Future Cities Digest #21 (17/04/2014)

by Lukasz Alwast

#urban #sensing #data #NYC

Hudson Yards, one of the largest estate developments in New York City is to become an ‘urban laboratory for data science’. A few days ago a group of developers announced that they are teaming up with CUSP to create a ‘quantified community’. Among the elements of the environment expected to be measured and modelled are: pedestrian flows, street traffic, air quality, energy use, waste disposal, recycling, health and activity levels of workers and residents. Besides this, researchers are particularly excited about the opportunity to research the ‘conditions under which people feel comfortable sharing their personal information’. The first office tower is scheduled to open next year and the first residential building in 2017.  You can read the full article in NYT Bits.

#city #services #technology #diffusion

Equity, public versus private delivery of city services and worker displacements – argues Brook Rainwater – are the key concerns cities might experience when introducing driverless cars, drones and on-demand transportation. In a FastCoExist article Rainwater insists city leaders need to already start developing plans (and frameworks) for the potential impact driverless cars and drones will have on city services. For example: if a city adopts a predominantly private driverless cars system, usage and support of bus and wider transit systems could be affected and lead to less community support. Another valid questions is  what to do with underutilised parking garages, spare street lanes or unused on-street parking etc.? Quite a good piece for a quick read.

#modular #phones #Google #Ara

Google is hosting this week the first developer conference for its Project Ara – a prototype of a modular phone announced back in October. The idea for this project is to provide a highly customizable, from a hardware perspective, smartphone (‘Android for hardware’). One of its main objectives is to cater people in the developing world who otherwise would never be able to buy a smartphone, and thus open new market opportunities. The project is (yet another) in Google’s portfolio that steams out  from DARPA’s Advanced Technology and Projects groups, which models a small-team, tight-deadline approach for delivering innovation. ‘Innovation under time pressure, is higher quality innovation’ – argues the team leader. Full article available here.

#behaviour #modelling #social #engineering

A very interesting book review (and short critical analysis) appeared in this week’s MIT Tech Review. ‘Social Physics’ by Alex Pentland, director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory,argues that ‘our greatly expanded ability to gather behavioral data will allow scientists to develop “a causal theory of social structure” and ultimately establish “a mathematical explanation for why society reacts as it does”’. And deciphering people’s behaviour is perceived only as a first step, and Pentland sees ‘the prospect of using digital media and related tools as a vehicle to change people’s behaviour and motivate groups and individuals to act in more productive and responsible ways’. However, the reviewer finds some of the assumptions problematic, as he thinks defining social relations as a pattern of stimulus and response makes the math easier, but ignores the deep, structural sources of social ills. Insightful read – available here.

Recent books releases:

“How does nature work in our human-created city and suburbs? How is ecology, including its urban water, soil, air, plant, and animal foundations – spatially entwined with this great human enterprise? And how can we improve urban areas for both nature and people? The book explores the  urban area: from streets, lawns, and parks to riversides, sewer systems and industrial sites; presenting models, patterns and examples from hundreds of cities worldwide.”

“The book focuses on exploring recent advances in architectures, algorithms, and applications for an Internet of Things based on smart objects (SO). Topics include insights from advanced IoT projects:  methods for SO development,  IoT networking, middleware for SOs, data management for SO,  agent-oriented SOs and applications of SOs in smart environments: smart cities, smart health, smart buildings, etc.”

“Social physics is about idea flow, the way human social networks spread ideas and transform those ideas into behaviors. Pentland shows that, in fact, humans respond much more powerfully to social incentives that involve rewarding others and strengthening the ties that bind than incentives that involve only their own economic self-interest” [review above]

Spirit of times
Spray-paint-wielding drone (Katsu)
“Katsu, who gained graffiti fame in the 1990s in New York City, showed a series of paintings created by the flying machine at the Silicon Valley Contemporary art fair last weekend. The splotchy canvasses wouldn’t necessary stop you in your tracks, but the process by which they were created is entirely new. Katsu pilots the craft remotely, but every movement is translated through the machine’s need to keep itself aloft.”