Place, Revised

One month ago, I announced that I’d re-introduce the Networked Publics book to my readers, chapter by chapter. In the meantime I’ve been hard at work on that book, the Johnson Tapes, and the Infrastructural City. Networked Publics achieved another milestone yesterday as MIT finished my corrections to the copy edits that they made to the text. So far, my experience with the press has been stellar. I’m a big fan. 

Today I’d like to turn to the text that Anne Friedberg and I co-wrote on Place. To introduce it, I’d like to recall a conversation I had with Mark Shepard last night. Mark is a brilliant professor with a joint appointment in architecture and media studies at the University of Buffalo. His Tactical Sound Garden is an amazing project that employs locative media while it avoids the kind of heavy-handed instrumentalism that so many locative media projects embrace (aside: I really hope it gets realized for a broad audience with the opening up of the iPhone SDK). Curiously, Mark and I were in architecture school together at Cornell, sitting two desks away from each other. But circumstances are just that, the milieu certainly did little encourage us in this direction, unless perhaps it provoked a counter-reaction.

In any event, Mark clarified my own framework to me when he suggested that the model of network culture that Anne and I lay out in the Place chapter of Networked Publics is spatially distinct from the one that Jameson lays out in Postmodernism, or the Logic of Late Capitalism. In that model, which was so crucial for us for so long, Jameson takes the Bonaventure hotel as his rhetorical object. Jameson sees the hotel’s notorious interior as an analog to postmodern hyperspace, its bilaterally symmetrical interior simple in plan but impossible to navigate in reality. For Jameson, this condition represents the postmodern entanglement of the subject in a system that has no exterior, a system that the subject can no longer take an outside vantage point in order to map. But this is still a Euclidean space. Being inside it is the reason the subject can’t map it. In contrast, Mark noted that the condition of spatiality that Anne and I describe is entirely different. In this model (even if this is an AUDC project and goes unmentioned in the Place chapter), my rhetorical object is One Wilshire (which has indeed been as important to me as the Bonaventure was for Jameson), a structure that seemingly exists in one space but in fact defines many superimposed simultaneous environments. 

So, Mark pointed out, at the very core of Jameson’s theory, we find a condition that is very different from ours. To be sure, we’ll continue mapping, something I suggest in this essay, but placefinding is going to be a very different thing indeed under network culture. 

All that said, there have been some revisions to the text in the last iteration and I’m quite happy with the chapter and the voice that Anne and I developed during our year at Networked Publics. See here for Place.  

 

 

 

 

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Developing Technologies: Take the Bus to the Internet

Many researchers in networking technology spend their time trying to dream up future uses of the Internet and yet, many the ideas already out there are just so amazing that the make anything we think of seem tame. So for another semi-regular project, I’d like to institute a series titled "Developing Technologies" in which I will look at the rich ways that technology is being harnessed in developing countries.*

Take for example, this story from the BBC (or this one from Australia’s the Age). In rural areas of developing countries such as India, Paraguay, Costa Rica, Rwanda, and Cambodia, Internet access is hard to come by. In response, United Villages Corporation has created a store-and-forward system based on kiosks, Wi-Fi units, and buses. Kiosks in villages allow workers to regularly check their e-mail, request information, or place on-line orders for a small fee. Busses that regularly come through the villages are outfitted with Wi-Fi units . When the bus stops, the kiosk and Wi-Fi unit connect. Outbound information is uploaded and inbound information is downloaded to the kiosks. Over 100,000 people now access the Internet in this time delayed fashion. It may not be the experience we are used to, but it allows villagers to have access to a world they otherwise would not be linked to.        

*Yes, I know, I need to get back to some of the other semi-regular features I’ve initiated this year. I will, I will. Soon.

 

 

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philip johnson tapes

In looking back at the blog, I realize that I haven’t mentioned a project that I’m bringing to closure this month. For the Buell Center, I’ve been editing the Philip Johnson Tapes, a set of interviews that Robert Stern conducted with Johnson in 1985 about the architect’s life. It’s been a fascinating process since this document not only surveys Johnson biographically, it also reveals Johnson’s role as the consummate networker, something I explore further in my essay "Philip Johnson’s Empire" for the forthcoming Yale University Press book on the architect. I do have intentions of one day doing a critical survey of Johnson, but that will have to wait. With this out of the way, Networked Publics in final copy edits, and Infrastructural City printed this spring (I hope), it’ll be time for me to spend my year on the Network Culture project, something I’m very much looking forward to. 

 

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on the city as growth machine and its enablers

A couple of days ago, I mentioned that the New York Times expressed deep confusion that a real estate bubble had taken place. I wondered aloud why the Times didn’t see the real estate bubble for what it was when, in contrast, the Economist had expressed concern years earlier? Is it that the Times hires reporters straight out of college or is there something more? Maybe it’s that the population of Manhattan has always increased?*

Well, the answer came this week when I gave the students in my spring Network City course Harvey Molotch‘s seminal essay "The City as Growth Machine." Molotch’s analysis is of the way that certain industries—primarily the finance and real estate industries—dominate urban politics with the intention of expanding their businesses. These interests promote a naturalized view of growth in which we are simply not to question that cities will always get bigger or that they should always get bigger.

But Molotch also points out that newspapers encourage the growth machine as a way of expanding their subscription base. Moreover, foreshadowing the argument of the rather naïve creative cities movement, arts organizations such as the symphony, opera, and art museums are also beholden to the model of the city as growth machine. I’ll leave it to you to imagine where architects are in all this. 

So much for objectivity then. I suppose that we can forgive the Times for playing its structural role (not having a single urban base, the Economist would find little benefit in playing urban booster) if we really have to, but in rereading Molotch’s essay (and it is available at that link above) it seems crucial to me to ask what the broader consequences of such allegiances are and what architects might do to be critical of them. Certainly not things like this (e.g. OMA in Dubai…note that Delirious New York was written at the lowest point in that table below). 

*Heavy sarcasm intended. Sure, Manhattan’s population has gone up lately, but like most American cities, this is only a small uptick after a sustained decline. New York City has continually expanded. Not so for Manhattan.

See the following figures, borrowed form Wikipedia. note that Manhattan was 1/3 more populous in 1910! 

 

1890 1,515,301
1900 1,850,093
1910 2,331,542 
1920 2,284,103
1930 1,867,312
1940 1,889,924
1950 1,960,101
1960 1,698,281
1970 1,539,233
1980 1,428,285
1990 1,487,536
2000 1,537,195
 

 

 

 

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what happens when your objects go away

What happens when our objects become independent from us? Do they become amateur photographers?  

See here. A user set up a script to take photographs at a pre-specified time and post them to flickr. When his Macbook had to be repaired, he received this series of images from an Apple repair facility. In another case, a thief uploaded an image of himself to the Macbook owner’s account.

 

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7km market

image of 7km market

[image by glueckauf from Flickr]

Are there other versions of Quartzsite? Although I am frequently asked about it, the planned nature of Burning Man doesn’t interest me. What does interest me is the 7km market in Odessa. 

In 1989 the Odessa city government expelled an impromptu flea market to a site some 7km outside of town. Since then the market has grown tremendously to over 170 acres in 2006 and does an estimated $20 million of business a day. 

See the New York Times for more

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on the press catching up

Yesterday, within the space of five minutes two stories from the major media outlets struck me as hilarious.

The first was from Wired. Some five years after the first show I had at CLUI about One Wilshire, they have a gallery of photographs of the place at Wired.com. Seems like little has changed. Seems like they didn’t bother to do anything with the copy of Blue Monday we sent them except get a good idea or two for a somewhat belated photo piece. Seems like they couldn’t get any better shots even with their professional team. Wired’s looking tired. What’s up with that, Chris? I mean really, at least they could have asked Nicholas Carr and me to talk about One Wilshire and the future of such data hotels. THAT would have been interesting. Ah, but you have to love the media. That’s why we academics do believe in searching for prior art on a topic and citing it. Even if it means we have to try harder to be original, it makes what we do write about so more interesting.  

Here’s a standing offer to Chris and other editors of major technology magazines: give me a theme issue to edit and I’ll give you something worth grabbing off the newsstands, not a rehash of five year old work. 

The second was from the New York Times and was entitled "How the Bubble Stayed Under the Radar." In trying to account for the longevity of the bubble, this piece had a bit more content, but its first premise—that nobody saw the bubble coming—was strange. I think I’ve been talking about it since 2003 or so. Has nobody else noticed? I guess this blog’s readership is only in the thousands…

Anyway, this was a classic bubble: only the very deluded believed otherwise (or the very calculating—on a foreign exchange basis, there is no bubble…an American house that has doubled in price since 2002 has seen no gain vs. its value in Euros…but if then that leads you to think of what happened to salaries in the US under GWB). Everyone else (and this means you, real estate agents and bankers) knew it would collapse, they just wanted to cash out first. (financial disclaimer: I got rid of all the REITs in our 401k’s a couple of years ago and put them into global equities).

It’s still rather surprising to me that Manhattan continues its bubbley behavior. Maybe when the Europeans realize just how little their fabulous investment is netting them given the falling dollar, they’ll wise up. Maybe when the most interesting and talented Manhattanites begin to flee in droves to other cities (but where? not many candidates in this country? probably to Europe), it’ll begin to happen. 

Most of all, however, I’m amazed by architects. Due to the time involved in making buildings and the heaviness of the capital needed, architecture is traditionally a slow profession. Still, can it really be that architects haven’t noticed that the boom is over? Sure, China and Dubai have kept the system on life support, but construction in the former is going to cease the moment the Olympics start and the latter is merely another mad boom economy, entirely fueled by debt (see here). When collapse comes it will be grim and sustained. All too well I remember the recession of the 90s (or that of the 80s) when architects had great opportunities to work at the local café.  

But those of us who have been diligently working in the field of the expanded architect will still be here, welcoming your new ideas with open arms. Now more than ever, working on the periphery to expand what architecture is and what architecture can do is critical for the future of the profession.   

 

 

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welcome to the internet of things

As the years have passed, many of the ideas that I felt were obvious before they existed (the Web, e-mail for everyone, content management systems, networked attached storage devices, iPhone, etc.) have become commonplace. So what is it that I think needs to exist today? What bugs me about the digital world today? 

Well, one of the things that bugs me is that we are still living in a very primitive world as far as access to the Internet goes. Why can’t I send an e-mail message to a place (e.g. who’s at the Studio-X labs…is anything planned for today?) Why can’t I see the headlines from the newspaper without opening my laptop? How about streaming a podcast? 

If the AppleTV wants to be a modern day VHS player, I want a modern day kitchen radio. The Internet of Things isn’t just going to consist of pigeons that blog your car ratting on you about the driving conditions its been driven under or refrigerators talking to toasters, it’s also going to have to involve a lot more ways of accessing content that we’re traditionally accustomed to getting on the PC. The iPhone, but even more importantly, the iPod Touch, are steps in that direction.

And now there’s Chumby, which goes a good deal further as an information appliance. I’m not so convinced about the styling of the device or the interface. I’m not even sure that Chumby has got it right enough to succeed. After all, before the iPhone was the Treo and before Treo was Kyocera and before Kyocera Smartphone was Qualcomm. But I am sure that soon enough someone will figure, even if it takes a half decade. 

 

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hollow city, empty suburbs

Over at the Atlantic Monthly, Christopher B. Leinberger suggests that suburbs are "the next slum." In his article for the March issue, he observes a massive oversupply in housing and suggests that Americans are moving, en masse, back to the city. The result, he concludes, is that the suburbs will be as eviscerated as cities were in the 1950s. 

Not so fast. Suburbs may have an oversupply of housing and older, inner ring suburbs are increasingly the first destination for immigrants, but cities have their own problems, not the least of which is a huge amount of purchasing by investors and global travelers who want an pied-à-terre in every major city.

See this harrowing article from the New York Times on life at the Plaza Hotel, recently converted to condos. In this scenario, reminiscent of Hollow City, the history of late 1990s San Francisco by Rebecca Solnit, cities become impossibly expensive playgrounds for a global élite with more ordinary individuals such as cooks, nurses, lawyers, dentists, doctors living on the periphery wearing T-shirts that say "Bring Back the Real NY."

 

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