Monday, February 21, 2005


Some links from the latest DOORS newsletter-- always loads of interesting links and thoughts from them...
- A report on 'free zones' as sites for creativity-- areas left unplanned...

- A blog on squatters by the author of a book on the subject called Shadow City

- Online markets for time... sell 'slivers of time' online... very interesting. Must read in more detail.

From the telecoms-cities mailing list:
- Locative media blog from a member of Mobile MUSE (see below)
Good report here on the PLAN event mentioned last month and report on Urban Tapestries

- Mobile MUSE (Media-rich Urban Shared Experience) website -- a Canadian project 'exploring new technologies in combination with social demands, to discover ways wireless applications can create personalized, effective, interactive services'.
They define Mobile Urban Culture as:
A look at the social habits of mobile consumers…They are:
On the go: don’t spend all their time in a single place
Meet new people: have opportunities & incentive to expand their social circle
Stay connected: maintain relationships through regular shallow contact
Everyone has one: Mobile phones are ubiquitous in their social circles
Program me in: Mobile phonebook is main contact list
(Amy Jo Kim, Expert, Stanford University)

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Wireless London: The Semantic City

The second Wireless London event was on last night at the AA. Entitled 'The Semantic City', the speakers were John Bell of the AA and Jo Walsh , a 'free software hacker, author and gonzo cartographer'.
Lots of material to think about from these two with some interesting linkages between the talks.
I liked Jo Walsh's talk a great deal, particularly as she has thought through a number of ideas about the parallels between the software design process and architecture. I was struck by this a number of years ago (when I had more involvement in software-making)-- programmers tend to use architectural metaphors to describe software features-- usually to illustrate the infeasibility of some proposed change (e.g. now you're asking me to build in five extra windows and a balcony as opposed to the windowless shack you specified originally). She offers some ideas to return to architecture: defining isolatable subsystems- black boxes that publish an interface or contract defining what can be done at their edges.

I think this is an interesting idea for planning-- current planning is generally centralised with comprehensive plans being issued every few years. These are generally out of date as soon as they're published so interim plans and addendums are published. If individual units of space (sites, buildings, parks, squares) could be treated as independent so long as they upheld the conditions imposed by their neighbours, it could lead to more interesting as well as more heterogeneous city spaces. In a way this is what happened with Georgian streets for example-- heights of buildings, line of windows, size of plots were specified, but what was built within the site envelope was up to the developer. Could also make for a more streamlined, less bureaucratic planning system too. It would be interesting to model this, e.g. a city street- using certain inputs and outputs (e.g. heights, widths, number of people using the building, typology). Literally architecture by numbers!

There were many other thoughts about mapping and cartography from both talks which I will have to digest before I can discuss with any coherence.

John Bell addressed himself to the question of how technologies can be architectural. He read the first part of his talk, and discussed projects in the second part. I confess I always find it hard to follow lectures that are read aloud (as opposed to spoken from notes) as they are often written as papers rather than as speeches. When reading to oneself one can re-read difficult passages and ideas whereas when listening you need the speaker to repeat and headline key ideas to counter lapses in concentration. Perhaps I am insufficiently immersed in academia and haven't picked up this skill! Anyway, I digress. He defined architecture as 'mediated inhabitation' and discussed how architecture needs boundaries. However technologies form different types of boundaries and make different kinds of spaces, e.g. a wireless network works across building and development edges to make a new space of production and consumption. Form is thus no longer the issue --in London in particular there is a 'formalistic cacophony' but buildings are contstantly being updated and adapted for new uses. There is a role for embedded technologies -- more flexible building management systems, animated facades and so on.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

WiFi public space

This is great! an exhibition of 'WiFi Furniture' in the British Library: furniture specifically designed for use when using wireless equipment. I particularly like the Lean Back-- it's very comfortable. I could imagine something like this being incorporated into the design of a public space. Wouldn't it be great if there were elements designed to work with your body-- e.g. something to lean against when making a mobile phone call? or rest your bag on while taking down a phone number? It would be fascinating to do an urban design project to allow people to more easily use these kinds of technology while in public space. What would the space look like? would it be all ledges and walls for leaning against? alternatives to benches and chairs? public desks? with power sockets?
One of the key criteria would have to be ergonomics and how the body moves and responds to the space and the architecture. Often overlooked in urban space design. And architecture.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Technology-led urban renaissance?

Interesting article in the Guardian on Monday on how the cities of Northern England have been revived in the last few years. The research paper, called How Fare Our Cities? by Professor Brian Robson discusses how there are still significant differences measured by GVA between the North and the South, and between the prosperous and poor neighbourhoods within the cities. Furthermore, although the big cities are prospering, there are still big challenges facing smaller industrial towns such as Stoke-on-Trent, Burnley, Barnsley as well as seaside resorts-- places where the economic rationale that once propelled the town has now disappeared.
As Professor Robson says, "the most realistic strategy for such places may be tied to their becoming dormitories for the cities but local pride and politics make that a difficult strategy to pursue. We know little about how to downsize old settlements without creating painful tensions and increasing polarisation; yet this is a prospect faced by an increasing number of one-industry, medium sized towns".
I wonder what the role of technology might be here in helping these places to remain viable. The problem for them is that their main source of employment is dying, but they are not big enough to effectively diversify. So how to attract new sources of employment? Or at least allow people to work, while living there?
Much has been written about the death of geographies thanks to the Internet, but this is now recognised as being overstated. The dream of teleworking from a tropical island paradise has not come true for most of us. The Internet does allow people to communicate from diverse places, however existing work cultures still largely require people to be attached to a particular place (the office). This is changing for certain job types and sectors-- including (but not limited to) sales, consultants, knowledge workers.
There are perhaps interesting avenues to be explored in persuading large employers from neighbouring cities to site satellite offices in the smaller towns, perhaps shared with other companies. The idea would be that people could commute easily to these satellites, work there (possibily hotdesking) and travel into the main office just a couple of times a week. The satellites would offer shared facilities for work-- almost a halfway house between working from home and commuting to the main office. The problem with working from home is that it can be distracting, but more often it's lonely. This would offer some social interaction, and opportunities for knowledge sharing. This idea is explored a bit further in a recent EU-funded research project called Sustainable Accommodation for the New Economy (SANE)
For development agencies, there are perhaps also interesting possibilities for funding certain collaboration technologies to help companies and individuals communicate across geographical boundaries. More likely these technologies would be used over short distances (research shows that most companies deal with suppliers and partners who are local to them-- the power of place to form and cement relationships). But they might aid in strengthening relationships and thus aid in the formation of virtual clusters.
Also possibilities to use communication technologies to strengthen community and 'sense of place'? Through participation-- social software? locational blogging? This post is getting too long... will have to explore this further another time...
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