The Res Publica of Data


The literature on “smart cities” inflates everyday. The syntax and visualization of data yield custom meaning out of citizens’ life, which is mainly trusted as truth. We consult our pocket oracle, then we follow directions. The detached engagement that governments have in the politics of data leave communities in the mist of information. Do we share? Can we share? What is left to my own “authentic” decisions? Every single interaction with the World Wide Web requires few minutes of strategy, which aims to preserve the ghost of privacy.

Cities are the origin of human civilisation; the idea of coexisting in the same place, with the common intent of organising common space with systems and rules, aimed to make life better when together.

The sense of community is the first element that makes us part of it. We create the form of our spaces by participating to its organisation and management.

The experience of data dwells between a coat of mystery and fear. Nonetheless data can help to understand the contemporary machine of the real. Data are an achievement of our society, the management is the failure. In an ideal world, the democracy 2.0 would like citizens engaged in the everyday politics by sharing, discussing and editing data, as substance of contemporary politics. So far the trend didn’t exactly follow this way.

I believe that something might change though. Helsinki looks to follow this direction via a ticket. Small steps are indeed the beginning to test big ideas. If politics steps in the administration of the contemporary res publica via citizens opinions (based on needs and wishes), which are regulated by an old democratic system, we might speculate around the contemporary form of politics that adapts, directs and suggests people’s trends.


Custom Infrastructure

GoLA is the app that wants to ease the mobility experience of Los Angeles. Car, indeed, is not the only medium available to navigate the city. It is one of the many, including walking (yes walking) and cycling. You might switch and combine different mobile media according to filters, like those you select when looking for hotels.

In 2008 my MA thesis, iTravel (iBus) looked at a feasible and flexible infrastructural system that could provide a customised journey in London. The trigger of my interest on the topic was people’s engagement on sustainable mobility.

I organised public transportation accessibility via personal needs, via the riddle of gaming. Do you need to travel fast, green or cheap? Do you want to have a shopping sale route? These and other questions are guideline of the algorithm that organises the journey for you.

What GoLA does is not far off from my proposal. Nice to know I had a good intuition and that in a small way i can contribute to the plethora of ideas populating the ocean of smart infrastructure. My thesis has been recently featured in the Architectural Design curated by Tom Verebes “Informational Cities” .



The Duality of Human Being

Perception is a topic I am investigating from a philosophical point of view to understand the human concept of space, as something that is “detached” from our ontological, then phenomenological, understanding of being. In other words we understand “space” as entity outside our body. We then create forms and shapes in relation to the memories we build along our life.

Nevertheless such a basic concept, which helps to acknowledge and reify the “real”, is at stake in the context of the intelligence that machines are acquiring and developing “against” humans.

Perception is something that appears to be mainly guided by sight, even though we get a sense of the physical real by means of senses, which feedback our mind through concepts like depth.

Google Project Tango, and similar, are projects which give machines the understanding of depth. By collecting information from physical reality machines can learn what depth means, as much as human thinks. Google DeepMind is moving beyond the direct understanding of depth by teaching machines the knowledge of space, which is intended as a sequence of “depths”, represented by patterns created by crowds of images.

The interesting way by which this process takes shape is via video games. What is the reason? Space. Indeed according to this Wired article video games are the means to teach machines the concept of spatial navigation (hence the acknowledgement of the “sequence of depths”). Machines create the concept of space by associating patterns of sequence of images.

The process imitates the way children learn. In other words we are feeding machines of spatial information, which is derivative of physical space. Machine learn physical (?) reality within the digital domain of the Internet.

Would that generate a completly new form of space, of course as understood by analog human? Human understating of space is per se noumenal; it works by a series of associations given by memories, i.e. real events that thaught us lesson we will never forget.

I am intrigued when the two process of learning, the human analog and machine digital, are interfaced.

Perhaps Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Lugi Pirandello’s “Late Mattia Pascal” had a good intuition on pointing out the value of memories as detector of humanity.


The Architecture of the City: Content Maps, Data, Space and Design

Last May I gave a talk at the Scene Gallery in London, which I called “The Elegy of Public Space”. The talk looked at spatial effects in physical space as drawn by the language of “Content Maps”. I called “Content Maps” those GPS maps that display the city under specific themes. Uber with its drivers, Airbnb with the available places, Foursquare and Yelp with leisure or Zoopla and Rightmove (among many) for housing hunt. Under “Content Maps” the city is a collection of themes whose adjacency constitutes what we once called city. “Content Maps” flat the complexity and intricacy of urban space (with its pedestrian, square, benches, lights, green areas, etc..) for rendering the city as clusters of cloud information.

Where is urban design? Well design is the allocation of new private space to be managed according to a specific theme. Once established, then streets, bus stops, facilities, and so on, come along.

The top of this trend will be reached once Google, or Apple, will put on streets driverless cars that will possibly introduce a new infrastructural revolution to the way we (pedestrian users) will experience urban space.

In this post from Dan Hill argues about the lack of design in contemporary cities. Cities are data clouds that network companies manages for third agents. My last slide at Scene Gallery represented the London Garden Bridge as the effect of current urban politics, where general public assumes that physical space is private as much as the digital one. It is a big kind of Facebook piazza owned by private companies. To some extent we are already going there.

The lack of architecture in the space of the city is result of different interwoven factors. In my view there is a general lack of understanding of data.  Data, beyond their use for scaling up and down stuff (utilities, square, infrastructure) and beyond infographic representation of phenomena, have a valuable urban design role. The flexibility of understanding real time behaviour is an element that can be integrated into the analysis and design of the urban fabric, where with urban fabric I intend the space that citizens  dwell everyday. I do agree that the kernel is not the building but the network , which constitutes the contemporary urban tectonic of exchange points. In other words buildings  are terminal, or interfaces (if I can borrow words) that enact urban behaviour.

When thinking about the city scale is the first element thats should come in mind. We don’t have the scale of screen, i.e. apps that can understand the territory, but architecture that displays urban life.