Monday, June 24, 2013

Pop! ... goes the city

Today I attended  PopTech's "The City Resilient" summit at the Harvey Theater of the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). PopTech is like a less-choreographed, more humane TED.  I enjoyed the mix of presenters, despite the understandable focus on the resilience of NYC (and surrounding areas) when hurricane Sandy struck last fall. It was not a purely "techie" meetup. And that was good...
I attempted to use Airbnb for the occasion since it seemed appropriate, but I failed to synch up as a new user...
I was personally invited by the ringmaster Andrew Zolli who, in his personalized email to me, literally said: "I'm a big fan of your work – I've evangelized StreetBump around the world as a prime example of the future of urban innovation"...
How could I refuse such an invitation!?
It was an intense day, which I managed to summarize in my moleskine. And I will now attempt to transcribe the experience to this blog. Lots of very inspiring presentations on topics that I am actually interested in. Enough to make me stray from my 10-project lifetime goal. But I will keep my focus...
My personal take-home message was that what we are doing with City Knowledge is still ahead of the cutting edge, and our approach promises to surmount many of the issues brought out in the summit and fulfill many of the futures the presenters (and all of us) wished for.
I am glad I attended, even though I didn't really get to speak to many attendees.  I was soaking and processing the information being delivered and I didn't want "conference noise" to intrude into my lucubrations. We even got a plug for StreetBump by Carlo Ratti's replacement, Jake Porway. I felt proud, I have to admit.
I heard for my first time the neologism adhocracy (vs. bureaucracy) from Andrew himself, during the intro.  Makes me think of the "gradients" that government traverses -- unconsciously -- to try to get "the right policy" with broadbrush strokes (as manifested in euclidian zoning).  Adhocracy feels a lot more like performance zoning.  Our ultimate goal with CK is to deal with these gradients directly and let processes coalesce and emerge as needed.
Then, the event's major sponsor, the Rockefeller Foundation introduced the "100 Resilient Cities" challenge.  And, of course, my thoughts went to Venice, Boston and Santa Fe...  All very resilient in their own way.  All impacted positively and negatively by tourism...
The Manhatta project made me think of the "Venice proto-islands" project we are planning to repeat this year to reconstruct the evolution of the city from Archeological data, upon which we could add the Visualizing Venice details of more recent changes, after the landscape was heavily anthropized. I have to read the book "Terra Nova" and learn about Urban Alchemy...
Sampson introduced econometric principles at work in his version of the "science of the city" in the Great American City of Chicago.  It is not what I believe is going on, nor the Theory of City Size that Bettencourt and Batty just wrote about in Science magazine.  There seems to be a movement toward an elusive "science of the city", and perhaps -- just perhaps -- we may contribute quite a bit to this science in a way that is complementary to these other theories, among which I would rank very highly Kevin Lynch's Theory of City Form which is at risk of being overshadowed by more recent efforts, especially now that Julian Beinart is retiring from our group (City Design and Development) and department (DUSP) at MIT.  Perhaps I need to name my concept "A Theory of City Knowledge" as a "third way" (probably complementary to the others) as the science of city government to the service of the citizen.  A science of gradients indeed.
We were all intrigued by HopeLab and Hoboken's wireless mesh network, and by the concept -- novel to me -- of IOBY (In Our Back Yard, as opposed to NIMBY) and the citizen participation that technology could enable in that context.  Apparently, the NYC IT department (and especially Mike Flowers) are quite beloved in the PopTech community...  Mike's Building Inspections analytics would marry well with our CK prototype for Boston's inspectors.  A brief mention about the NYC Park department recalled my previous efforts to map trees in Venice (2001) and Cambridge.  I even wrote a paper on tree maintenance, and tree information management and analysis, based on CK Principles.
The real techie presentation was by Jake, who is a fledgling TV personality on National Geographic Channel, where my own Venice video still lingers.  I will read Tubes as he suggested.  This is the segment when the StreetBump plug came out, together with the other Boston app called Adopt-a-hydrant.  I see the day coming for a single CK City App that will allow citizens to pick-and-choose what they want to contribute to, while voting for things they like or want to see improved or fixed.  It will be the embodiment of CitizenPipe (#9 in my list). Which is what OpenPaths hints at, with a combination of "My Preferences" (#10 in my list) and SensorDomo.  Intriguingly related to Citizenpipe is also another effort mentioned by the presenters:, which is not available in Spencer, MA, but I suspect to be not too far from the concepts in my Naticity business plan.
Overall, I think we are well poised to create something 10X better, by fulfilling on the promise of City Knowledge and of CitizenPipe. On this "silver jubilee" we will be bringing together the latest developments on the City Knowledge console and the best insights from our successful apps like ButOne, DEW, Venipedia, VeniceNoise, Vaporetto, PreserVenice, Stores, and others, into a single flexible app on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the Venice Project Center in 2013-2014. One app to rule them all!  And a Venice City Dashboard to boot!  (with kind assistance from UCL's City Dashboard team).
Overall, the Pop!Tech event boosted my outlook about the path we are following with City Knowledge.  We are on to something, and we are going to stay the course (and hurry a bit).  Above and beyond the "Internet of Things" recently featured in Wired, our AgentsCloud promises the software equivalent, with added network effects, plus encompasses all data-producing processes, such as administrative permits, inspections and the like, that are simply not monitorable with gadgets.
Big City data will indeed "get personal" and our CK applications will be leading the way...

You watch...

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Steve, Turrell, Ganzfeld

On my way to the PopTech conference at BAM, I made sure I got into the Guggenheim with ample time to take in James Turrell's installations that are part of a 3-museum retrospective recently announced in the New York Times. Kudos to Joanna Hess for alerting me to this amazing show.
Here is a list of adjectives that -- together -- may begin to describe the experience: outstanding, mindbending, intense, trippy, puzzling, mysterious, uncanny, pleasing (at times), eerie (other times), pensive, meditative, pulsating, vibrating, disorienting, and there could be many more... but you get the gist.
The man is intense, to say the least, and I can only hope that I can somehow get into his "crater" emerging from the high desert near Flagstaff (I think  I know how).  I resolutely plan to take in the LA and Houston shows as well.  It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I won't let distance get in my way.  I even bought the catalog -- which I never do --and I don't even own a coffee table.
What's surprising is that I never heard of this genius.  And neither has Steve Guerin, despite the obvious kinship when it comes to projected/reflected light, and notwithstanding the uncanny visage resemblance, now that Steve has grown a big beard (à la Turrell, one may say).
I surreptitiously took a video to try and capture the shifting ganzfeld effects. Doesn't do it justice, but perhaps it hints at what Turrel's art is all about.  It's definitely one of those you have to see it to believe it experiences, so go to NYC, Houston or LA if you have a chance.

I know I will...

Friday, June 21, 2013

A "minimum stay" in Venice

I just returned from a month in Venice just in time for the summer solstice; also just in time to kind of  see the supermoon through the clouds.  Nonna Wilma went into the hospital the day I left to get her knee replaced (it all went well).
I got back to my castle (and to some major lawn mowing) so I can spend more time with Nick this summer, to get him ready to attend his first class at WPI this fall, now that he has met some of the "cool" faculty in the music department, like Fred Bianchi and Vincent Manzo.  I hope this is a turning point for him on this summer solstice, the longest and brightest day of the year...

It was a short but intense visit, and I managed spend quality time with a lot of friends and family.
First I went to see Adrian, Ksenyia, Masha, Kiril and Karen Hewitt in Oxford, while I presented StreetBump at the UDMS conference at UCL.  Enegence is doing well as one of the few applications that utilize City Knowledge concepts.
Between May and June, Nancy Mithlo spent a couple of weeks in Venice showcasing Indian artists at the Air, Land, Seed exhibit for the 2013 Biennale.  It was great to see my dear friend at work with her native american colleagues in my hometown.
The day Nancy left, another dear friend (and dean/boss) Rick Vaz arrived with his significant other (and our esteemed colleague) Chrys Demetry's for a very quick visit.  Rick was a major supporter of the early years of the WPI Venice Project Center, but he had been missing from Venice for a whole decade.  We quickly made up for his long absence by embarking on a whirlwind eno/gastronomic tour of Padania, hitting all the best restaurants in Verona, Mantua, Parma and Modena.  I was forced to give up my vegetarian ways for three days and I obliged unreluctantly.
When Rick and Chrys left, I was finally able to spend a night or two with my other dear friends Barb and Frank Aguilera who were my surrogate parents in my MIT years and were in Venice with their childhood friends Emmie and Bill Smith (of Gorky Park's fame), who are working on a book based in Venice (spoiler alert).
Finally, with less than a week left, I spent some quality time with my mom, who turned 76 on June 18, and with my dad, who quit smoking after 65 years of Marlboros, so he can actually breathe again and may someday be able to visit me in the rarified atmosphere, 2,500 meters up, in Santa Fe. I even squeezed in a visit to a furniture store near Treviso with my sister to see the Bulthaup kitchen of my dream, who was moved by sheer pity for my continuing lack of a furniture in my minimalistic abode in Sant'Elena...
I also did manage to do some work in Venice...  which I will write about separately.

This is the first time I came back from Venice so quickly.  I would have stayed longer if I didn't feel compelled to be with Nick as long as possible, but I have been returning earlier and earlier every summer, primarily because of the hordes of tourists clogging up every nook and cranny of my beloved hometown.

Something needs to be done about the "human flood" as I have been advocating for years.  I am beginning to think that one action that may work is to institute a "minimum stay" requirement of at least 2 nights in a hotel or B&B in the historic center as a "ticket" to access the privilege of visiting a sacred space like Venice.  One could pay an equivalent entry fee and stay less, but this "minimum stay rule" would discourage the eat-and-run (mordi e fuggi) tourism that is making it harder and harder for us local Venetians to call our city "home".  Sounds like a good deal to me.  A win-win all around.  We would be "forcing" tourists to stay longer and linger in venetian time (go ahead! twist my arm!)... and Venetians would not be forced to "minimize" their own stay, as I have been doing lately.

This way, we can all be Venetians and enjoy each other's company...