The Infrastructure of the Urban Cloud and the Dichotomy of Private and Public Space

The intricacy of the city is deployed by the system of streets, cables, people. Similarly the Internet is based on connections, which allow information to circulate and get exchanged. The challenge that private network companies, economists, politicians and policy makers are facing is the concept of “interface”. It is not only a matter of interfacing information, but interfacing people that use information, likewise streets, cables and people do in physical space. If people are happily interfaced – with other humans or machines – it is possible to generate information derivatives, which are more valuable than the original primitives. The interface is then the key. The interface is real, it is not abstract, as “data”. It is something that you can interact with, touch it. Nonetheless the interface is a gateway that facilitates information traveling through it. What is the relationship between the world of interface and the urban space?

If looking at the scale of the city, smart city studies are generally looking at big data and, most importantly, at data consume/production variables. The way people and things consumes information is the contemporary commodity. The consumeristic data society  generates markets and, also, political patters. As “The Economist” describes, data are currently key values to win elections. “Democracy” doesn’t happen any longer in the polls but in Twitter or Facebook.

Similarly Alphabets is investing capital on connecting the city, physically and digitally. The Sidewalk project is a platform that aims to design the infrastructure 2.0. Urban data are the system by which cities render their social section. By combining and interfacing many aspects of the everyday – from commuting, to shopping and meeting friends or family – it is possible to understand new directions, and, most importantly, how to “drive” them.

The ubiquity of data  is possible through the interface and, most importantly, to the personal relationship we have with it, which is scalable. We hold an object in our hands or in our wrists but the scale is just apparent. The object can scale up and down by means of the connection it is enabling, which happens in any time and any space.

The question I would like to ask is, who owns my private space, if any is left? While writing I am in a specific space, physically. Digitally I am in many spaces, which are facilitated by the number of interfaces I am using and help me to organise my day. From the exhibition I would like to see, the trip I would like to make or the food I would like to eat.. Is this “space”? Is this private or public? Is space defined by my interface?

This lecture from the LSE gives a very interesting perspective on the subject. Professor José van Dijck describes what a platform society is by looking at the private and public. I cannot agree more. If we want to talk about cities, the concept of the private V public is one of the most important elements to be analysed. Urban space looks at the dicothomy between private and public space since its origin. The relationship between them renders the quality of society and politics. The way people coexists together is quite pivotal. An unbalanced system might lead towards social decay, that does affect society. To affect what people are allowed to wish, hope and desire for their life affects urban space and, with it, innovation, curiosity and any of the human qualities which has been driving human being towards a better world to live.

Cities are not made of buildings; city are made of people. Urban form is given by the way people interact. Indeed the space of the public and the space of the private need to understand diversities, whether physical or digital.

In this blog post I zoomed in and out, with the intention to look at infrastructure from a different perspective. The cloud infrastructure can enable urban innovation in the specificity of people interactions.

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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.

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.

On the Illusion of Truth and Plato’s Cave

Truth is something that any one of us thinks to know.

Of course we know which is the truth of our everyday reality. It somehow accomplishes our sense of expectation or, at least, it comes very close to it.

In the BIG history that we experience everyday we look for a comfortable truth, which helps to understand what happens around us. As Plato describes through “The Cave” allegory and Slavoj Žižek points out, our “truth” is coated with a good glossy layer of ideology that really helps us on bridging the void of reality, which we can’t really grasp when displayed as raw.

At two years distance from the “Snowden” case, the storm looks quieter, also because our attention has moved to another bigger problem we are trying to cope with, when speaking about freedom of speech and professing multiplicity of credos and ideas in order to coexist, in our diversity, under the same roof.

Neverthless after watching at ICA Laura Poitras’s “Citezenfour“, my own sense of reality has been reevaluating the state of things. At the beginning I thought the movie was about the “celebration” of Edward Snowden and his capability of taking a big breath and revealing us what NSA has been weaving for us under the “symbol” of “national security”.

After watching the end I changed my mind. I am not sure yet who is the audience of the movie, whether us – well done, I felt like Neo taking the red pill – or the Security-entitled-people-I-dont-fxxxxxx-care-about-your-privacy.

A quote from the movie says that what we call PRIVACY is what our ancestors died for not long time ago: FREEDOM OF SPEECH.

What does really worry me is that data, hence metadata, collection moulds a kind of society where you can drink 1000 kinds of different milks, eat 2000 kinds of breakfast cereals but think in ONE single way. As there are no effective laws that protect people like Snowden and ourselves (the movie makes a good point of it) we give out, for no return, the structural articulation of our thoughts, i.e. our forma mentis.

Snowden again makes another good point. As we know that it works in this way we refrain on searching for specific key words because we know we’ll be given a “particular attention”. As consequence we limit our “freedom of speech”. We limit ourselves on making a new apparatus of thinking; new ideas are no longer on the menu of civilisation.

The system is so intricate that it feels like we are all wire connected to the same router, which packages words and thought for us, when we believe to live a free world, which we need to “export”.

Here the ends of the movie makes me feel a bit relieved, when it portrays the after Snowden: other people are trying to fight the Internet Colonialism where nations are  replaced by lawless private corporations.

Whether you agree or not I hope you do watch the movie and spend sometime to think about which might be the new democracy that can bring us back to express our ideas in the contemporary agora. Don’t let it go