Looking back on speculations from earlier days of WC can be a great measure of what's changed and how far we've come. In January 2004, Alex posted a piece about Urban Informatics, including a great excerpt from Howard Rheingold about mobile communications and cities. Alex asked, " Will entire populations of city-dwellers create, use, and exchange information and media associated with geographic locations?" And further, would such a system be open and free, or closed and proprietary?
Since then, we've spoken abundantly of this emerging world of smart places, participatory panopticons and walkshed technologies. Most of us are still not able to map the geographical locations of our friends across town on our own mobile phone, but explorations into that possibility are well underway. Carlo Ratti, an architect in Torino, Italy, and MIT researcher, runs SENSEable City Laboratory, which is running an experiment in real-time mapping through Wifi-enabled mobile devices. People carrying such devices on the MIT campus get tracked by SENSEable City, where the data collected reveals information about patterns of human activity within the bounds of the campus.
On a larger scale, Ratti has mapped movement via cell phone towers of people in Graz, Austria. The idea is that city-wide data might inform architects and urban planners as they develop infrastructure and new public spaces, enabling better foresight. Of course, the idea that Ratti was handed information about cell phone use in Austria touches all sorts of nerves - particularly this week - where the privacy of telephone records (or any other kind of privacy, for that matter) is concerned. As we've said before, the key to a successful participatory panopticon is it is open and democratic, that we share our data because we want to take part in, say, a mappable network of mobile devices. It can be a great service to us as individuals, and the key to a safer, more neighborly, more smoothly-run city.
For more, there's an interview with Ratti at Technology Review.
it may be to our cultural advantage to not have smoothly run cities. The greater the chaos, the less likely you will have points of centralized control for larger power centers. The greater the chaos, the less livable the city and hopefully that will drive people to smaller, more decentralized living spaces. Decentralize spaces which would be more robust in the face of political, social, and technological change. They do have the downside of restricted choice through geographic monopolization
The other thing to consider about urban spaces is that they concentrate populations minimizing the energy needed for commercial organizations to extract money from people's pockets. cities exist not because of any social or cultural benefit, they exist because it makes it easier for commerce to take place. it is that focus on commerce that create repressive power structures in government all aspects of urban life.
all of the attempts to introduce privacy or social information available to all this fighting against the fundamental power structure of an urban space.
How very unabomber.
Metro urban spaces ('cities') are more vital, more resilient, safer, and more sustainable than their suburban or rural counterparts.
Privacy and personal security are terrifically important concerns, which cannot be dealt with by 'dispersing' (hiding).
This post and all of WC's posts on the subject of smart cities (and the so-called Participatory Panopticon) point out that active democracy is required in order to combat the use of these technologies against personal liberty.
But then again, this is an existing, not a future, threat - and it is dealt with most readily in the strongholds of democracy, cities.