Multidisciplinary Collaborations

The Spaces of History/History of Spaces conference scheduled for April 30, 2010 at University of California at Berkeley looks fascinating. Beginning with the framework of collaborative efforts to understand historical processes through space and the built environment and the writings of Lefebvre, Foucault, Gregory, Harvey, Soja and Latour, the conference seeks to answer several questions. In addition to seeking new approaches to studying the built environment, the conference will explore several pertinent questions, including:

How has the “spatial turn” in the humanities and social sciences transformed the ways in which history of the built environment is theorized and researched?

What are the potentials and biases in the use of particular research techniques and narrative forms?

How might such interrogations help us conceive new pedagogies for design and planning?

Wundt group of reseach

Image via Wikipedia

This conference is full of potential to further explore and understand the connections between the humanities, social sciences and the built environment, as well as refine methods for continued learning and discovery. The multidisciplinary and collaborative approach is extremely valuable and opens broad avenues of possibility. What will be interesting to see is how knowledge communicated and developed at this conference can be practically applied beyond academia.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
Posted in Anthropology, Architecture, Built Environment, Narrative, urbanism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Olympic Surveillance

The CBC news has reported that Vancouver is in the process of installing hundreds of surveillance cameras in the downtown area in anticipation of the upcoming Olympic Games. 900 cameras will be installed in the next week to monitor crowds for criminal activity or medical emergencies. The cameras will become active on February 1, and city officials indicate that they will be removed after the closing of the Paralympic Games on March 28. However, many are skeptical of the increased use of cameras. Some opponents would prefer more security personnel in place of the cameras. Others have no objections to the cameras during the Olympics, but worry that they will not be taken down as planned. Mayor Gregor Robertson said “there needs to be a lot more dialogue. People have to understand what the pros and cons are before we move forward on that.”

City of Vancouver

Image via Wikipedia

To me, this situation is quite reminiscent of the fall of 2008 when Denver hosted the Democratic National Convention. Part of the $50 million provided to the city for security purposes were used to install advanced surveillance cameras to be used during the convention. In addition, many private business owners installed their own cameras in preparation for possible civil unrest. Although intended for the duration of the convention, the cameras have remained in use since that time. With such a dramatic increase in the number of surveillance cameras in such a short time, and so many from private businesses, no one is sure just how many surveillance cameras are in the downtown areas.

As expected, there are both critics and supporters of the change. Police maintain that First and Fourth Amendment rights will not be violated, and that the cameras are “not an Orwellian type of thing…It’s a crime thing.”

Critics question the effectiveness of cameras and cite the London study showing how ineffectual cameras have been at reducing crime.

It seems, however, that the trend if increasing urban surveillance will not slow. At this point the public seems happy enough to hold onto the belief that the cameras are making them more secure. As this trend continues, I always find it interesting to sidestep the public/private/security debate and explore new media opportunities á la Manu Luksch, as well as the culture behind the growing trend.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
Posted in Built Environment, New Media, Surveillance, urbanism | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Ski Town Urbanism

Steamboat Springs is entering the fray of mixed-use development and downtown condominium housing. As the Steamboat Pilot reports, 56 units were built in two new developments, and many realtors targeted second-homeowners for the development. They were surprised, however, to find that half of the units sold have gone to locals. Families are deciding to give up larger homes, yards, and two-car garages to live in the downtown area. They report that the decision was hard, but they would not change their decision. The relocated locals enjoy easy access to both the town and ski mountain by either walking or taking the bus. Shopping and recreational opportunities abound in the area, with many practically out the front door.

Downtown Steamboat Springs at the end of May; ...

Image via Wikipedia

Realtors report that the biggest challenge is convincing buyers of the value proposition of living downtown. Convincing buyers not to buy a big place on the hill in a town like Steamboat takes work. Buyers claim that lower HOA fees, amenities and recreation within walking distance and access to the free shuttles is more than a good trade off for owning fewer cars and not having a yard.

It will be interesting to see how this project continues to develop, and if more locals continue to buy the units. Hopefully this is the start of a new trend of more people in different generations valuing city and transit or walking-oriented living. It seems that many people are hesitant to give up what they are used to, which is understandable, but always enjoy the quality of life available in areas of people-centered urbanism.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
Posted in Architecture, Built Environment, urbanism | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off

Storytelling and Surveillance

I just read an interesting blog post from Richard Smith about the possibility of self-fulfilling prophecies driving the increase in urban surveillance networks. He wrote that while attending a conference on surveillance cameras, a presentation was given examining the public opinion of surveillance in 9 countries. More often than not, public polls reveal positive attitudes toward increased surveillance, despite studies in San Francisco and London that show how ineffective they actually are. And don’t forget about the Moscow police who spent 5 months watching pre-recorded footage.

Smith goes on to reference a post by Clive Thompson that questions the power of self-fulfilling prophecies in pop culture. Sociologist Robert Merton wrote an essay in 1949 on “The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.” The thesis was that “it was indeed possible to convince people of a false proposition merely by telling them that lots of other folks believe it to be true.” Merton’s own definition of a self-fulfilling prophecy was:

a false definition of the situation evoking new behavior which makes the original false conception come true.”

Continue reading

Posted in Anthropology, Social Norms, Storytelling, Surveillance | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

A Lesson from the Aleutians – The Brilliance of Vernacular Design and Construction

The book Steller’s Island is the account of a Russian ship exploring the coast of Alaska in 1741. The ship carried the first scientist to ever visit that part of the world, Georg Steller. In addition to performing an amazing study of the flora and fauna of the area, he also learned from the indigenous people ways of living that saved the life of the team several times. Among his observations include detailed account of the kayaks, or iqyan, that the Aleutians used.

Drawing of Steller's Sea Cow.

Image via Wikipedia

The kayaks were fundamental to the survival and well-being of the local people; fat from marine mammals was crucial to their survival. Without dependable access to the sea they could not have flourished. Over time they learned how to construct their kayaks in a way that emulated the sea lions as closely as possible.

Continue reading

Posted in Anthropology, Architecture, Built Environment, Literature | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Economic Benefits of Walkability and Transit

In addition to the social, experiential and public benefits of walkable and transit-oriented cities, there are also many economic benefits to be considered.

An article published in the New York Times in January of 2010 reported that some real estate agents were beginning to consider walkability an important factor in determining the value of a location. A study by C.E.O.’s for Cities looked at the 100-point scale Walk Score and the corresponding values of homes and neighborhoods. Data and observations have shown that home in more walk-friendly neighborhoods sold for higher than homes in other neighborhoods, and that the value of the walkable homes declined less in the recent recession.

This file is licensed under the Creative Commo...

Image via Wikipedia

Continue reading

Posted in Built Environment, urbanism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

People-centered Urbanism

If cities are not built for people, then what for? Alex Steffen’s article “Deep Walkability” points out the importance of a walkable and people-oriented city. He defines “deep walkability” as “the quality of having a feast of options available when you walk out your front door….”

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai, India

Image via Wikipedia

It is well known that post-WWII urbanism in America has become more and more centered on suburban living and the car. Sprawl has become, for the most part, the rule and trend of modern American urbanism. People have been relegated to drab sidewalks along large avenues and boulevards dedicated to the car, an environment in which pedestrians and cyclists are seen as more of a nuisance than anything else. In this slow but powerful force of development, the plans and designs of cities have begun to ignore people.

Continue reading

Posted in Anthropology, Architecture, Built Environment, urbanism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Behavior-based Architecture and Design

Josh Owen has designed and developed a portable Stoop Bench for use in varied urban environments. He writes, “Philadelphia is a city of stoop dwellers. Stoops entered into the vernacular of American architecture during the colonial times…The Philadelphia stoop functions as a fundamental social meeting place.” He goes on to point out that the stoop is a place of transitions and of pause, serving as a social anchor for friends and neighborhoods. This project frees the stoop from the front door to other urban areas will be an interesting experiment. Many modern public areas are designed without the human scale in mind; without spaces and places to sit, relax, talk and watch. The stoop gives an opportunity for social behavior and interaction in urban locals that are currently devoid of such design features.

View at Piazza della Signoria from the front b...

Image via Wikipedia

Continue reading

Posted in Anthropology, Architecture, Built Environment, Social Norms | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Surveillance Music Videos

In a creative example of how surveillance cameras can be used as a new media tool, Pitchfork Media has begun to film music videos using CCTV. The films capture the performers from a unique and voyeuristic perspective while also splicing in surveillance footage of the surrounding environs for added effect. The videos, although simple, are captivating and interesting to watch. It will be interesting to follow this project and see how it continues to unfold.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
Posted in New Media, Surveillance | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off

The Blindness of Surveillance

This is an interesting article by Glenn Greenwald that looks at the effectiveness of the many surveillance measures employed by the government for anti-terrorism purposes. This is particularly relevant with the recent events on Christmas Day. It has been repeatedly stated by President Obama and others that a lack of information was not the problem. Rather, a lack of “connecting the dots” led to these lapses in security.

Greenwald points out that there is simply so much data to fish through and so much gathered through broad and indiscriminate collecting that there is too much information to handle. Even with suspicious connections, communications and other warning gathered, no one was able to clearly see the whole picture. In an age of unprecedented surveillance perhaps we are learning to rely too readily on overwhelming technological efforts than on our own senses.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
Posted in Surveillance | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment