Monday, November 27, 2006

Ubiquitous City

As tems like convergence move from buzzword to everyday life, experiments with urban form are expanding in scale. In South Korea, "What started as just a dream has now been transformed to a tangible reality with U-City construction in the pipeline across the country in places such as Unpyong New Town, Songdo, Pangyo and so forth.

U-Cities will be a showcase of the most sophisticated technologies available in the market such as radio frequency identification (RFID) systems, smart cards applications, geographic information systems (GIS), location based systems (LBS), sensor-based computing, wireless communication devices, home networking, digital multimedia broadcasting and video conference technologies, just to name a few."

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Down the D Line

Speaking of audio tours of cities, check out this fantastic audio tour of Boston's D line train. This project was made by one of my students, Sean Snyder (the designer of the Urban Communications website), as a Master's project at Emerson College.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Sounds of the City

The latest issue of the Chicago Reader ran a little blurb in their free shit section about an audio tour of the Loop. Folks can download an MP3 and listen on an MP3 player while touring the Loop. Another option is to use the interactive map from the comfort of your own home. Of course the Chicago Loop Alliance is only presenting limited sights and sounds that will fit into a boosterist vision of the city but I'm glad to see the city catching up with some of the soundwalk options that are becoming available outside the art world.

For folks who aren't hip to this stuff, Hildegard Westerkamp argues that we focus so heavily on visual culture that we have neglected ou ears; we don't listen closely to the world around us. She has written some interesting articles about the art of the soundwalk. In short, the idea is to move through the city (for the purposes of this blog) and pay attention to the sounds around us. What I like about her work is that she encourages us to layer those sounds (i.e., first listen to sounds that are closer then sounds that are distant, listen to sounds that are quiet then listen to the differences in louder sounds, etc.). So the point is to begin to hear the range of sounds that fill the urban soundscape.

I've got more to say about this general issue but will stop here. Take care.

Monday, November 20, 2006

First Ad viewable from Space

KFC has produced the first ad viewable from space. Will we have to regulate our views from outer space now?

According to Michael Castellon:

KFC has the honor to be the first brand to be visible from outer-space, according to company officials. The 87,500 square feet logo was created by tiles placed in the Nevada desert, near the super secret Area 51. The stunt marks the revamp of the KFC logo, which now features a more streamlined image of Colonel Sanders


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Thoughts on San Antonio

The Urban Communications Foundation held a day-long seminar in San Antonio this week. We brought together a number of people to discuss the various aspects of how cities communicate and how they enable people to communicate. The discussion ranged from gentrification, to urban redevelopment, to political organizing, to spatial and environmental design and to technological infrastructure. Even though the group struggled to find a common definition of urban communication, the struggle was a productive one. There was a consensus that real-time, face-to-face interaction is a positive thing. How we achieve that end, and the relative authenticity of that end, is still wide open to debate. Some consider tourist spaces as less than authentic, others find that any instance of "public" is authentic for those experiencing it - regardless of whether or not its wrapped up in consumption. Some consider mediated interactions as necessarily oppositional to face-to-face interactions. Some, including myself, believe that media always serve a pedagogical function, and the rise of social networking technology is increasing the desire for all kinds of interactions (including those in real space).

Walking along San Antonio's RiverWalk, a lot of these issues came up for me. My first thought was that the Riverwalk felt like an exhibit at Disneyland. When I looked into it, I learned why that might be the case. In 1961, Marco Engineering Company of California, who was one of the major designers of Disneyland, was hired to do a report on the commercial potential of the river. They concluded that all the buildings which back up to the river should be developed in an early Texas or Mexican colonial style and provide basement space for easy riverside access. They also suggested that the city hold frequent festivals along the walk. While their plan didn't take off immediately, within several years, it was well under way. Today, we look at what appears to be a fully realized plan.

That the Riverwalk was influenced by the brains behind Disneyland does not, in itself, detract from its ability to function as a thriving public space. But I had this distinct feeling while wandering around the Riverwalk that the city's face had become so beautiful, it was willing to turn away from those who actually live here. In the act of communication, the city stopped communicating. It's true that Riverwalk is the envy of many cities in the country because of its economic success. But it strikes me as an antiquated model and one that cannot be sustainable. It is equivalent to AOL in the late 1990s. By cutting off their network from the wider internet, they believed they could better manage the "public." As it turns out, people were not satisfied with an internet (with a lowercase i), they wanted an Internet. Even while spending 99% of their time in local and definable networks, they wanted to have access to the larger network. Cities are the same way. Localized internets will not work for the sustainability of urban spaces; the local is only as powerful as its ability to extend beyond its boundaries.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Polling Place Photo Project

"The Polling Place Photo Project is a nationwide experiment in citizen journalism that seeks to empower citizens to capture, post and share photographs of democracy in action. By documenting their local voting experience on November 7, voters can contribute to an archive of photographs that captures the richness and complexity of voting in America."

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Space, Time, and Containers

A technology as simple as standardizing the size and couplings of a box has utterly transformed global commerce over the past 40 years. Without containerization, it would've been impossible to move American factory production to China and move economic activity from suburban malls to exurban Walmarts.

Will the Blackbox transform urban space again?

Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz emphasizes efficiency, "Project Blackbox starts from the world's most broadly adopted industry standard, the shipping container, and asks how can we most efficiently create modular, lights-out data centers from this base? The answer? With one-hundredth of the initial cost, one-fifth the cost per square foot, and with 20 percent more power efficiency, we can deliver an immense multiple of capacity and capability, anywhere on earth."

Speed may be even more important. For companies looking to rapdily expand the infrastrucutre for web services, the Blackbox will allow companies to add two petabytes of storage capacity much more quickly that it would take to construct a bricks and mortar data warehouse. Internet speed accelerates again.


Clifford Geertz passed away this week. In memory of his work, I'd like to select one quotation that might serve as an inspiration to the work done under the banner of Urban Communication.

"The next necessary neither the construction of a universal Esperanto-like culture...nor the invention of some vast technology of human management. It is to enlarge the possibility of intelligible discourse between people quite different from one another in interest, outlook, wealth, and power, and yet contained in a world where tumbled as they are into endless connection, it is increasingly difficult to get out of each other's way." From Works and Lives: The Anthropologist as Author (1988)

Virtual Transforms Real?

This USA Today article is helpful because it continues to erase the line between the physical world and the virtual world. New communication technologies alter our focus of attention, allowing us to take for granted that we, as individuals, can carefully craft how we connect with others.

When communication patterns are altered so fundamentally, it is inevitable that social norms and attitudes will also be fundamentally transformed.