Tag Archives: city

Imagining the Adaptive City

In his writings on ‘cyborg urbanisation‘, Prof. Matthew Gandy (UCL) has compared the relationship between the city and its inhabitants with the cyborg – an archetype familiar to science fiction. For Gandy, the cyborg can help us understand the various networks that enable bodies to function in the modern city.

So, when Dan Hill (City of Sound) posted a vision of something he described as the Adaptive City, I was thinking of cyborgs … triggering a whole different set of neural pathways;

Facilitated by networks of sensors, the data emerging from the new [urban] nervous system appears limitless: near-imperceptible variations in air quality and water quality, innumerable patterns in public and private traffic, results of restaurant inspections, voting patterns in public referenda, triggers of motion sensors, the output of heating ventilation and air conditioning systems, patterns of water usage, levels of waste recycled, genres of books returned at local libraries, location of bicycles in the city’s bike-sharing network, fluctuations in retail stock controls systems, engine data from cars and aeroplanes, collective listening habits of music fans, presence of mobile phones in vehicles enabling floating car data, digital photos and videos locked to spatial co-ordinates, live feeds from CCTV cameras, quantities of solar power generated and used by networks of lamp-posts, structural engineering data from the building information models of newly constructed architecture, complex groupings of friends perceptible in social software multiplied by location-based services, and so on. Myriad flows of data move in and around the built fabric. As many or most objects in the city become potential nodes in a wider network … this shimmering informational field provides a view of the entire city.

But while science fictional tropes see the cyborg as defined either in terms of internal implants or some kind of powered exoskeleton (both dependent on the processes and contours of the individual body), Hill’s ‘Adaptive City’ externalises the cybernetic, projecting it outwards … into the environment; the physical landscape of which the organic body is but one among many. Perhaps the ‘Adaptive City’ is a decentralised cyborg … using feedback loops to harness the power of the collective, and watching its effects as …

[t]he invisible becomes visible … [and] the impact of people on their urban environment can be understood in real-time. Citizens turn off taps earlier, watching their water use patterns improve immediately. Buildings can share resources across differing peaks in their energy and resource loading. Road systems can funnel traffic via speed limits and traffic signals in order to route around congestion. Citizens take public transport rather than private where possible, as the real-time road pricing makes the true cost of private car usage quite evident. The presence of mates in a bar nearby alerts others to their proximity, irrespective of traditional spatial boundaries. Citizens can not only explore proposed designs for their environment, but now have a shared platform for proposing their own. They can plug in their own data sources, effectively hacking the model by augmenting or processing the feeds they’re concerned with.

(‘The Adaptive City’ has a companion piece, ‘The street as platform’ – also at City of Sound … image by taiyofj)

Safer, saner cities

city park The more I go through life, the more I find that other people have very different experiences.  But if you’re from middle America, or any major city, much of Nature you’ve seen in your adult life has been through a car window going somewhere else.  And the traditional view of future cities has been a bigger and better version of the concrete jungle, like a bad SimCity where everyone lives in one area, commutes to work in another and goes shopping in a third.

A recent study found that more “walkable” neighborhoods bode well for the elderly, not merely for exercise and physical health, but also for their mental wellbeing.  Specifically,

Berke speculates that walkable neighborhoods might be so important because they promote social connection and reduce isolation, a major predictor of depression. “If people are out walking to destinations, they run into each other”, he says. “And then they talk, or interact, or share ideas”.  He adds that city streets with their shorter blocks, more direct routes, and greater number of intersections—can be more walkable than suburban ones. They also have greater population density, which increases the probability that people meet one another by chance.

This sort of connection between people in a neighborhood is something that has been lost in modern American cities and towns since the rise of the automobile and long-distance commuting became regular.  At least, it’s something that I’ve seen and heard about, but have never actually experienced.  But, with rising gas prices and actual debates going on about changing the way our cities grow, this is something that could impact our perception of futuristic cities.

(via SciTechDaily) (image from Andreas.)

Boulder, Colorado – smart grid city

electric ultility pylon What the hell is a “smart grid city”? [via Worldchanging]

Well, maybe you could call it “Infrastructure2.0”, but whatever you call it, it’s a new (and hopefully more sustainable) way of looking at the issues of providing utilities to urban areas. According to Xcel Energy:

“The next-generation electricity grid will allow our company to better meet growing demands, address environmental challenges, maximize available resources and optimize the entire energy system. Ultimately, a “smarter” grid helps us serve our customers by creating more options for managing personal energy use, habits and costs.”

All hot air and sales jargon, you might be thinking. Well, Xcel seem to be walking the walk as well talking the talk – they’re going to make Boulder, Colorado into their first Smart Grid City, with the first phase predicted for completion this August. [image by tanakawho]

I’m pretty pleased to see the energy industry acting on these sorts of ideas instead of just paying them lip service, and I hope something similar starts appearing over here in the UK. Perhaps where Xcel leads, others will follow and surpass.

Up To The Minute Cartography

Img 0013-1Maps have always been more like portraits than portrayals. They are historical, sketching a place at a point in time, always in the past. The MIT Senseable City Lab aims to bring maps into the present tense. Real Time Rome is a proof of concept, a series of cartographic representations of the city, updated with real-time data from public transportation systems, cellular tower usage patterns, and much more.

This is fascinating stuff, especially when you start thinking about the relationship maps have to the place they portray. The map is not the territory. A map is not a map without abstraction. But what you choose to abstract changes when your instruments allow you to portray the dynamism of real places. [oreilly radar]