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IBM – Participatory Cities

[Source: Participatory City Initiative- Parsons NYC & Columbia GSAPP] 

This past month I was invited as a guest presenter for an urban design forum and project seminar at Parsons AMT in conjunction with the IBM-City Forward Initiative. The initiative by IBM has been established to invigorate urban research utilizing geographic data via the project’s website. In my presentation, I encouraged students to use the IBM site as a guiding information source with its limitations in mind- specifically that the geographic scale of the City Forward Initiative is less about the interior dynamics of cities and more about statistical comparison outward towards other large urban centers.

[Source: IBM City Forward Initiative | Website Interface] 

During the presentation, I detailed MSA’s (Metropolitan Statistical Areas) and their usefulness as well as limiations; this lead to a discussion of the principle of scale akin to the classic Eames Powers of Ten short film. Further we discussed efforts by NYC to open up its municipal GIS datasources, primarily the Open Data initiative and DoITTs ongoing essential GIS files for NYC.

[MSA’s overlayed to urban density] 

[NYC relative to its MSA] 

[Charles and Ray Eames- Still from Powers of Ten] 

Following the conference, four students projects were delivered, and I was happy to see that each project investigated new ways for qualitative and quantitative data to inform and shape urban design in NYC. Some projects were more overtly invested in geographic data, but all took seriously the notion that digital data now operates in conjunction with physical space on a daily basis in dense urban centers like NYC.

[Steam Street Panorama] 

The first project – Steam Street – looks at the historical and contemporary dimensions of Canal Street and proposes ways to both ‘sense’ the urban environment and make findings immediately public through installation- literally a ‘steam street’, talking pipes and smoking tower.

[Historical Canal Street with overlay to ‘Collect Pond’] 

Lingua Franca- BitMap is a meditation on the ‘hard’ surfaces of urban space and seeks to utilize new materials and digital data to ‘soften’ these spaces to the benefit of citizens and visitors of the city.

[A ‘softer’ urban space- Lingua Franca- BitMap] 

WeftWerk focuses its efforts towards interface design that ‘decentralizes’ data, making urban spaces more participatory, healthy and equitable.

[WeftWerk data interfaces] 

Finally, Syncing Waves imagines by turns both utopian and dystopian scenarios for citizens based on the current ascendancy of digital technology and data in cities.

[Syncing Waves- future urban data scenarios]