Brixton reimagined as favela for robot workers

Paul Raven @ 20-01-2011

Urban futurism, offered without comment: via the incomparable BLDGBLOG, this image by the wonderfully-monicker’d Kibwe X-Kalibre Tavares is called “Southwyck House”, and is part of a set of similar images “of what Brixton could be like if it were to develop as a disregarded area inhabited by London’s new robot workforce […] the population has rocketed and unplanned cheap quick additions have been made to the skyline.”

[Click the image to see the original in bigger sizes on Flickr; all rights are reserved by Tavares, and the image is reproduced here under Fair Use terms. Please contact for immediate take-down if required.]

Southwyck House by Kibwe X-Kalibre Tavares

My first thought on seeing that? Kowloon Walled City. Dense urban populations lead inevitably to an increased density of marginal and/or interstitial regions…


Interesting stuff happens in the cracks: interstitial art festivals

Paul Raven @ 17-05-2010

The Lost Horizon Night Market sounds like the sort of thing I’d love to see roll into my town: like some mad mash-up of the travelling free-party sound-system crews of nineties Europe with a half-squatted house full of installation art students, it’s a peripatetic mobile art festival housed in rental trucks and parked up for one night only in empty industrial lots. It’s…

… an ongoing participatory project with an elegantly simple idea: “Proprietors” rent a truck and do something creative in it, with public interactivity a central element.

There are no admission fees. Participants mainly provide enthusiasm (or homemade jam, or lap dances, or ukulele serenades), and get to soak in a hot tub or share a smoke in the Jesus Christ Hookah Bar. The proprietors exchange their time, money and artistic energy for the distinctive euphoria of seeing people interact with an environment of their own creation.

“For one night, we make an autonomous neighborhood,” said Lost Horizon Night Market co-founder Mark Krawczuk, who enjoys spurring people to act on their creative desires. “I get a kick out of seeing people do stuff. I’ve got 40 people into the game … got people who’ve never done installation art before to do it.”

The Lost Horizon Night Market

Shades of Hakim Bey’s Temporary Autonomous Zones, of course, and of the really weird things you could still see and do at Glastonbury festival before its Millennial gentrification. Breaking down the barriers between consumer and creator, between participant and artist, between art and activity… cool things temporarily inhabiting otherwise uncool spaces. Culture subverting geopgraphy, ideas on the move. (As you’ve probably gathered, I’m a serious sucker for this kind of stuff.)

Apparently the Night Market people would love to see other iterations of the same idea spring up elsewhere, like a vaguely-defined open-source museum franchise. And they may well get their wish… after all, it’s only taken Burning Man a decade to achieve metastasis, and ideas move much faster than they did ten years ago. [image credit: Michael Gwilliam; blagged from linked Wired article, please contact for takedown if required]


Outside the media: the geofenced future of advertising

Paul Raven @ 25-02-2010

Geolocation + smartphones + permission marketing – [old media channels] = ?

The campaign was created by Placecast, a location-based mobile ad company in San Francisco. It uses a practice called geo-fencing, which draws a virtual perimeter around a particular location. When someone steps into the geo-fenced area, a text message is sent, but only if consumers have opted in to receive messages.

[…]

Placecast created 1,000 geo-fences in and around New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Boston, cities where the North Face has many stores and areas that get a lot of snow or rain, so the company can tailor its messages to the weather. In urban areas, the fences are up to half a mile around stores, and in suburban areas they are up to a mile around stores.

Stowe Boyd reckons it’ll stick, and I’m inclined to agree.

It is going to be huge, especially with young people who text preferentially over talking on their phones. And of course, the retailers will pay for the messages.

And even better than come-ons like these will be the coupons. I am driving past the local Giant supermaket, and I get a text message with an attachment: 2 coupons for brands that I have registered at the Giant website. […]

But what Miller completely forgets to mention is that this is direct advertising, like direct mail was. This will end run the media companies who have made their bread and butter from advertising and coupons. If Domino’s can text me a code to get two pizzas half off today, why would the[y] advertise in the local paper?

If the future of advertising is direct and opt-in, through mobile devices to the consumer, the media lose the support of retail and local advertisers.

Yes, consumers still need to learn about PF Chiangs in the first place, but that is much more likely to be a direct experience, too, like going there with friends and then signing up for text-based promotions because it’s mentioned on the menu, or a friend uses a coupon or discount code.

The future of advertising is moving outside of media, and that’s another nail in the coffin for traditional print media.

And of course, there’ll be ways to game the locational ads system, too; step beyond the text message coupons and into mobile map apps, and suddenly there’s an incentive not to send you by the shortest route, but by the most lucrative – a brainwave courtesy of Jan Chipchase, caught in traffic in Virginia:

… the result I suspect of a sat-nav that decided that every possible road-works was a Point of Interest. Which might sound a bit far fetched today, until you consider that someone somewhere is drawing on ever more reams of data to serve up your your route – and someone else somewhere else is using every tool in their disposable to cajole individuals of interest past places ‘of interest’.

When the company pitching you advertising *also* calculates the most ‘efficient’ route to take from A to B you need to ask the criteria by wh[ich] efficiency is measured. And keep asking – the answer will likely change with the ebb and flow of financial results.

Of course, you could always turn off your phone, foregoing the navigational assistance in exchange for freedom from interstitial marketing. But then there’s a 93% chance that your route will be guessed by analysis of your previous movements, so you might as well leave it on and hope for a good open-source ad-blocker app…

… though this is almost certainly more worth worrying about than geolocational robbery crews.


The uncanny evolution of Moscow’s stray dogs

Paul Raven @ 20-01-2010

Staying in the Russian capital for another post, here’s a fascinating article at the Financial Times about Moscow’s legendary population of stray dogs, and about the man who has been studying them [via MetaFilter; image by Adam Baker].

Muscovites have a close relationship with dogs, and the city is home to thousands of strays – more than eighty per square mile. And they’re not strays in the sense that we tend to think of them, namely abandoned pets; Moscow’s urban ecosystem has had a thriving population of dogs for long enough that a fully-domesticated animal released into the scrum of the streets would be unlikely to last more than a few days.

Furthermore, the population is big enough that it can be used to observe evolution in action; Andrei Poyarkov, a biologist specialising in wolves, has been studying Moscow’s canine tribes and learning about their gradual shift back toward a wilder nature, and about how the urban environment provides pressures that select for intelligence over aggression – to the extent that some of the dogs have actually learned to ride the subway system in search of reliable human benefactors to scrounge from:

“The second difference between stray dogs and wolves is that the dogs, on average, are much less aggressive and a good deal more tolerant of one another,” says Poyarkov. Wolves stay strictly within their own pack, even if they share a territory with another. A pack of dogs, however, can hold a dominant position over other packs and their leader will often “patrol” the other packs by moving in and out of them. His observations have led Poyarkov to conclude that this leader is not necessarily the strongest or most dominant dog, but the most intelligent – and is acknowledged as such. The pack depends on him for its survival.

Amazing how life finds ways of colonising and thriving in the interstitial spaces of the human world, isn’t it?


Climate change, ghost states and conceptual territory

Paul Raven @ 02-10-2009

Tuvalu - here today, gone tomorrow?Warren Ellis flagged up a Guardian article about another of my perennial obsessions, the shaky future of nation-states. What happens to a nation-state when the territory it occupies disappears?

Francois Gemenne, of the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations in Paris, said the likely loss of small island states such as Tuvalu and the Maldives raised profound questions over nationality and territory.

What would happen if a state was to physically disappear but people want to keep their nationalities? It could continue as a virtual state even though it is a rock under the ocean and its people no longer live on that piece of land.

Gemenne said there was more at stake than cultural and sentimental attachments to swamped countries. Tuvalu makes millions of pounds each year from the sale of its assigned internet suffix .tv to television companies. As a nation state, the Polynesian island also has a vote on the international stage through the UN.

“As independent nations they receive certain rights and privileges that they will not want to lose. Instead they could become like ghost states,” he said. “This is a pressing issue for small island states, but in the case of physical disappearance there is a void in international law.”

I’d suggest it’s not just climate change that could cause ghost-states – surely the Tibetan government-in-exile is something of a ghost-state, also, and conflicts like the Russian invasion of Georgia could lead to glove-puppet states whose citizens are pretty much disenfranchised by political machinations beyond their control.

As the old saying goes, the map is not the territory – and this will become more true as time goes by. Will corporations offer a more attractive package of rights to ghost-state citizens than other nations? As climate change refugeeism increases (and on the assumption that the consequential increase in immigration and asylum-seeking will tend to make richer nations raise their borders rather than lower them, unless they see immigration as a solution to a greying population), I think it’s safe to assume that they might. [image by mrlins]

The proliferation of pirate micronations (like smaller versions of the Raft from Snow Crash, perhaps, bypassing the need for physical territory by way of mobility and/or the colonisation of interstitial territories, be they land- or ocean-based) seems inevitable.