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For the urban ethnographers: the street as platform

For the urban ethnographers: the street as platform

by Lee Hopkins on February 22, 2008

in miscellaneous

A fantastic article from Dan Hill which looks at how the street as we know it will continue to evolve has crossed my path and has just popped out of my printer.

Moving at a pace unknown and unthinkable to Ena Sharples, the street is now home to an increasing level of technology, both at the systemic and personal level.

Dan’s article, courtesy of a tweet from Stephen Collins, is both long and incredibly erudite. It is a post to print out and savour over a relaxing riesling or slightly peppery shiraz (or a pint of VB or Cooper’s Sparkling Ale).

There is just soooo much thinking goodness in it, looking as it does at the question “what will the street of the future look like?”

As Dan says in his prologue,

“It’s deliberately grounded in the here-and-now, more or less, so it will seem rather old hat to some of you. Which in a sense it is. And in another sense, it isn’t. But either way, this was a better strategy for the task-in-hand, and in imagining the scene below, via a kind of narrative, it’s still remarkable to even sketchily consider how much data is already around us, and is near-invisible to traditional urban planning perspectives. And I’d suggest that this data beginning to profoundly affect the way the street feels. Some quick analysis follows the narrative, raising a series of questions for governance, legislation and the public-private partnerships that also constitute the contemporary street.”

An example of what Dan sees:

A police car whistles by, the policewoman in the passenger seat tapping into a feed of patterns of suspicious activity around the back of the newsagent on a proprietary police system accessed via her secured BlackBerry. A kid takes a picture of the police car blurring past with his digital camera, which automatically uses a satellite to stamp the image with location data via the GPS-enabled peripheral plugged into the camera’s hot-shoe connection.

And more:

This somewhat banal sketch of an average high street is very deliberately based on the here and now; none of the technology lurking in the background behind this passage is R&D. Most of it is in use in our streets, one way or another, and the technology that isn’t could be deployed tomorrow. As such, given the time from lab to street, it represents the research thinking of over a decade ago.

This doesn’t even go near concepts like Bruce Sterling’s spimes, or The Living’s Living City, or Christian Nold’s biomapping, in which objects, people and buildings constantly, silently and invisibly communicate with each other, shaping each others’ behaviour and representation.

And arguably, this still underestimates significantly the size, shape and intensity of the data cloud immersing the street – it’s the tip of the iceberg.

This is a fascinating post/article, written by an intriguing thinker, and one I thoroughly recommend you read as ‘brain food’.

Again, a big cheers to Stephen Collins for tweeting a link to it.


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