miércoles, 23 de abril de 2014

Make_Shift City. Renegotiating the urban commons (book)

Francesca Ferguson has compiled a great collection of stories, essays and interviews in this new book, Make_Shift City, which represents the latest addition to a growing literature on the new conditions of urban development. This implies a mix of uncertainty, austerity, insecurity and temporality as the landscape for re-imagining the city. These conditions are present, to greater or lesser extent, in Western cities as newcomers after the financial crisis and its subsequent impact on urban development. As institutions try to understand how to face these new conditions, a wide experience of practices and appropriation projects, developed sometimes as outsiders in the previous economic stage, appear as an adequate response to give social value to neglected plots and facilities.

This is the panorama adaptive urbanism tries to illustrate and promote as a more than a meanwhile time, in which transition becomes a structural feature of the way cities will be built today and in the near future under a new set of tools and approaches that deal with this uncertainty with creativity, appropriation, empowerment, adhocism and a rediscovery of the ability of citizens to shape their everyday life spaces. Rigid planning and formal regulations give narrow chances to face this unexpected situation of stalled developments and “failed” urban spaces”. They were not designed to cope with the circumstances we are witnessing. They were thought out in a business as usual scenario in which usual meant the big party of iconic buildings, large developments, and massive public resources without economic and social bottom lines. As such, this book comprises a great compilation of actors that have been working and reinventing the rules of city making by challenging some basic urban planning mindsets (“if there is something planned here in some years, there is no need to give access to others to make something here”, “wait until the market gives an exit”, etc.). The work and approach by Bruit du Frigo, Center for Urban Pedagogy, Exyzt, raumlaborberlin, Basurama or Assemble, among others, appear in the book as a background knowledge collected in the last years and exemplify the changing roles of urban planning disciplines towards alternative planning policies. The spontaneous city, The temporary city, Second hand spaces or Urban catalyst also cover this issue and with Make_Shift city we gain a new resource/catalogue to understand that these practices long ago succeeded in bringing new life to abandoned spaces and tested what Indy Johar addresses in the book as "the architecture of the civic economy".

The book´s structure helps understand the reasoning and motivation of these actors (most of them under working on a collective basis), linking case descriptions with short interviews and essays (by Dan Hill or Fran Tonkiss, among others). In this sense, it is great to find in the book some of the projects I usually draw upon when explaining these ideas (and probably missing some projects from Spain), such as Cineroleum and Folly for a Flyover (London), Vendor Power! (NYC), NDSM Wharf (Amsterdam), Superkilen (Copenhagen), Tempelhofer Feld and Prinzessinnengärten(Berlin), Southwark Lido and The ReUnion (London), etc. Some of them are, in fact, depicted in the latest issue of Uncube with Francesca Ferguson as guest-editor, serving as an introductory reading before you get the book. 

martes, 15 de abril de 2014

International Conference on Digital Intelligence (Nantes): call for papers

Digital Intelligence 2014 (#di2014) is a new international scientific and interdisciplinary conference dedicated to digital society and cultures. The challenge is to bring together researchers from various disciplines (ICT, humanities, biology & health...) in order to discuss and contribute to shape a new scientific and cultural paradigm.

#di2014 will be jointly organized with Scopitone, the main French Festival on digital arts and electronic music (Scopitone 2014, Sept. 16-21, 2014). #di2014 is at the heart of the Nantes Digital Week (Sept. 13-21, 2014) which brings together conferences, workshops, demonstrations, performances and concerts related to Art, Science and Economy.

At once festive, innovative and hybrid, Nantes Digital Week appeal to a wide audience and will be organized around major events: Startup Weekend, Scopitone festival on Digital Art and Electronic Cultures, FabLab Day, Robotic Day, etc.

The program will be built around four main components: plenary invited talks, contributed talks in parallel sessions, artistic sessions, performances and works shared with the Scopitone festival and finally sessions and events related to the (real) economy of digital cultures.

I am involved as a member of the Program Committee in the smart cities area, chaired by Stéphane Roche (Department of Geomatics, Université Laval - Québec, Canada). Here you can find the call for papers in case you want to submit a paper.

  • Submission deadline: April 30, 2014
  • Notification of acceptance/rejection: June 16, 2014
  • Conference: Sept. 17-19, 2014

--------------------- SUBMISSION GUIDELINES ---------------

Papers should be submitted online using this form: https://www.easychair.org/conferences/?conf=di2014

Papers should not exceed 5 pages in LNCS format (http://www.springer.de/comp/lncs/authors.html) and should be submitted in PDF format.

The submitted papers (technical or position papers, surveys) must be unpublished and must not be under review elsewhere.

-------------------------------- TOPICS ------------------------------

Main areas of interest include, but are not limited to:

- Art & Culturally-Aware Information Technology: Digital Art, IT for cultural, natural and scientific Heritage, In-museum Innovative Technology and uses

- Data: Big Data, Open Data, Linked Data, Data Journalism, Data Visualization

- Digital Organizations: Applications of new technologies to e-Business and e-Administration, e-Commerce, e-Marketing, m-Commerce, m-Marketing, Organizational and management issues

- Social Web: Social Network Analysis, Communities of practice / interest in social media and mobile devices, Collective intelligence, Collaborative production and Social Computing, Knowledge Ecosystems, Digital Ecosystems, Economics and social innovation on Digital Ecosystems

- Digital Identity: e-reputation (human, product, enterprise, government, etc.), Digital traces and memories, Privacy, Trust, Security and Personal Data Management Systems, Human factors (culture, affect, motivation, cognition) and user centered design in digital technology

- e-Learning: Social impact and cultural issues in e-Learning, Policy and organizational issues in e-Learning, e-Universities, e-Schools, e-Learning technologies and tools, e-Learning standards (Open Course Ware, Open Access), open e-Learning : OER, MOOCs, virtual mobility

- Green Digital Economy: Green computing, IT for Sustainability, Smart Cities and Homes

- Digital Trends and Emerging Practices: Cloud Computing, Emotional Computing, Serious Games, Makers, FabLabs, MediaLabs, LivingLabs, ArtLab, innovative Digital Solution in Health, Tourism, Internet of Things, Digital Addiction Studies

- Human-Robot Interaction: Ethical and social issues of HRI, Bio-inspired robotics, Humanoid robotics, Socially intelligent robots, assistive (health & personal care) robotics, Transhumanism

- Human-Computer Interaction: Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality, Design, User Experience and Usability

- Digital humanities: Philosophy of the Web, Digital Literature, Digital Literacy

--------------------------- PROCEEDINGS --------------------------

The accepted papers will be included in the electronic conference proceedings.

Authors of selected conference papers will be invited to submit an extended version of their work to scientific journals or a compilation volume of articles.

sábado, 12 de abril de 2014

Smart cities. Inteligencia al servicio de las personas

Falta un relato de la smart city que ponga sobre la mesa los desafíos sociales y políticos, capaz de hacerse preguntas de modo crítico. Hay que ampliar el concepto para que represente la experiencia de la vida diaria de la ciudadanía.

© Oriol Malet
Tras estos años protagonizando gran parte del debate institucional (en forma de congresos, planes, proyectos piloto, etcétera), la ciudad inteligente no es capaz de explicarse a sí misma de manera comprensible. Pocos conceptos relacionados con la agenda urbana han sido capaces de captar tanta atención en tan poco tiempo y generar tanta confusión para, hoy por hoy, contar casi con tantos descontentos, críticos y escépticos como entusiastas.

Sin duda, el principal éxito de la maquinaria discursiva que ha promovido las smart cities es haberse hecho un hueco en la agenda de las políticas urbanas en un periodo de tiempo muy breve. Sin embargo, aún falta un relato comprensible y cercano para la ciudadanía, que asiste entre la indiferencia y el cansancio a un nuevo lenguaje que los políticos han asumido con sorprendente facilidad como nuevo recurso de comunicación pública. Así lo reconoce Júlia López, responsable de proyectos de la dirección de smart cities del Ayuntamiento de Barcelona, al plantear lo siguiente: “Tiene mucho más sentido hablar de tecnologías de transformación de la ciudad. Se debe justificar muy bien por qué la ciudad dedica tiempo y recursos a las smart cities, enfatizando la voluntad de transformación urbana”.

Como balance provisional, sin desdeñar los proyectos e iniciativas que realmente han conseguido ponerse en marcha, tenemos un gran revuelo en torno al papel de la tecnología en la ciudad y, en paralelo, un gran desconcierto sobre qué significan las smart cities en la vida cotidiana. Al menos así puede ser percibido por quienes se han acercado a esta cuestión y no han sabido encontrar realidades materializables más allá de los grandes conceptos en los que se mueve la narrativa de lo smart. Su génesis es explicada por Paco González (arquitecto en Radarq, profesor de los programas de Gestión de la Ciudad y Urbanismo en la Universitat Oberta de Catalunya): “Es una oferta generada por empresas tecnológicas globales, a la que administraciones y gobiernos municipales responden con estrategias y programas que buscan atraer estas inversiones de capital tecnológico con la intención de desarrollar el sector de la nueva economía de las TIC”.

El desencanto

La principal incógnita es qué papel puede tener la ciudadanía en estas transformaciones, más allá del desencanto ante un relato basado en promesas espectacularizadas a través de renderizados futurísticos, complejos diagramas de servicios urbanos interconectados y un lenguaje técnico muy alejado de la cotidianeidad de la ciudadanía. El discurso subyacente ha situado el foco en las soluciones tecnológicas para automatizar servicios públicos como el transporte, la recogida de residuos, la iluminación, etcétera, y el esfuerzo de explicación ha estado dirigido a convencer a las instituciones de la necesidad de implantar estas soluciones. Pero falta construir un relato de la ciudad inteligente pensada desde el día a día de la ciudadanía, que ponga sobre la mesa los desafíos sociales y políticos y que sea capaz de plantearse preguntas. Paco González se muestra crítico en este sentido: “El modelo es similar al de las grandes infraestructuras de transporte: agentes que generan costes y cambios estructurales que repercuten en la ciudad de la que extraen beneficios, sin involucrar a la ciudadanía en el proceso”.

La vida en las ciudades está cada vez más determinada por las tecnologías digitales. Vivimos en una creciente interacción con objetos, plataformas y dispositivos conectados, muchas veces de manera inconsciente (el rastro digital que dejamos en el Bicing, nuestra imagen captada por una cámara de videovigilancia o el paso de un autobús urbano identificado por un sensor, por ejemplo) y otras de manera más consciente (buscando un lugar a través de la navegación GPS, conectándonos a una red de conexión inalámbrica en una plaza, pagando el estacionamiento, etcétera). Sin embargo, falta abordar críticamente el significado de este rastro digital. En una reciente conferencia en el marco del ciclo Ciudad Abierta, organizado por el Centro de Cultura Contemporánea de Barcelona (CCCB), Evgeny Morozov planteó algunas claves para afrontar una relectura crítica del significado y las consecuencias subyacentes del discurso dominante en torno a las smart cities, apelando a la necesidad de no abandonar la responsabilidad cívica y el espíritu crítico. Aportaciones recientes en forma de libros como los publicados por Adam Greenfield (Against the smart city) o Anthony Townsend (Smart cities. Big data, civic hackers and the quest for a new utopia) suponen asideros a los que agarrarse para construir un modelo democratizador de relación con las tecnologías inteligentes.

Centralización o ciudadano inteligente

Este escenario de una sociedad conectada es el que la smart city parece querer dominar para transformarlo al máximo en un sistema centralizado, automatizado, adaptable y controlado en tiempo real. Por eso el centro de operaciones inteligente de Río de Janeiro se ha convertido en la representación canónica de esta pretensión. ¿No deberíamos esperar algo más que simple eficacia? Al fin y al cabo, hoy disponemos de tecnologías accesibles, baratas y sencillas para crear soluciones de manera autónoma. ¿No deberían formar parte también del relato de la ciudad inteligente? Sobre esta cuestión, el impulso de modelos de desarrollo abiertos es una de las cuestiones críticas para Júlia López, quien reivindica el papel de los ayuntamientos para que los proyectos se diseñen desde “el uso de estándares abiertos no invasivos, que garanticen la privacidad de los ciudadanos al mismo tiempo que homogeneicen soluciones en todas las ciudades del mundo. No tiene sentido que cada ciudad disponga de sus propias soluciones y que estas no sirvan en otros lugares. Las ciudades tienen un rol muy importante en ese sentido frente a las empresas y a los ciudadanos”.

Disponer de estas tecnologías abiertas está impulsando el redescubrimiento de los bienes comunes, el espacio de responsabilidad compartida. La esfera digital se ha instalado de forma sigilosa, pero transformando radicalmente la capacidad social de intervenir en ámbitos como la generación y la distribución de información, la organización de formas de gestión colaborativa, la creación de soluciones tecnológicas para problemas locales o la intermediación en el debate público. Acción colectiva, autoorganización y cocreación son las bases de una mirada social al rol transformador de las tecnologías de la smart city, plasmada a través de proyectos relacionados con la ciencia ciudadana, los laboratorios digitales –en sus diferentes formas de medialabs, hacker spaces, etcétera– o las intervenciones digitales en fachadas y otros elementos de interacción.

La ciudad inteligente no necesita ser convertida en un espectáculo de soluciones mágicas inaccesibles a la ciudadanía, ni en una epopeya hacia el sometimiento a las reglas del control automático. Lo que necesitamos es construir una posición crítica como sociedad, un esfuerzo que, por ejemplo, plantea con ambición la exposición del CCCB “Big Bang Data”, una evidencia de la necesidad de escarbar en la superficie para confrontar el potencial del big data con sus desafíos, peligros y alternativas.

Artículo publicado originalmente en el número 91 de la revista Barcelona Metrópolis

jueves, 10 de abril de 2014

Intelligence at the service of people - New essay (Barcelona Metropolis)

Some months ago I was asked to write a contribution to the new edition of Barcelona Metropolis magazine. This monograph is devoted to smart cities and includes a number of articles with different perspectives exploring the benefits and perils for urban living. Smart cities, technology with people in mind comprises several contributions with a particular focus on Barcelona, but they can be also illustrative of the generic discussions on smart cities:
The whole city on your mobile, by Anna Carrió
Protocols for developing new cities, by Joaquin Elcacho
Not only smart, but a creative talent, by Karma Peiró
Technologies for improving logistics and travels, by Mònica L. Ferrado
Doctor Smart on the phone, by Mònica L. Ferrado
The challenges of Smart Barcelona, by Albert Cuesta
Smart cities with no future?, by Gemma Galdón Clavell
Intelligence at the service of people, by Manu Fernández

As it is introduced:
In a short space of time, the concept of the smart city has ceased to be technological fantasy and has gained a social dimension. Smart has become the inescapable prefix for labelling areas of our lives ranging from transport to health, logistics, phones and waste management. Today a smart city is synonymous with a connected city, conceived for sustainability and energy efficiency, but also oriented towards effective knowledge transmission. Barcelona, Mobile World Capital and promoter of the City Protocol, already occupies fourth position in the 2013 Smart City ranking and stands out as an example of good practice in the field of urban intelligence.
The future of our cities will inevitably be smart, but we cannot ignore the uncertainty hanging over this new world. Smart cities feed on personal data that make each one of our actions valuable information. The crossover of these data opens up new possibilities for synchronising people and improving public services, but it could also become a means of control. At the same time that cross-cutting smart policies are emerging, we hear critics calling for a democratic model for smart technologies.
My article, which is finally entitled Intelligence at the service of people (Spanish version here), tries to set the case for a new understanding and a new narrative on the intersection of digital technologies and urban life in the networked society.

There is a need for a story about the smart city that puts the social and political challenges on the table, and can ask critical questions about our cities. We have to widen the concept so that it can represent the experience of citizens’ daily lives.
After taking centre stage in the institutional debate in recent years (in the form of conferences, plans, pilot projects, etc.), the smart city is still unable to explain itself in a comprehensible way. Few concepts relating to the urban agenda have been able to attract as much attention in such a short time and generate as much confusion, and today there are nearly as many dissidents, critics and sceptics as there are enthusiasts.

Undoubtedly, the main success of the discursive machinery promoting smart cities is having found its way so quickly onto the agenda of urban policies. However, there is still a need for an understandable, user-friendly narrative for the public, who have reacted with a weary indifference to this new language, which politicians have adopted surprisingly easily as a new resource for public communications. This is acknowledged by Júlia López, the head of the Barcelona City Council’s smart cities department, when she suggests that “it makes much more sense to talk about technologies for transforming the city. If the city is going to dedicate time and resources to smart cities, this must be justified very well, with an emphasis on the desire to transform the urban setting.”
A rough assessment of the current situation, without dismissing the projects and initiatives it has really been possible to start up, shows a great deal of fuss about the role of technology in the city, and at the same time a great deal of confusion about what smart cities actually mean for everyday life. At least, this is how it might be perceived by anyone approaching the subject who has not found anything tangible beyond the big-picture concepts driving the narrative of the smart city. Its origins are explained by Paco González (architect at Radarq, lecturer on the Town Management and Urban Planning programmes at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya): “It is an offer created by global technology companies, and municipal administrations and governments respond to it with strategies and programmes which seek to attract these investments of technological capital, with the intention of developing the new ICT economy.”

The main unknown quantity is what will be the role of the public in these transformations, beyond their disenchantment with a story based on dazzling promises illustrated with futuristic computer renderings, complex diagrams of interconnected urban services, and a technical language far removed from the everyday experience of the citizen. The underlying discourse has placed the spotlight on technological solutions to automate public services such as transport, rubbish collection, lighting, etc., and explanations have been focused on persuading institutions of the need to implement these solutions. But it is necessary to construct a story of the smart city from the point of view of the everyday lives of the public, which puts social and political challenges on the table, and which can ask questions about itself. Paco González is critical on this question: “The model is similar to that of major infrastructure for transport: players who generate costs and structural changes affecting the city, which they profit from, without involving the citizens in the process.”

Life in cities is increasingly determined by digital technologies. We live in an accelerating state of interaction with connected objects, platforms and devices, sometimes without being aware of it (the digital traces we leave in Bicing, our image captured by a surveillance camera, or a city bus going by which is identified by a sensor, for example) and sometimes more consciously (looking for a place using GPS, connecting to a Wi-Fi network in a square, paying for parking, etc.). However, we lack a critical approach to the meaning of these digital traces. In a recent conference as part of the Open City cycle organised by the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB), Evgeny Morozov suggested some keys for approaching a critical re-reading of the meaning and consequences underlying the dominant discourse about smart cities, appealing to the need not to abandon civic responsibility and the critical spirit. Recent contributions in the form of books such as Adam Greenfield’s Against the Smart City or Anthony Townsend’s Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia provide tools we can use for building a democratising model of the relationship with smart technology.

Centralisation or smart citizen
This scenario of a connected society is what the smart city seems to want to master in order to transform it into a totally centralised, automated, adaptable system which can be controlled in real time. That is why the smart Operations Centre of Rio de Janeiro has become the canonical image of this aspiration. Shouldn’t we expect something more than just efficiency? After all, today we all have access to cheap, simple technology enabling us to create our own solutions. Shouldn’t they also form part of the smart city story? On this question, the driving of open development models is one of the critical questions for Júlia López, who defends the role of city councils so that projects can be designed based on “the use of non-invasive open standards, guaranteeing the privacy of citizens while standardising solutions in all the cities in the world. It makes no sense for each city to have its own solutions, which cannot be used in other places. Cities have a very important role in this sense, in relation to companies and to the citizens.”

Having these open technologies is driving the rediscovery of common goods, the space of shared responsibility. The digital sphere has arrived quietly, but radically transforming society’s capacity to intervene in areas such as generating and distributing information, organising forms of collaborative management, creating technological solutions for local problems, or mediating in public debate. Collective action, self-organisation and co-creation are the foundations of a socially-aware approach to the transformational role of smart city technologies, in the form of projects relating to the science of cities, digital laboratories in their different forms of medialabs, hacker spaces, etc., digital interventions on facades and other interactive elements.

The smart city does not need to be made into a spectacle of magical solutions out of reach of the public, or an odyssey towards submission to the rules of automatic control. What we need is to construct a critical position as a society, for example, the ambitious proposals of the CCCB exhibition “Big Bang Data”, evidence of the need to look beyond the surface to confront the potential of big data, with its challenges, dangers and alternatives.

Barcelona Metropolis N. 91 - English edition
Barcelona Metropolis N. 91 - Spanish edition

Images by © Oriol Malet

viernes, 21 de marzo de 2014

Week picks #21

BIG BANG DATA (May 8-October 26 2014)

Big Bang Data explores the phenomenon of the information explosion we are currently experiencing. The last five years have seen the emergence of a generalized awareness among academic and scientific sectors, government agencies, businesses and culture that generating, processing and above all interpreting data is radically transforming our society.
We all generate data, with our mobile phones, sensors, social networks, digital photographs and videos, purchase transactions and GPS signals. What is new is that it is increasingly easy to store and process these vast quantities of data that detect patterns (of incidents, behaviour, consumption, voting, investment, etc.). This fact is very quickly and completely changing the way decisions are made at all levels.
Is data the new oil, a potentially boundless source of wealth? Is it the ammunition for arms of mass surveillance? Or should it be primarily an opportunity, an instrument for knowledge, prevention, efficiency and transparency, a tool to help construct a more transparent, participatory democracy?
The CCCB has created a space for exhibition projects that bring an integrative approach to the culture of the 21st century and the far-reaching transformations of the digital age.
For the five months of Big Bang Data, the expository space will also be a platform for meeting and debating this highly topical theme, with workshops, hackathons, education programmes and meetups for local and international communities.

MEDIA ARCHITECTURE BIENNALE 2014 (November 19-22 2014)

Architects, designers and artists meet with academia and industry, when the world’s premier media architecture event takes place on 19-22 November in Aarhus, Denmark, with a pre-event in Copenhagen. Across professions and nationalities, participants will create and discuss the media architecture of the future. And they will investigate how media architecture shapes people’s lives in the cities of the world.
The biennale brings together people and organisations that work with media and the built environment: With media facades, with urban screens and with buildings that communicate – be it with colourful LEDs, flashing light bulbs, or with heat-sensitive concrete that ’freezes’ the shadows of passers-by.


The UrbanIxD project takes the view that cities in the future will contain a complex mesh of interconnected, heterogeneous technological systems. Technology will continue to evolve, and the data-reading and writing capabilities of cities will only increase, but mess and complexity will still be the background context.
The focus of the emergent field of Urban Interaction Design is public space and the relationships between people – with and through technology2. The currency of these interactions is data. Making sense of this data, and making it meaningful, transparent, useful and enjoyable is a challenge for interaction design.
The | City | Data | Future | exhibition speculates about the possible futures that city inhabitants might experience.

DIGITAL INTELLIGENCE 2014 (September 17-19 2014)

The main objective of #di2014 is to bring together researchers, practitioners and students from a large variety of fields and to provide them with the opportunity to share their visions and research achievements as well establish worldwide cooperative research and developpement.
Areas of research include but are not limited to: Data, Social Web, Digital Humanities, Digital Identity, The commons, Digital Art, Smart Cities, Media and Digital Cultures, Human-Computer Interface, Digital Literature, Digital Literacy, Computational Thinking, Secutity, Safety and Privacy, e-Learning, Business intelligence.
The mindset of #di2014 is unique in bringing these disciplines together in creative and critical dialogs. We broadly invite contributions that describe original research, analysis, practices, and works-in-progress in all areas of Digital Cultures.

Week picks series features different initiatives and projects I found or want to highlight on this blog. It will help me track new findings from community groups, startups or local governments working and delivering solutions relevant to the issues covered on this blog. I often bookmark them or save them on Tumblr.

lunes, 17 de marzo de 2014

Second hand spaces – Recycling sites undergoing urban transformation (book)

Here is a new title added to my adaptive urbanism readings. Again, a great compilation showcasing practical examples –little wonder mostly in Germany, but also Denmark, Switzerland and the Netherlands - and insightful findings on the implications of transitional interventions in vacant sites. Along with Urban catalyst and The temporary city, Second hand spaces represents a cornerstone to research and understand the context, impact and actors around the different strategies for repurposing redundant urban assets and how they challenge the rigidity of formal planning. Edited by Michael Ziehl, Sarah Osswald, Oliver Hasemann and  Daniel Schnier, it intends to contribute to a better understanding of the processes behind the transformation of vacant spaces into recycled resources as a result of “self-determined adaptation of buildings and brownfields to the changed needs of their users”:

At vacant sites, second hand spaces draw on the atmosphere, the traces, the remains, and the history of their previous uses. Their actors develop an individual aesthetic out of the site that stands out due to its simplicity and improvised quality. New ideas are tested, and elements of surprise are created in the city. Second hand spaces evolve against the background of different demands on urban spaces and provide opportunities for interaction, participation, and start-ups. They open up new courses of action for urban planning and at the same time make a contribution to the sustainable design of urban change. In nine essays, twenty-seven experts highlight the backgrounds, actors, and effects of second hand spaces based on fifteen projects from Europe, resulting in thematic links to current social discourses throughout the book.
This bilingual publication builds on fifteen European projects –with different scopes and backgrounds, but all of them sharing a common approach on how to deal with vacancy as a permanent conflict in urban development and community needs. Buildings, open spaces, public facilities, infrastructures or factories, when turn into vacant sites, raise questions about how to make them still a useful resource even though its planned or previous use is no longer possible, and the collection of experiences depicted in the book represent a broad outlook of possibilities and challenges of this kind of projects.

The first part of the book addresses strategic and structural issues always behind temporary projects (regulation flexibility, financial frameworks –here, by the way, see for example the exploration Killing Architects are conducting on financial models for temporary projects-, settlements with owners and public institutions), from the tension between adaptability and stability to the benefits of transforming brownfield as problems to resources for urban creativity. The second set of chapters is devoted to the role of actors-users serves as an explanation of the emergence of this kind of projects and also the challenges from the usual precarious conditions of the initiators. The third and final part is dedicates to the conditions created by temporary interventions in second hand spaces, turning into expressions of civic engagement, contributions to built environment sustainability goals  in practice, experiences of self-sufficiency and enhancing community life. Most of the projects covered perfectly show the main potential of this approach to urban vacancy and transformation: beyond the physical occupation/reuse in every site there is a programme of action with a deep sense of community and a cultural/social interaction centre where there was no other expectation but waiting.


jueves, 13 de febrero de 2014

The city as interface, by Martijn de Waal

It´s been a long time since I knew about the Ph.D. Martijn de Waal had completed and it would have a new life as a book. The book in its English version is finally here (it was expected to go live in 2013) as a new contribution to understanding the role of digital media in urban living.

The city as interface. How new media are changing the city turns out to be the perfect company in this time that I am starting to put into words my own Ph.D., so I am sure it will be for some time on my desk –along with other books such as Against the smart city or Smart cities. Big data, civic hackers and the quest for new utopia). In the last few years, Martijn´s writings (see, for example, or The ideas and ideals in urban media theory and design) and work (see, for example, Social cities of tomorrow and the related publication, Ownership in the hybrid city) through The Mobile City he runs with Michiel de Lange) have influenced my approach to the intersection of public life and digital technologies and have usually appeared on the blog. Thus, it is no secret I was eager to read this book that constitutes a great exploration about where we are heading to regarding the digital public realm and its implications in collective life.

One of the most remarkable things about its pages is that it depicts a good overview of different approaches and scenarios to understand the kind of society these technologies may promote (in a few words, but deeply discussed throughout the book, the libertarian city, the republican city and the communitarian city), facing the challenges and implications on collective life. In these times in which the promises and prospects of technology abound without a clear understanding and a critical assessment of where we are heading to, we need to confront these promises with stronger political and philosophical ideas to put some light into the discussion:
When we talk about new technologies, it is often about their practical application: technology is presented as a convenient solution to real or supposed problems, it promises to make our lives more pleasant and convenient; at the same time, our cities will also become safer, more sustainable and more efficient. In short, technology is an almost inescapable magical power that will improve urban society. But for those who do not believe in magic, this picture mainly raises a number of questions.(p. 8)
To understand this debate and the application of urban media, Martijn sets two different levels, as urban media tools can serve as experience markers ("they can be used to record urban experiences and share them with others") an, at the same time, as territory devices ("an appliance or system that can influence the experience of an urban area"). This leads him to conclude “that the urban public sphere can no longer be considered as a purely physical construct. If we continue to view public spaces like this, we will miss important new ways in which city dwellers are brought together, take notice of each other and form urban publics. Therefore, instead of looking at physical locations, it is worth focusing on aspects of the process itself: how and under what circumstances do city dwellers take notice of each other and thus form urban publics?” (p. 20)

From this point, the book presents a framework to understand the claim of “the city as interface”, providing readers with a platform-programme-protocol scheme that relates computers functioning with public life experience in cities. and testing these premises under several test cases from today and from the past and the work by Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, Jane Jacobs and Jürgen Habermas, among others, and their ideas of the public domain. Here is where the book turns the head towards the crisis of the public sphere (via  privatization and commercialization of the public domain) that certain urbanism ideals implied in the past, revisiting Haussmaan´s boulevards –with an insightful, at least for me, of the contradictory visions we can raise from its impact in public life, the Flâneur, New Babylon or Plug-In City.

All of this serves as a theoretical approach to the main contents of the book in terms of practical implications, which appear in the “Digital media and the public domain” chapter. The public realm scenarios previously described are confronted with the most standardized vision of smart cities (with its most celebrated canonical representation in Songdo) against other approaches such as Dan Hill´s influential essay on the street as platform (and other tools and digital projects developed in the last few years). As such, the book is an exploration on how to transcend individualization (networked individualism) to reach an alternative scenario for which we need new definitions of urban public sphere that is now so determined by locative media ("The infrastructure of these new technologies and the way they are programmed now co-shape urban life, just like the physical infrastructures and the spatial programming of urban planning have always done"), but to reach that scenario “ this depends on one condition: citizens must retain agency. The design of a platform must be genuinely interactive: this gives participants the opportunity to establish or change protocols instead of being forced to comply with rules laid down by companies. Magical software automatically arranging everything for us sounds very attractive, and the services provided by commercial parties will undoubtedly make life more pleasant and agreeable. There is nothing wrong with that, but, ultimately, we are better off when platforms for such services are accessible and citizens themselves can appropriate the related data and protocols in their own way.

It´s the right time to think about these questions. Things are changing so quickly we hardly find the time to build a meaningful understanding of what media tools are bringing to public life and this book is a very valid contribution of public life in cities and the tools that are colonizing our daily lives.

viernes, 7 de febrero de 2014

Week picks #20


Thingful is a discoverability engine for The Public Internet of Things, providing a geographical index of where things are, who owns them, and how and why they are used.
Today, millions of people and organisations around the world already have and use connected 'things', ranging from energy monitors, weather stations and pollution sensors to animal trackers, geiger counters and shipping containers. Many choose to, or would like to, make their data available to third parties – either directly as a public resource or channeled through apps and analytical tools.
Thingful organises 'things' around locations and categories and structures ownership around Twitter profiles (which can be either people or organisations), enabling citizens to discuss why and how they are using their devices and data. Because, the 'who', 'why' and 'where' are ultimately far more important in The Public Internet of Things than the 'what'.
Explicitly built for people, communities, companies and cities that want to make the data from these 'things' available and useful to others, Thingful aggregates and indexes public information from some of the major IoT platforms and data infrastructures around the world, providing direct links to datasets and profile pages for the public things that it knows about.


The Citizen Sense project is funded through a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant, and runs from 2013-2017. The project investigates, through three project areas, the relationship between technologies and practices of environmental sensing and citizen engagement. Wireless sensors, which are an increasing part of digital communication infrastructures, are commonly deployed for environmental monitoring within scientific study. Practices of monitoring and sensing environments have migrated to a number of everyday participatory applications, where users of smart phones and networked devices are able to engage with similar modes of environmental observation and data collection. Such “citizen sensing” projects intend to democratize the collection and use of environmental sensor data in order to facilitate expanded citizen engagement in environmental issues. But how effective are these practices of citizen sensing in not just providing “crowd-sourced” data sets, but also in giving rise to new modes of environmental awareness and practice?
Through intensive fieldwork, study and use of sensing applications, the project areas set out to contextualize, question and expand upon the understandings and possibilities of democratized environmental action through citizen sensing practices. The first project area, “Wild Sensing,” focuses on the use of sensors to map and track flora and fauna activity and habitats. The second project area, “Pollution Sensing,” concentrates on the increasing use of sensors to detect environmental disturbance, including air and water pollution. The third project area investigates “Urban Sensing,” and focuses on urban sustainability or “smart city” projects that implement sensor technologies to realize more efficient or environmentally sound urban processes.

A collective vision of what is possible is already being pieced together. Over the last 5 years we have seen an explosion of new citizen-led and hybrid cross-sector experiments seeking to address our disenfranchised society.
In food systems people are creating new ways to grow, sell, make, eat food - outside of existing consumer-orientated economic systems.  We are seeing the system innovations in energy creation, distribution and surplus use, in monetary mechanisms through credit unions and local currencies, in the physical making of houses, furniture, clothing.
These initiatives are working not to build new public services, remediation strategies or consumer markets but reframe our everyday local experience toward a participatory and civic economy. Each new initiative adds to a body of imaginative ideas and critical lessons of how we, as individuals and groups and organisations, can together create stronger local economies through an open and participatory society.
We now need to go further…. with a whole systems approach
Our challenge is now to create the conditions and mechanisms for such change to flourish – a whole systems approach which accelerates local initiatives to solve unique problems, with unique opportunities, using unique local resources. This practical and participatory localism cannot be, and must not be, a rare act performed by a few - but a common happening - a different way of living our day-to-day lives in which the many become co-producers of this new local.

Week picks series features some Fridays different initiatives and projects I found or want to highlight on this blog. It will help me track new findings from community groups, startups or local governments working and delivering solutions relevant to the issues covered on this blog. I often bookmark them or save them on Tumblr while I wait to use them. Maybe this a good way.

miércoles, 5 de febrero de 2014

The not-so-new science of cities

The idea of a new science of cities sounds catchy, particularly after it became popular thanks to a Geoffrey West´s talk at TED. It was a superficial but very effective way to show urban complexity through equations, graphics and a set of laws allegedly behind how cities work and grow. If you are familiar with this blog, you know I resist this idea or, in a few more words, the implications of over-simplifying urban studies into a patterns, predictability, etc.

Of course, this can mean a great contribution, but there is the risk to understand these findings and research as a complete roadmap for urban studies. Michael Batty has been on this topic for decades and has a wide understanding of tools, frameworks and methods to approach cities as complex systems that comprise a science of networks, flows and connections to unveil.  His newest book, The new science of cities, is a compilation of techniques and decision-making models built on his previous research and the work developed at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis. As a matter of fact, the title does not merit Batty´s point of view on the quest for this “new” “science” of cities, as the book is clear on this: those looking for an “integrated science that is nicely packaged and available to apply immediately will be disappointed. No such package exists, and it probably never will. Like physics, it might seem as though the field should aspire to an integrated theory… but as in physics too, this is a mirage.” So, first caution is overcome.

One of the main contributions of the book is that it serves as an excursus on the history of urban complexity studies and research, clearly showing that the claim for a new science (mostly determined by smart city and big data enthusiastic proponents with a short perspective of where we come from on urban studies) is not new. The book acknowledges these previous efforts and the incrementality of this field of knowledge. In fact, Batty recently shared on his blog just another piece of research written in 1967 on a science of cities: “Amazingly as far back as January 1967, we were quite literally talking about ‘a science of cities’, using the cliche. Jennifer Light’s book From Warfare to Welfare published in 2003 recounts the optimism of the 1960s in which many believed that one could import the products of the space program specifically and the military industrial complex more generally into tools that we might used for solving the urban crisis. In America this was the crisis of segregation and poverty in cities as well as traffic congestion, housing conditions and endemic decay (...) But we tend to forget that we have been here before in the 1960s and it is well worth looking at what was said then. The pamphlet referred to was produced by Volta Torrey for HUD (Housing and Urban Development) and published in January 1967. (...) Its contents make fascinating reading, and those of us who are scholars of urban and planning history will be intrigued by its perspective. The world is very different now but the sentiments are much the same”. From Ildefons Cerdá to Patrick Geddes, the foundations for a genuine science of cities has been attractive as a way to sum up the knowledge from different fields with a new set of scientific tools, laws (the Seven laws of scaling in chapter 1) and new ways for spatial representation (again, a great review of historic stages from the 19th century). By the way, this is something Anthony Townsend covers in his book (especially in the Cybernetics redux chapter), with a great review of previous attempts to build a positivist and mechanical framework for urban studies in the ´60s through computer models.

This book can probably serve as a guidebook for those interested in using the techniques of complexity theory using the chapters as independent resources. But, to someone like me, more comfortable dealing with critical analysis and strategic implications of digital technologies in urban life, the book is also a handhold to understand the balanced role these tools can offer to urban studies, particularly in the field of smart cities and quantitative urbanism. The core point on the emerging topic of this science of cities is to what extent we can expect a comprehensive understanding of cities based on mathematical models, but as Andrew Karvonen reviews, Batty´s science “is incremental, uncertain, and modest rather than comprehensive and predictive”. In this sense, how these complexity tools can inform urban design and decision making is framed in the book as a contribution to other disciplines, and it is the mix of all of them what can constitute the best knowledge on understanding cities, and assuming there will be still, always, black holes:
”The kind of rudimentary science that was largely physicalist a century ago was regarded as being central to a professional concern that was quite separate from the city itself. The notion that planning might actually make matters worse was simply not part of this intellectual agenda, until, however, experience with such interventions began to accumulate. By the 1970s, Rittel and Webber (1973) in their review of planning theory were suggesting that many urban problems were what they called “wicked”, (and here I recall Usman Haque) since intended improvements often intensified the problems they were designed to solve. (...) Insofar as our science is being used to inform planning, it is now part of a much wider dialog in which many different perspectives –many different sciences, if you like- are brought to bear on urban problem solving” (p. 302).
Good to hear that. It may seem obvious, but it is always good to keep in mind this when we are being overloaded with reductionist –but easy to celebrate- visions of urban research and policy making.

sábado, 25 de enero de 2014

Entonces y ahora: la ciudad en el tiempo

Tres vídeos esta vez, sección curiosidades. En los tres casos, reflejan los cambios en el paisaje producidos en:
  • Market St. en San Francisco (1906-2013)
  • Diferentes escenarios del centro de Londres (1927-2013)
  • Trayecto en tren entre Brighton y Londres (1953-2013)

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