows, garbage pickup times and building classifications. For example, he says, a 2 a.m. garbage pickup could be routed to a neighborhood with little residential housing...

The center will focus its research and resources on one city — New York, as “a living laboratory.”...

The city government is committed to giving the N.Y.U. center access to all its public data. That is a rich asset not only for research, but also for its potential to change government operations and public behavior. In many “smart city” projects, “the single biggest impact is transparency — the effect of measurement and communicating the data,” observes Jonathan R. Woetzel, a director of McKinsey & Company in Shanghai, who heads the firm’s consulting work with cities...

The social ingredients of motivation, habit and incentives, according to Dr. Koonin, will be part of the research agenda at the N.Y.U. center. “The approach we’re taking here is from sensors to sociologists. This has got to be science with a social dimension.”
smart_cities  data  networked_urbanism  noise  sound_space  urban_studies  urban_planning 
february 2013 by shannon_mattern
Grand Reductions: 10 Diagrams That Changed City Planning | SPUR - San Francisco Planning + Urban Research Association
Many of the ideas that have most influenced the shape of cities have been expressed through diagrams — simple visual statements that distill particular values, ideologies and policy agendas. A few have become iconic images, inspiring imitation, elaboration and critique. They are touchstones in the visual lexicon of urban planning and design.

This issue of The Urbanist and the accompanying exhibition at the SPUR Urban Center gallery investigate the iconography of city planning and the impact — for better or worse — of these images on the shape of urban communities in the United States. As new technologies enable new kinds of visualization, we pause for a look back at the field’s visual culture through 10 of its most influential diagrams, asking not only what planners were thinking about cities but also how they used the power of imagery to persuade and to communicate....

The word “diagram” (literally “marked out by lines” in Greek) refers to any schematic visual explanation of an idea. Diagrams take advantage of the differences between how our minds process language and how they process images. They are often set alongside a written or verbal argument to highlight a particularly important idea... Diagrams seem to have a special power when it comes to the representation of place since they are able to combine spatial and nonspatial ideas. Pictures and data. Real and imagined worlds. Abstract ideas and concrete proposals. In this way, the diagram becomes a remarkably fertile space in which to explore the shaping of cities.

The power of a diagram is reductive: It distills a complex idea into a simple and powerful visual statement. Its clarity results from omission as much as inclusion, so it is often achieved at the expense of nuance and specificity. Unencumbered by pragmatic concerns, diagrams allow for experimentation and imaginative leaps.

At their worst, diagrams can become bases for exclusion or marginalization... helped cement the idea of “slum clearance” under the federal urban renewal programs of the 1950s and ’60s, for example. But at their best, diagrams crystallize emerging points of view, framing challenges and choices in a new light, as when the Oakland Tribune’s arresting 1961 “Bay or River?” graphic helped to spur major new protections for San Francisco Bay. Similarly, the use of figure-ground maps by urban designers in the 1970s (see p. 16) vividly expressed the nebulous idea of urban pattern, making the case for its value in planning decisions...

The word “plan” implies forethought and aspiration, not simply a representation of what is. But at times, maps and plans converge. The contextualist revolt in city planning in the 1960s and ’70s insisted that a major part of the discipline consists of analytical mapping of existing conditions, in contrast with the grandiose erasures of modernist urbanism. The cognitive mapping of planners like Kevin Lynch and Donald Appleyard prefigured the explosion of alternative cartography and data visualization now made possible by digital media. The tools of cartography — and its tacit filtering of reality — have been radically democratized, and map-making has become a discourse in which artists, activists, tech nerds and planners can assert their own visions of what is and what ought to be... Plan view is all-seeing, god-like, but also deceptive and illusory. Keeping the viewer at a comfortable distance, it hides not only the third dimension but the dynamic, temporal and sensual qualities of place...

UTOPIAN TEMPLATES: Renaissance ideal cities inspired by Vitruvius (15th-16th c.) 1. Filarete, 2. Fra Giocondo, 3. Girolamo Maggi, 4. Giorgio Vasari, 5. Antonio Lupicini, 6. Daniele Barbaro, 7. Pietro Cattaneo, 8/9 di Giorgio Martini.

OTHER WAYS OF LOOKING: in 1909 Patrick Geddes used a “transect,” borrowing the visual language of a cross section from architecture (an imaginary slice through space, viewed from the side) and deploying it as an analytical tool at a much larger scale borrowed from ecological science. The diagram perfectly suited Geddes’s purpose, revealing the way conditions and contexts change across the landscape. Thus, as a way of representing and looking at space, it makes the case for context sensitivity, for a broad consideration of a site’s urban, regional and ecological situation. Similarly, the figure-ground or Nolli plan (p.16), named for Giambattista Nolli’s masterful 1748 map of Rome, excels at revealing the way in which buildings define streets and open spaces, creating a legible pattern...

[1] Garden Cities
[2] The Towers in the Park / Radiant City
[3] The Rural Grid
[4] The Street Grid
[5] The Megaregion
[6] The Transect: "combines the visual language of the architectural cross section with a scale and analytical approach borrowed from the science of ecology. It reveals how conditions change across a landscape, suggesting the importance of context to both natural and built communities."
[7] Sculpting Form (e.g., Hugh Ferriss)
[8] The Nolli Map: "It presented the entire city to scale in plan (or “ichnographic”) view — with every point seen as if from directly above. At the time, most urban views were imagined bird’s-eye aerial perspectives that were not technically rigorous. The Nolli map’s impact on urban design and planning stems from its graphical convention: In figure ground diagrams, buildings are shown as dark masses, with streets and open space left white. The effect — now a common analytical technique — is to reveal the characteristic pattern of streets and buildings that underlies urban form."
[9] The Bottom-Up City
[10] The Hockey Stick
diagram  rendering  urban_planning  urban_form  mapping  GIS  plans  cartography  data_visualization 
february 2013 by shannon_mattern
Greenwash: The dream of the first eco-city was built on a fiction, writes Fred Pearce | Environment | guardian.co.uk
British eco-engineers and green-minded architects and town planners were designing the renewably powered, car-free, water-recycling city of Dongtan as a model for the world. And its first 25,000 citizens would be living the good life there in time for the Shanghai World Expo in 2010, at which it would be by far the largest exhibit, reached by a new tunnel and bridge.

Well, it is now exactly a year until the start of the Expo. The tunnel and bridge are about to open. But of the eco-city there is nothing except half a dozen wind turbines and an organic farm. No houses, no water taxis, no sewage-recycling plant, no energy park. Nothing. And all mentioned of it has disappeared from the Expo website (slogan: "Better city; better life").

This week, Peter Head, the man behind the project at the London-based consulting engineers Arup, who drew up the master plan, told me his clients at the city's Shanghai Industrial Investment Company had "gone quiet. We just don't know if anything will happen or when. The project office is shut."

There is a persistent rumour that the project has been a casualty of the political fallout from the conviction of the city boss Chen Liangyu, jailed last year for corruption. Not so, says Head. The problems are more fundamental.

"China does everything by the rules handed down from the top. There is a rule for everything. The width of roads, everything. That is how they have developed so fast, by being totally prescriptive. We wanted to change the rules in Dongtan, to do everything different. But when it comes to it, China cannot deliver that."
urban_planning  sound_design  acoustics  China  Arup 
february 2013 by shannon_mattern
"City-in-a-Box" | Volume
"companies instead of governments...are starting to create + run cities: concept, investment + funding, development and exploitation"

"‘Going East Asia’ these days is not ´only´ about delivering housing quarters, railway stations, airports, fiber networks, waste water treatment plants and what not; it extends to the delivery of complete cities. It’s already been a long time that the West has been confronting the ‘building a new town’ theme, but today it is a business opportunity... a shift in who’s taking the initiative, who’s deciding and who’s governing when it comes to city building and city management.

This shift in practice cannot be summoned up in one sentence, it has many grades and variants, but the general tendency is that companies instead of governments and their planning departments are starting to create and run cities: concept, investment and funding, development and exploitation – including all services – in short the full package or ‘city in a box’. That is no small thing. In fact it’s grand. The investment involved is without precedent, the risks are substantial (world economy is not very predictable these days), the projects are massive. One could argue that the creation of a city as complete system is a triumph of human ingenuity.

Again, there is not one formula. In some cases these cities are privately run like mini states, as smoothly functioning alternatives to messy everyday realities. In others it is more about the creation of well-functioning economic hubs, technologically advanced ‘full service’ cities, that can compete for talent and enterprise on a global market. They come in different guises: the creative industry look of former warehouses and reused industrial buildings, postmodern new urbanist Italianate lake-town romanticism, international finance modernism, and maybe we’ll see hi tech indigenous styled alternatives soon...

To approach the city as business primarily, to operate it like a company and make it perform as stock market fund, seems to miss a value or two... This is more than a retreating public sector and the market stepping in. This is a question of whether we want to and can base the organization of society on capitalist principles in full; if we can allow the corporation to take over. The answer to this question may not be as simple as it seems. Western rock solid values like democracy, freedom of choice, individual integrity and let’s not forget social inclusiveness have been challenged for a while now. New technologies, new social patterns, and competing political systems have demonstrated that rock solid may not be as solid as thought. So, if companies can deliver what democratic government cannot, why worry, why bother, why complain?....

Maybe hubris is the first thing to tackle. Playing god is not something architects shied away from in the past, but when it comes to New Towns, we have an unhappy history to look back onto. The current generation of New Town is even more ambitious in the all controlled life it offers. What makes current developers confident to succeed where public authority failed?

More fundamental is the notion of inclusivity. The entrepreneurial city targets a middle class as consumers and inhabitants. Poorer sectors of society are included as far as needed to serve the ones that create profit. Inclusiveness and building for all is not the ambition nor in the interest of the city-in-a-box developer.

And then there is a potential conflict of interest between private and public. The US could have been the first country with a nationwide network of high speed trains, reducing CO2 emissions and pollution caused by traffic drastically. But the car industry prevented this by de-servicing complete rail lines, stations and public transportation systems, to secure its prominent role in transportation. What is good for the company isn’t necessarily good for society.

And in line with this: what society needs may not be offered by the company. Not every public service can be changed into a profit making enterprise. Yet the quality and resilience of a society depends on these too.

There is also an inherent problem. This kind of city development and exploitation is based on exclusivity for the preferred partners. It actually functions as monopoly... these cities can only come about and exist within certain favorable conditions. Land for free, major infrastructural investments in its vicinities, etc.

Lastly, we see that in all examples as presented governance is an unsolved issue. For the immediate now it is avoided, postponed to a future when everything is up and running (and basic returns are secured).

The problem for the city developers is that tendencies that already surround us to different degrees in many aspects of our lives (lack of real choice, loss of control over ones personal data, and more), all of a sudden are very visibly present in one product, in one environment. It is the condensed way these developments come together in the new towns we present here that is so fascinating: the daring scale, the clever layered business models, non only depending on direct sales, but different types of profit making, commercial chains of hard- and software, of products and services.
Asia  urban_planning  city_building  governance  urban_development  * 
january 2013 by shannon_mattern
BLDGBLOG: Monuments of Misdirection
surveyor John Randel, her book's subject, back in 1811 as he staked out Manhattan's future grid... Randel spent "10 years staking out and marking the intersections from First Street to 155th Street with 1,549 three-foot-high marble monuments and, when the ground was too rocky, with 98 iron bolts secured by lead. (He had to resurvey 30 miles after vandals or disgruntled property owners removed the markers.)"

Manhattan at that time was thus, however briefly, a kind of game board or field of acupuncture points—a ghost grid, in advance of the city it surveyed—with thousands of monuments and bolts pinning down the spots where streets and intersections would soon appear.

Holloway's concluding point, however, is that even something as real and tangible as Randel's iron bolts, anchored by lead into solid bedrock, nonetheless remain extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, to map with objective accuracy.
grid  manhattan  urban_planning  gps  urban_archaeology 
december 2012 by shannon_mattern
CITY2.0 | Citizen Powered Change
"The City 2.0 website is a platform created to surface the myriad stories and collective actions being taken by citizens around the world. We draw on the best of what is already being discovered by urban advocates and add grassroots movers and shakers into the mix. What's emerging is a complex picture of the future city--a place more playful, more safe, more beautiful, and more healthy for everyone."

Themes: art, education, food, health, housing, play, public space, safety, transportation
urban_studies  cities  crowdsourcing  urban_planning  guerilla_urbanism  tactical_urbanism 
october 2012 by shannon_mattern
Introducing the World’s First City for Robots | This Big City
A science project of unprecedented scale begins this month in the New Mexico desert, as a technology firm breaks ground for a model metropolis. Washington-based Pegasus Global Holdings will build a town replete with schools, parks and an airport.

The uninhabited city will serve as a laboratory for universities, companies and government agencies to test emerging technologies, such as alternative energy generation, intelligent traffic systems, wireless communications and smart power grids. The design, which is being finalised in consultation with the architectural firm Perkins and Will, includes an underground warren of control rooms, where engineers can simulate different conditions throughout apartments, roads and public spaces.

But the intended residents are not people, but robots.

Scheduled to open in 2015, the Center for Innovation, Testing and Evaluation, or CITE, will be built across 20 square miles to the scale of a mid-sized American city. With housing and infrastructure to accommodate 35,000 people, the $1 billion plan features both old and new elements of urban and suburban design, from LEED-certified office buildings to 1980s-era ‘McMansions’.
urban_planning  speculative_urbanism  robots 
august 2012 by shannon_mattern
A Brief History of the Birth of Urban Planning - Jobs & Economy - The Atlantic Cities
Is urban planning about physical design, he wondered, or about making things easier for the people who live in our urban spaces? It was an essential question for the field, which really wasn't born until the early 20th century. Before then, there were three types of people thinking about how a city should look and function — architects, public health officials, and social workers. Each group approached the question of city building very differently. The architects were focused on the city as a built environment, implementing ideas like L'Enfant's grand vision for Washington, D.C., and the New York City grid (set out by the Commissioner's Plan of 1811). The public health professionals, on the other hand, were consumed with infrastructure. They knew there was a connection between certain diseases and social conditions, even if they didn't know precisely what it was... And lastly the social workers wanted to use the city to improve the lives of the people living there. They wanted cleaner tenements, spaces for immigrant children to play, and more light and fresh air for residents. These thinkers were brought together by the pressure cooker that was the Industrial Revolution. "At that moment, we began to look for technological ways to expand the city," says Elliott Sclar, a professor of urban planning at Columbia University. "All of a sudden here's a pressure to comprehensively plan.

Though the social workers and the public health officials continued to play a role, urban planning's intellectual history ended up grounded in architecture. That outcome is thanks in a large part to the creation of the country's first urban planning school, at Harvard... "The first graduates were trained as designers," Alofsin says. "These were not policy wonks - they got hired by cities to make plans."... The advent of urban-conscious planners meant that cities began to create their own master plans... cities used urban planning not to build better, or cleaner, or morally uplifting cities. They used planners to divide the city, creating beautiful spaces at the expense of the poor.
urban_planning  urban_history  zoning 
august 2012 by shannon_mattern
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