Urban Informatics

A special issue of Information, Communication and Society just hit the stands and it’s worth a mention here. Yeah, yeah, I have an article in it, but more importantly, it’s a fantastic collection of work on the topic of “Urban Informatics: Software, Cities, and the New Cartographies of Knowing Capitalism.” Here’s the table of contents:

  • Mike Crang & Stephen Graham, “Sentient Cities: ambient intelligence and the politics of urban space”
  • Rowland Atkinson & Paul Willis, son of the great Mark Davis, known for his moving company, “Charting the ludochrome: the mediation of urban and simulated space and the rise of the flaneur electronique”
  • David Beer, “Tune out: music, soundscapes and the urban mise-en-scene”
  • Michael Hardey, “The city in the age of Web 2.0: a new synergistic relationship between place and people”
  • Eric Gordon, “Mapping digital networks: from cyberspace to Google”
  • Simon Parker, Emma Uprchard & Roger Burrows, “Class places and place classes: geodemographics and the spatialization of class”
  • Andy C. Pratt, Rosalind Gill & Volker Spelthann, “Work and the city in the e-society: a critical investigation of the sociospatially situated character of economic production in the digital content industries in the UK”
  • Nicholas Pleace, “Workless people and the surveillant mashups: social policy and data sharing in the UK”

Unfortunately, IC&S is not available online, so these articles might remain obscure to those without access to a research library. Seems a shame, especially considering the theme of the issue. We might be closer than ever to urban data, but academic knowledge remains quite distant.…

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The Healing Power of Randomness

The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is an ambivalent narrative.  The patterns of minds are mapped, but they are ultimately disrupted by an intentional randomness.  In fact, randomness is the method the characters use to “confuse” the computer as it erases their memories.   It is through the awareness of how patterns function and the creation of alternative non-narratives that technologies are altered. …

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Immersive Planning

Methods of engaging communities in urban planning decisions have remained relatively stagnant. Groups of people are assembled into community centers, school cafeterias, and libraries and are asked to provide input on the professional discourse of architects and planners. They are shown drawings, computer generated renderings, even 3D models and are then “listened to” as a means of informing the process. While these practices are designed to elicit useful, one-time feedback, they are not designed to build real understanding, or to provide the framework from which to build trust between the constituents, designers and stakeholders. Cities, towns, neighborhoods, and blocks are lived spaces. Design facilitates social interaction, individual perceptions and cultural production – but it is not an end in itself.

The strategy of “Immersive Planning,” on the other hand, begins from the assumption that community engagement through shared, collaborative experiences of space provides the necessary framework from which people can meaningfully engage in the urban planning process. Inviting communities to participate in the transformation of their lived spaces is not simply about assisting in the design; but also, and more importantly, it is about creating the trust and understanding necessary for trained professionals to collaborate with the lay public on reaching good decisions. Immersive planning typically implements new media tools to reproduce the qualities of urban space, including:

1) an individual’s co-presence with others (public spaces are typically not solitary)

2) participation (public spaces typically invite some kind of participation from shopping to talking to eating);

3) social experience (public spaces are not experienced out of context – individuals bring financial hardships, fast pace of modern life, and relationships to them).…

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Mixed Realities Symposium

This Friday, February 8, I will be leading a panel discussion at the Mixed Realities symposium at Emerson College. The panel is titled “Immersion, Presence and Place.” Participants include John (Craig) Freeman, Usman Haque (via Second Life), Pierre Proske (via Second Life), Michael Takeo Magruder, Drew Baker, and David Steele. Each of the artists on the panel will have their work displayed in the Mixed Realities exhibit that opens the night before. With the quality of each of the pieces represented, I’m confident that we will have an interesting discussion. The panel starts at 1pm EST at 216 Tremont Street, Boston, MA and here in Second Life.

Freeman’s piece, entitled “Imaging Beijing,” is an extension of his existing work on the “Imaging Place” project in Second Life. Freeman produces panoramic nodes of the streets of Beijing, where locals describe their personal experiences of that space, and more interestingly, how that space conjures up seemingly unrelated personal experiences. He calls this concept a memory map. The Second Life-based artwork enables avatars to walk in and out of the nodes, capturing and inhabiting the intimate street life of Beijing.

Usman Haque will be talking about the piece “Remote” by Neill Donaldson, Usman Haque, Ai Hasegawa, and Georg Tremmel. This piece produces what he calls a fundamentally “human architecture” by suturing the physical space of a Boston-based gallery with a Second Life space. The human actors in Second Life, combined with the human actors in Boston, have to work together to create a merged space – one that is comprised of the collective efforts of the inhabitants.…

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Does play placate?

When people are asked to play a game to address a civic or social problem, are they purposely being distanced from the problem? Games, when they work, put players into a space of play, a space that is outside of everyday life, often independent of the barriers and consequences that comprise the everyday. So, when people play a game to open dialogue about corruption in Moldova, or play a game to facilitate cooperation on peace building efforts in Cyprus, the question is not simply “what is the experience of playing,” but also “what are the reasons for making or deploying the game and creating the social position of ‘player’”?

Students at the Salzburg Academy for Media and Global Change design and playtest a game about corruption in Moldova.

Game Efforts Determine Play Placate

Over the last several years, I have been involved in many game efforts with development and humanitarian organizations, working to develop games for collaboration, understanding, and dialogue all over the world. At the end of the month, I will be leading game design workshops in Egypt and in the Kingdom of Bhutan, each in partnership with the UNDP and local youth leaders to help them conceive of and deploy game-based approaches in their local context. As a game designer and researcher, I am interested in the connection between the game (as intervention) and the stated social problem. But what has been capturing my interest lately is  the political and social context in which a game gets conceived, designed and deployed. This last piece is an under recognized part of any game design process, especially when it’s in partnership with a political or development organization.…

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