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February, 2010 Monthly archive

The first year of blogging is soon gona be available as a bound print. The publication will be ‘urbanTick Temporal Urban’.
The book is very much about the literal meaning of the title, about the ticking of the urban, the urban as we experience it everyday on the bus, in the park or between buildings. It is about the big orchestrated mass migration of commuters, the seasonal blossoms of the trees along the walkway and the frequency of the stamping rubbish-eater-trucks. It is also not to forget, about climate, infrastructure, opening hours, term times, parking meters, time tables, growing shadows and moon light. But most of all it is about how all this is experienced by citizens on a daily basis and how they navigate within this complex structure of patterns.
The content of this book is based on the content of the urbanTick blog between 2008-10 and 2009-10. One year or blogging about this topic brought together a large collection of different aspects and thoughts. It is not at all a conclusive view, the opposite might be through, it is an explorative work in progress, while trying to capture as many facets of the topic as possible.
For this publication the written content has be structured under seven topics that appear here as chapters and the text has been reduced towards a continuos content.
Each chapter is lead in by an essay, each written by an academic or professional with a specific interest and expertise in the particular topic. It will set the scene to the topic and beyond.
The book is illustrated with 400 tiny graphics in black and white. The content is full indexed to find tags easily. References and links in the text are fully ported and are directly accessible through the blog, so no tedious typing here.

Contributors: Sandra Abegglen, Matthew Dance, Jeff Ho, Ana Rebelo, Luis Suarez, Zahra Azizi

The preview below is really only a preview. Intro and outro are more or less complete, each chapter is only present with the first page of each section. But it should give you an idea of what the book will be like.

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In the current times the topic of change is big, Life is changing and the awareness of this consumes a lot of the attention both, individual as well as collective. The Financial crisis has just rocked the world for the whole of the last year, health concerns dominated the media with the pig flu virus and wars are not won quickly any longer, to name just a few of the current big topics of change. Global climate change would be an other big topic. However there is a common topic to all of them and I believe this is the awareness of time as an aspect of the topic description. You could almost say it hasn’t featured to such an extent at any point in history. The second element is the global awareness, we all share the same planet in the end.
Big changes are also discussed among cities and it is true that the construct city faces a really dramatic change. It has become a global phenomena how cities grow and predictions point still upwards. Cities or better city regions are at current extremely attractive. However the extent of the change we are facing in structural, organisational or social terms, hardly anyone can grasp.
The crowded, dense and dirty instalment of the industrial city is long gone and new identities have to be found or most likely invented. A whole series of heavily industrial cities struggled with decline over the past fifty years. This was already pointed out by the Shrinking Cities Network or by the Shrinking Cities Project lead by Philipp Oswald. In a series of publications V1, V2 and an Atlas of Shrinking Cities, the group has researched case studies of mainly former industrial cities struggling with decline. To some extend this project was an eye opener for a lot of people did it for once divert from the cliché of the ever growing, pretty and strong city. It lent an image to the deserted city centres and run down neighbourhoods. If you wanted you could accuse them of simply moving beyond the empty industrial building in the inner city location stylised to a trendy urban loft and sexify the decline of the city as a whole. But this is probably going too far.
Since we now have the shrinking in our repertoire of capitalist planning reality, we can steer our attention back to the growth of the cities. Growth is one aspect of the solution these cities are working with. There are other aspects too, for example sense of place or identity are other factors to play an important role, not only for location marketing. In a recent NAI Publishers publication ‘Comeback Cities – Transformation Strategies for Former Industrial Cities’ edited by Nienke van Boom and Hans Mommaas (2009), brings together a documentation of eight cities’ strategies to develop themselves into the twenty-first century. The different places are Tilburg, Entschede, Manchester, Huddersfield, Tampere, Forssa, Ghent and Roubaix. However oddly the whole setting is created around the city of Tilburg and its anniversary celebration of the fact that it received its municipal charter two hundred years ago from 2009. This is really an odd context or such topic as immediately one gets a sense of actually becoming part of a cities promotion effort, quite literally, marketing between book covers. This is clever, if it then is and reaches a different group. What better way to promote than to become a model.
Anyway, we leave this discussion aside for now and look more at the content of this as usual with subtle design decisions surprising publication. NAI Publishers really love their books, you can tell. This one here has textured covers that give it a nice touch as you hold it.
The content is preceded by fact sheets documenting anything from population size to type of fiber used in production to levels of education. It seems almost that this kind of quick context creation starts to become a common feature of a serious book. I ultimately think of ‘the Endless City’ book by Ricky Burdett, Deyan Sudjic, where the facts even crept onto the covers to make the point. This element of the book is of course also the perfect stage to clarify the publications graphic design position. The ‘Endless City’ is bold black on bright orange, to underline the fact that they are talking fact. Here in ‘Comeback City’ the information is communicated through diagrams represented by sewing thread bobbin (I had to look this one up, what a creation. It is probably also long lost together with the tradition of the industry in cities.) So no the first few page you get a really good sense of the material these industrial cities worked with and in all sorts of colours. At times these bobbins almost transform into characters.

Image taken from ‘Comeback Cities’ p28/29 / Opportunities

The main art of the book the is a series of chapters named ‘Case Study’ each comparing two of the example cities, out of the eight. These texts are structured as similar analysis writ-ups starting with some history, talking about the years of suffering and then the slow change highlighting the different players and their roles in the context. There are detailed descriptions of political processes right down to who was the major during which period and what were his interests. It does end up in propaganda paragraphs at times, in a series of cliff-hangers from positive aspect to positive aspect. Having said that the amount of detail is astonishing and even if at times extremely one dimensional it is valuable and gives a good insight to understand the mechanisms almost on the level of daily business (in case you wana run your own city). So you end up with a bunch of creative cities, highlighting their cultural potential and practice mixed up with cafes, restaurant entertainment and a big bit of higher education. Anything the cliché of a contemporary dynamic city would ask for, right out of a third year architecture students project presentation. But I guess this is the reality we live in and consuming is a westerners main occupation. To some extent this raises the question whether these cities are not on the road to buy right into the next big mono functional bubble after escaping battered the industrial gripper.
However the one phrase that really jumps out from all the descriptions is ‘the DNA of the City’. It is used in most of the city portraits as a subheading and it is an element I really can not relate to. After having read all of the paragraphs I can still not understand what the authors describe with the phrase. It is probably thought to refer to the basic, fundamental building blocks of the city, but I doubt those are creative industry and knowledge. The only element I can think of that could maybe fit the shoe are the citizens, the society living the cultural context the city is created in, but there is little talking about them in this book.


Image taken from ‘Comeback Cities’ p82/83 / Industrial halls in Tilburg at different times.

There are two intermezzo elements to the book structure, each a photo essay illustrating the feel of these places then and now. These are beautiful parts where the reader can put together the puzzle of descriptions and sense the extent of the drama covered by the book. You see black and white or sepia photographs of mainly women, but also men in vast halls standing at machines with hundreds of threads going off and then you see a contemporary group of people looking at art work in a similar building. This really illustrates the dimension of change and for me helped to understand the struggle described in the text. It also directly talk about the memory of places that might not be accessible for outsiders but are the essential element of identification.
However nice the book is designed sadly the sections with the photographs is pretty unfortunate. Somehow the framing of the images, the blue colour of the page background, the wiggly line, the black of white frame and the description text box do not make sense, a real pity.

The book is concluded with a section documenting student projects developed in the context of Tilburg addressing the issue of change and identity. This is a refreshing section and underlies the potential and the capacity these cities have, both actual and for marketing.
I guess in this sense the review can be concluded, a refreshing book that does not always follow the much used paths of documentation, plays with the subject even as part of the book, fails in some cases but succeeds in others. A valuable contribution to the debate around the creation and recreation of an identity of place.

van Boom, N. & Mommaas, H. eds., 2009. Transformation Strategies For Former Industrial Cities, R: NAi Publishers.

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The topic of climate change is currently one of the top topics. However the acceptance of facts of a human involvement are only slowly settling. One of the earliest observations of the environmental temperature rise was undertaken by Charles David Keeling at the Mauna Loa Observatory. He has produced the most striking graph used in the debate from early on.

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Image taken from Scripps Institution Of Oceanography / The Keeling Curve

The latest development in the global debate has climaxed in the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP15 held at the end of 2009 in Denmark. There were no real conclusions or immediate actions to the problem at hand. However, the fact that climate change is accepted as a global issue is already something.
Besides the important politicians talking, isn’t there something everyone can do? The buzz word here probably is sustainability, a term that is fluid and employable by too man different interests. It has become a empty phrase. Individual responsibility and action is probably the more powerful alternative, quite likely the only alternative there is. Greenpeace has published a starting guide HERE.
As a wider community based project the Green Police is an effort to tackle sustainability on an everyday level. The wiki states: ‘The modern Green Police are an environmental task force comprised of collaborative law enforcement groups assembled to crack down on emissions’ Details on the Green Police can be found on wikiAnswers, a great place for all sorts of questions. It is not at all a dull cooperation. The Green Police is for example active at festivals such as Glastonbury. So you have the possibility to combine a great festival and some work for the environment. You can sign up HERE to take part as a Green Police Officer at the upcoming Glastonbury festival 2010.

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Image taken from musicGreen / Green Police can be a lot of fun

Found through musicGreen

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The PhD workshop took place over two days at UCL and was a platform for PhD students to discus their research with other students. The sixteen participants are all doing research related to urban questions. Nevertheless this proofed to be a very divers criteria. It was a mix of geographers, anthropologists, artists, architects and more. Quite a few people didn’t fit only one category so the group was very dynamic.
The workshop was organised by two PhD students from UCL, Sandra Jasper from the Geography department and Luis Moreno from the Urban Laboratory. The concept was for each participant to present condense and short her or his work, followed by a longer plenum discussion and questions. This worked very well, as the organisers managed to structure the program in blocks of two with a similar topic. This would provide a good structure through out. My contribution can be found HERE.
It was for me, with an architectural background, really refreshing to discuss for once amongst other architects. Some completely different topics came up for discussion in this divers setting and this was the real benefit.
Looking thought the notes and the program again the five main topics were Urban Interventions, Urban Complexity, Urban Politics, Writing Spaces and Ethnographic fields.
The most striking discussion, that followed as lead unintentionally through al the topics really was the identity of the profession. What do we do and how does it relate to other filed and the urging questions how can we work together, exchange and develop. What better setting than to discuss it with people in a similar situation with divers backgrounds and interests, but common ground?
I happened to watch Prince-Rasmus’ TED talk the night before the workshop and this probably already set my mind for this debate. He was talking about Architectural Agency.

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Testing a location map for Cyclehoop LtD.


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We have been logging Twitter activities in the London area (M25) over an earlier weekend in January with some code Steven Gray has put together. The idea was to log the location based traffic and see what the mapping of it would bring. There are a number of twitter mapping projects out there already, for example twittermap.tv from where the timeLapse of the weekend activity was captured HERE, or the first big mapping project twittervision.com. However, we wanted to focus on a local region, a city, to see what the traffic is and how the location might play a role. The traffic visualisation page tweeTOMeter is part of this interest.

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Image by UrbanTick / Screenshot of Twitter data visualised in GeoTime’s space-time aquarium.

One could think of this investigation as following the urban story quite literally, while following the tweets of citizens. However it is quite tricky to make sense of it all. The dataset for the weekend, which covers Friday evening to Monday morning contains some 300’000 tweets. Not all of them are properly geo referenced. Only 1’700 have actual Lat/Long information in the geo tag field. Furthermore some 60’000 have Lat/Long details in their profile tag field and the ret only has a generic profile location, such as London. This probably is because of the relatively new geo support of the Twitter API. Most users still seem to have little interest to include their actual location, as well as a lot of the applications do not yet properly support the format. Interesting seems to be the network. Whom are tweets directed at? It seems to be quite a high average of direct tweets, almost 3 per message. Also who will actually read it, how many followers are there in average?
Working with the real geo referenced tweets, surprisingly they contain quite a bit of movement.
For a quick look at the data it has been visualised in GeoTime. The representation in the time-space aquarium makes the diagonal lines, that suggest movement, very distinguishable from the vertical stationary lines. While looking at the replay in the 2D view the weekend really comes to life and London gets busy.

Similar visualisation, with snippets and names, but without the river Thames, can be fund HERE.
GeoTime here really offers a powerful and very quick way of visualising the data in space and time and offers a whole pallet of different visualisation types, each including a set of tools for analysis and manipulation. Import comes either via ARCGIS or even quicker excel.
The main problem really is the quality of the graphics, the design of the result. Here the user has hardly any choice or possibilities to manipulate anything from colour palette to line style or font. This is a bit annoying especially because the tool is kind of an end of the line analysis tool, after you have prepared the data elsewhere.
The second quick one goes into Google Earth obviously. Here the data again comes from a simple excel spread sheet with a VB macro to write the KML file. This literally takes 5 seconds to do and you have a KML file, including time tags in Google Earth.
This one only plays the locations though, also in a time window of some six hours.

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