Thursday, June 12, 2008

Caught in the Middle: America's Heartland in the Age of Globalism

Richard Longworth, an international correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, traveled for thousands of miles across the Midwest to understand how the region is grappling with, or failing to grapple with, the challenges of globalization. Globalization has utterly transformed manufacturing and agriculture, undercutting the stability that in some ways defined the Midwest. Longworth argues that regional leadership, increased immigration, investments in higher education, and fostering an ecology of public/private linkages that commercialize research are imperative.

New kinds of communication spaces will be required to refine and implement a Midwestern response to globalization. The Great Lakes Urban Exchange a blog that regularly posts information about urban initiatives and builds connections with 50 or so regional blogs may become an important communication resource. The Heart of Peoria as an online charette, supports citizens efforts to collectively craft a vision for the city.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

City Lights from Space

The photographs of Earth taken by the Apollo astronauts, which framed the Earth as a whole in the lonely context of space, helped foster an environmental ethos--that every place on the planet was made visible for the first time. Technical innovations accomplished by NASA and NOAA create a new level of clarity, allowing us to see for the first time the shape of our urban footprint.

Women in the City

"Women in the City" is a viral public art exhibition spread throughout the streets of Los Angeles that began in February 2008.

Double One Way Communication

Given the density of the city and advances in communication technology, it is unsurprising that the environment we live in is being saturated with communication flows. These flows could support all kinds of public uses, allowing groups and individuals to share their voices, perspectives, histories and ideas with others in a particular location. But communication as a public good can't be supported through the market. So instead of a two-way public conversation, are environment becomes filled with stores that monitor our cell phones to track where and when we wander and billboards that look back at us.
One opportunity for making sense of how to better take advantage of advanced communication technologies in an urban setting is the Creating Value: Between Commerce and Commons conference sponsored by The Arc Center of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation.

White Art

White art, the use of bacon fat back, is one of the less well known urban communication media. This book is titled,
White Art in the Meat Food Business. A Practical Handbook for Butcher, Pork Stores, Restaurants, Hotels and Delicatessens on How to Make Lasting and Transferable White Art Decorations out of Bacon Fat Back for Window Displays, Ornaments on Meat Food Cold Buffets and for Exhibits and Advertising Purposes
via Boing Boing

Massive Investment in Urban Communication

Toronto is investing $1 billion dollars over the next twenty years in street furniture. Street furniture include a variety of things:
We're talking bus shelters, benches, bicycle posts, garbage bins, information kiosks, newspaper boxes, and a self-cleaning, wheelchair-accessible public toilet system that rings in at $300,000 a pop.
This investment will create a huge number of sites of informal communication, as people pause, ponder, and converse. An investment on this scale will undoubtedly improve the image of the city as well.

A flickr collection provides access to a number of renderings and public documents.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Type City

The Web has created fascinating new communication spaces, as passionate designers deploy specialized talents to delight and inspire new audiences. Once the domain of a relatively small number of specialists, typography has taken on new life. The connections among the style and personality of type fonts, the cultural vitality of the city, and the representation of urban form are powerfully expressed in this illustration.

Happy May 1

Washington's Other Monuments

Washington is both the public face of America and a city without Congressional representation. The formal landscape of public Washington is a space where America can make sense of itself, the materiality of museums and places for public gatherings supporting a dialogue that bridges the past and the future. The blog Washington's Other Monuments documents the memorials that family and community members construct to remember individuals like,

15-year-old Ryan Travon Harris was shot in the head and killed Sunday March 16, 2008, about 2:00 AM in Washington, DC. This shrine, near his grandmother's home in the 3100 block of Apple Rd NE, is near the spot where he was found dead.

Banksy was Here

The British grafitti artist Bansky encapsulates all of the ironies associated with the postmodern city. He is both famous and anonymous, high culture and low culture, transgressive and conformist, trivial and profound, a sellout and a radical critic. Drawing on a long tradition of vernacular approaches, Banksy does manage a few innovative salvos of urban communication.

Nomads at Last

The Economist recently wrote an article about the impact of wireless communication and urban nomadism. The term nomad is deeply misleading. Despite the focus on nomadism as a distinctly urban phenomenon, the citation of Manuel Castells, and examples that are all located in advanced urban areas--the term nomad is used to conjure a kind of nostalgic freedom.

Much like the image of the Marlboro Man (the single most valuable brand image ever created) was used to project a lifestyle of ruggedness, independence, freedom, and vigorous, healthy masculinity to a demographic under a great deal of economic (and health) pressure, the image of the nomad is also used to sell a lifestyle.

Urban nomadism requires a highly specialized, capital-intensive infrastructure which is continually evolving. Traditional nomadism requires not only limited, lightweight tools, but more importantly, vast areas of under-populated land not subject to private ownership and control. Urban areas aren't inhabited by nomads, but by individuals with the talents, capital, and ability to negotiate highly privatized spaces.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Urban Abstract

Skateboard graphics are one urban communication medium this blog has failed to adequately examine. Evan Hecox, previously known for his work for skateboard design form Chocolate, has produced Urban Abstract, a book of ethnic cityscapes reproduced in linoleum block prints.

Ghost Signs

Ghost Signs is a website developed by Nicole Donohoe, MS candidate in Historic Preservation at the School of the Art Institute, Chicago. The site maps overlays of ads, images, and text in Chicago neighborhoods, documenting the palimpest of the past. Contributions of photographs, sign locations or historical information are welcome: email inquires, information, malfunctioning links or other suggestions to Nicole (Tip of the hat to Sue Novak who pointed me to the site.)

The Endless City

The Endless City, a new book edited by the London School of Economics' Ricky Burdett and design curator Deyan Sudjic, presents the work of more than 40 specialists who have worked to make sense of the new global urban condition. The book was recently profiled in a Business Week article titled, The City of the Future .

Monday, March 10, 2008


Finnish industrial designer Pekka Kumpula offers three concepts developed at Artek Culturelab toVisualize Green through the design of product design and appearance.

Bricoleurbanism� Urban Fabric & Form Comparison

The Bricoleurbanism
blog recently posted a story about urban form that is important to urban communication. Jane Jacobs always emphasized the importance of urban form, for example the use of small blocks which allow for multiple, overlapping paths through the city. This article offers a quick comparison across the urban patterns of Rome, London, Barcelona, etc.

Urban Typography Workshop - On the Urban Typography workshop
Urban Typography: what does your city say to you and what do you say to your city? This workshop encouraged participants to express themselves through words and text in their urban environments through the use of Mediamatic's Fab Lab.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Shack/Slum Dwellers International

The "digital divide" has been a topic of concern for more than a decade. But having a voice in decisions that matter in a global, information society goes well beyond simple access to the Internet. Organizational skills needed to gather information, deliberate about complex issues, and mobilize political support have too often been limited to a limited stratum of formally educated elites. Shack/Slum Dwellers International aims to ,
enable those who are affected by poverty to become organised and united in ever-expanding networks, and to play a defining role in the way in which Governments and multi-laterals discharge their obligations to the poor.

Nokia Morph Concept

Cellphones have an obvious connection to urban communication networks via wireless connections. But increasingly objects are designed so that they are more deeply embedded within many kinds of networks. Featured in a Museum of Modern Art exhibit, the Nokia Morph concept device is connected to its urban environment in the following ways:
Nanotechnology also can be leveraged to create self-cleaning surfaces on mobile devices, ultimately reducing corrosion, wear and improving longevity. Nanostructured surfaces, such as “Nanoflowers” naturally repel water, dirt, and even fingerprints utilizing effects also seen in natural systems.

Advanced Power Sources
Nanotechnology holds out the possibility that the surface of a device will become a natural source of energy via a covering of “Nanograss” structures that harvest solar power. At the same time new high energy density storage materials allow batteries to become smaller and thinner, while also quicker to recharge and able to endure more charging cycles.

Sensing The Environment
Nanosensors would empower users to examine the environment around them in completely new ways, from analyzing air pollution, to gaining insight into bio-chemical traces and processes. New capabilities might be as complex as helping us monitor evolving conditions in the quality of our surroundings, or as simple as knowing if the fruit we are about to enjoy should be washed before we eat it. Our ability to tune into our environment in these ways can help us make key decisions that guide our daily actions and ultimately can enhance our health.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

IXDA Interaction 08

The urban and the virtual are brought together more tightly everyday, creating the social spaces we now live in. Can the interactions among people, devices, organizations, and spaces be designed to support conviviality?

It is fitting that the first IxDA conference is being held in Savannah, where public squares support a distinctive sense of place and SCAD, which connects academic design with the city.

Interaction 08 will be held from February 8-10, 2008 in historic and festive Savannah, Georgia, on the campus of The Savannah College of Art and Design. Join several hundred Interaction Designers from around the world as we address the design of interactive systems of all types: applications (web and desktop), mobile, consumer electronics, digitally enhanced environments, and more. Start your year off with stimulating talk, fun parties, and smart discussions about our growing field.

Conceptions of the Desireable

130 acres in Graz, Austria are being redeveloped--one of the last chunks of open space left to develop in Europe. Unhappy with top down approaches to planning, this book documents a different process, with a deep emphasis on the communicative nature of cities and the importance of formatting and representing information so that it can support the planning process, a process which began with discussions led by an editorial board of 32 citizens.

On a gray, if beautifully snowy day in Michigan, the spirit and illustrations in this book are a celebration of the human spirit, creativity and dreams. If the city is half as successful as the book, it will be a wonderful city, urbane in the best sense of the word.