There are just some photographs that speak for themselves. Admittedly this van is positioned to watch over 1 World Trade Centerbut it is quite a surprise if you think it is just another police van when its camera suddenly ascends through the roof without warning. London is regarded as the most looked at city with respect to closed circuit TV surveillance and the City of London introduced sentry boxes for police and online cameras after the IRA mainland bombing campaign about 20 or more years ago. Only in the last five years have these been reduced in frequency of use. Another gem from New York is the armed coastguard with the submachine gun shadowing the Staten Island Ferry. I don’t know what is better – whether you should see this going on or not see it but know it is. Seen all in the space of two hours in downtown Manhattan. What next!
Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass where gentrification combines with public art just north of Brooklyn Heights, I discovered one of the secrets of America in the new world of smart cities, ICT, and citizen science: data streaming. Half a mile away in downtown Brooklyn, Mayor Bloomberg’s Big Cities+Big Data Centre – CUSP – which I am currently visiting is powering their way to building a smart cities centre which will be state of the art in exploring how data can be streamed and used to improve the equities and efficiencies of our contemporary cities. CUSP is also part of the revival of Brooklyn but at DUMBO, Nate Larson and Marni Shindelman have created a fascinating glimpse of how we might create and use all this big data in a public place. Let me quote from their web site. Fusing art and technology, Geolocation: A Tribute to the Data Stream “ ……. is a truly fitting holographic project for DUMBO, a neighborhood that encapsulates the seamless integration of the creative arts and new technology communities. We use publicly available embedded GPS information in Twitter updates to track the locations of user posts and make photographs to mark the location in the real world. Each of these photographs is taken on the site of the update and paired with the originating text. Our act of making a photograph anchors and memorializes the ephemeral online data in the real world and also probes the expectations of privacy surrounding social networks. We select texts that reveal something about the personal nature of the users’ lives or the national climate, while also examining the relationship to physical space and the ways in which it influences online presence.
Twitter estimates there are over 350 million tweets daily, creating a new level of digital noise. Clive Thompson uses the term ambient awareness to describe this incessant online contact in his New York Times article, “Brave New World of Digital Intimacy.” According to Thompson, “It is ….. very much like being physically near someone and picking up on his mood through the little things he does — body language, sighs, stray comments — out of the corner of your eye.” Our collaborative work is a means for situating this virtual communication in the physical realm. We imagine ourselves as virtual flâneurs, ethnographers of the Internet, exploring cities 140 characters at a time through the lives of others.”
CUSP – New York University’s Center for Urban Science and Progress – in launching their Masters program in Applied Urban Science and Informatics, have put together a fascinating course called Foundations of Urban Science which is being taught this fall by several visitors who bring different views of this science to the table. Ed Glaeser who wrote the book The Triumph of the City kicked it off and he was followed by the ASU-Santa Fe group - Jose Lobo on size and scale, Luis Bettencourt on data and scaling, and Geoff West on allometry and city size. Mike Batty (me starting today 11th November) talked about spatial interaction, land use transportation models, and CA-ABM and then Jose Lobo will return to talk about creativity in cities. The course is topped and tailed by the organizers Steve Koonin and Constantine Kontokosta from CUSP itself. Click here to see the basic syllabus. I don’t think this is necessarily a model for how to develop a Science of Cities course but it is one of the best so far because it builds on the last 40 years of development in urban economics, social physics, transportation, location theory and urban geography and casts all this into a contemporary mould where scale, size, big data, big science, and qualitative change all conspire to provide the dynamics of how cities are evolving in the present day.