The value of detailed maps at the neighborhood level

Image available here

The author claims the need of a systematic approach “that brings together the design of built environments with the best scientific knowledge of processes of change in complex natural and social systems.” Urban planning must work within these systems that require local info (through participatory practices) and the creation of technical solutions. He thinks the challenge is mapping informality as cities grow in unpredictable ways. He also claims that cities are about connections: “the socioeconomic and physical links that allow each one of us to make a living, obtain services that make our lives easier, and learn and invest our time and resources.”

The effects of connections can be traced as the concentration of social networks in space and time where the value of a group is not proportional to the group’s numbers, but to its interactions. GPS tracking, and smart phone technologies can help track the networks.

New methods from urban science allow the accelerated evolution of these neighborhoods to follow natural urban processes. They are based in part on the mathematical analysis of detailed maps, including the development of algorithms to optimize building access, delivery of services, formalization of land, and taxation, with minimal disturbance and cost.

Planning through the development of detailed maps at the neighborhood level is also an effective way to capture local, person-centric knowledge, providing a clear vehicle for better local politics via the coordination of priorities and action from communities, local governments, and other stakeholders. The convergence of a networked science of cities, quantitative methods of spatial analysis, and information technology tools is key to allow users to participate.

Full text available here

Luís M. A. Bettencourt (2019) Designing for Complexity: The Challenge to Spatial Design from Sustainable Human Development in Cities Technology|Architecture + Design, 3:1, 24-32, DOI: 10.1080/24751448.2019.1571793

Closing the Loop Documentary

Closing The Loop is the world’s first feature length documentary on the zero-waste / circular economy, supporting UN Sustainable Development Goal 12 on Responsible Production and Consumption. The film is presented by global sustainability expert Prof. Dr. Wayne Visser, in collaboration with Emmy and two time Telly Award winning director Graham Ehlers Sheldon. The film ranges across three continents and includes commentary from global experts and centres of excellence like the World Economic Forum and the University of Cambridge. A number of innovative circular economy cases are also featured in detail. The Circular Economy Club (CEC) is a communication and promotion partner of Closing the Loop. A film by Kaleidoscope Futures Lab. and Stand Up 8 Productions.

The ‘Parques Biblioteca’: the Colombian way to achieving social development and cohesion

Spain Library Park: Giancarlo Massanti Architect, Medellin, Colombia, 2005
Image available here

They are urban complexes formed by buildings of modern architecture, with large surrounding spaces for public use, green, pedestrian and decorative. These public spaces give the urban complex the name of Park. The central building or axis of the complex is equipped with a library with high-tech computing equipment in broadband, justifying the name of the Library, and hence the compound expression “Library Park”. According to the municipal administration of the city of Medellín, “The Library Parks are Cultural Centers for social development that encourage citizen meetings, educational and recreational activities, the construction of groups, the approach to new challenges in digital culture. And they are also spaces for the provision of cultural services that allow the cultural creation and strengthening of existing neighborhood organizations. ” (wiki)

Spain Library Park: Giancarlo Massanti Architect, Medellin, Colombia, 2005
Image available here

Sergio Fajardo, governor of Antioquia, Colombia, and the mastermind behind the impressive edifices (…) Today (2014), he continues to push for educational opportunities across Antioquia (…) he discussed his current project to build 80 library parks in his home department (…) Building dignity and providing quality education for those in some of the department’s poorest communities has been a driving force behind Fajardo’s decision to build the library parks in underdeveloped neighborhoods like Santo Domingo and La Ladera and in towns like Anorí, which was overrun by guerillas for 50 years (…) Improving education in Medellín and Antioquia has also mobilized people living in these once-disadvantaged neighborhoods to study and dream of new opportunities.

Excerpts from Sarah McClure ‘s article: COLOMBIA: Building on Education, full article available here
The trees of inequality, violence, and illegality share a single root.
Image courtesy of Sergio Fajardo Valderrama, available here

Participatory Budgeting

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Participatory Budgeting (PB) is a form of direct democracy at the local level, where all citizens state annually prioritized sectors to be financed before allocating investment resources in projects of their choice in those sectors. It has four key moments: diagnosis, deliberation, decision-making and follow-up (…) The epitome of PB is Porto Alegre (…) Five criteria required to qualify a PB: all citizens participate to the choice of the allocation of resources, this occurs at an administrative level of power (for example a town, but not a quarter), this process has to be repeated over years, a deliberation must take place in a specific institution, and finally citizens should be informed ex post of the status of the budget and the projects (…) The city government’s “Presentation of Accounts” from the previous year marks the beginning of the PB process in March-April. From April until May, regional and thematic assemblies take place with the objectives of establishing thematic priorities by voting, electing councilors for each region, defining the number of delegates, and repeating the budget review for the preceding year at the local level (…) These meetings are open to all citizens and constitute the central and most inclusive component of the process (…) The five thematic areas discussed in the PB at city-level assemblies are: transport and traffic; education, leisure, and culture; health and social welfare; economic development and taxation; and organization of the city, urban and environmental development. (…) One of the main reasons why Brazilian reforms have moved so quickly after the dictatorship has been the passing of a new Constitution in 1988. This Constitution strengthened municipal autonomy, validated the participation of community groups in municipal decision-making, and attributed important social and economic policy functions to municipal authorities (…) there are four keys for a PB to be successful: a strong mayoral support, an active civil society, self-ruling given to citizens for the mechanisms of the PB, and consequent financial resources to fund the projects selected by citizens (…) The main findings are: a better allocation of resources (more equitably and appropriately distributed among sectors and communities), an increase in the financing of basic needs, and a more inclusive, less corrupted democracy.

Adrien Frank, An Overview of Participatory Budgeting, 2015

Porto Alegre, the coordinative model of a smart city

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(Olivio) Dutra (Workers’ Party) was elected mayor of Porto Alegre with 34% of the votes (…) Dutra’s term as mayor of Porto Alegre, starting in 1989 and ending in 1992, was the first of four consecutive terms of the Workers’ Party in the city, totaling 16 years of administration (…) Porto Alegre became a sort of display cabinet for the party in the rest of Brazil: A place where it experimented successful and innovative initiatives such as participatory budgeting (…) participatory budgeting has led to direct improvements in facilities in Porto Alegre (…) According to Fedozzi and Costa, this system has been recognized as a successful experience of interaction between people and the official administrative spheres in public administration and, as such, has gained a broad impact on the political scene nationally and internationally, being interpreted as a strategy for the establishment of an active citizenship in Brazil.

Wiki & Wiki

The process began in loose neighbor assemblies (…) access was open (…) the data were organized so that they could be debated (…) Conflicts between neighborhoods were dealt with by elected reps (…) The system flourished for 20 years but was later squashed down by top down power (…) it began to loose coherence (…) vast waves of migrants were not integrated (…) with the advent of big data, smartphone etc, it is now possible again to coordinate participation at a megacity scale (…) a system including organized, debatable data, online chatrooms that assemble views and feedback is now running in over 250 Brazilian cities (…) use of technology helps people choose (…) people have to get engaged in the data, interpreting it (hermeneutic) and acting on it (…) the coordinative city is democratic whereas the prescriptive is authoritarian

Richard Sennett’s, Building and Dwelling, Penguin Books, 2019, pp. 164-165
Porto Alegre – RS, 11.05.2011 Temática de Habitação, Organização da Cidade, Desenvolvimento Urbano e Ambiental. Local: Teatro Dante Barone – Assembléia Legislativa Foto: Ivo Gonçalves/PMPA, Image available here

Songdo, the prescriptive model of a smart city

An overview of the Central Park in Songdo, seen from the Observatory on the 29th floor of G-Tower. 18.08.15, image available here

Built on a polder of 600 hectares reclaimed from the Yellow Sea  (…) The idea was to create a genuine ‘business centre in North-East Asia’, attracting investment from all over the world and offering an unrivalled quality of living which would serve as a model to be exported (…) Songdo is also a town under constant surveillance: 500 cameras ensure total grid coverage to regulate the traffic or detect ‘suspicious’ behaviour. Even the opening of a sewer cover is immediately notified to the IFEZ management centre in one of the towers in Songdo (…) As to the environmental aspect, the town, whose name means ‘Pine Island’, is built on a coastal strip which used to be known for the wealth of its ornithology, and includes 32% of green space as compared with 21% in Seoul (…) Sterile and soul-less, the city looks different from Korean cities. There are no poor people, no street vendors, no old people

Le Monde, full article available here

(Songdo) originally conceived as a weapon fighting trade wars (…) to entice multinationals to set up Asian operations with lower taxes and less regulation (…) big tech was added to make the city more attractive (…) technologically mediated/regulated environment (…) control center (cock pit) has an array of giant screens showing what is happening to the city’s air quality; electricity usage; traffic flows; etc (…) the control center makes the interpretation of what any of this information means (…) the whole city operates at the behest of the big data assemblages (…) (Songdo) it embodies a prescriptive model of smart city, a city in the sense of a luxury good (…) it is not smart at all: it operates in a stupefying way

Excerpt from Richard Sennett’s, Building and Dwelling, Penguin Books, 2019, pp. 159-163

Social Cartography

Leonardo da Vinci, Town plan of Imola (first ever use of planar view instead of perspective), image available here

Social Maps Definition/History: maps whose purpose is to represent specific aspects of society at a given time and place, (usually statistical data put on a map)/ they emphasize the power of space in shaping society over time/ in its earliest incarnation, the social map was concerned with epidemic disease, particularly cholera/ later in the nineteenth century the perceived problem of mass migration to the growing cities led to the application of segregation as a political device to separate disparate populations/ the use of mapping as a tool of social investigation reached its peak with the emergence of a science of social investigation in the 1880s/ maps shifted from having a symbolic power to having a descriptive (arguably scientific) power/ they used dots and circles or cloropleth maps of different shades/ these helped hypothesize on the actual causes of diseases or crime and poverty/ London was forefront to cartographic innovation due to mass urbanization and the need to manage a diverse, densely crowded population

Maps are social constructions, whose integrity as scientific objects is limited to how precise they are when taking account of their scale and similar measurable parameters. As soon as decisions start to be made on selection of data and the way in which those data are to be presented on maps, the social and political context in which they were created will start to influence how they are read. Once this fact is recognized, one can get beyond the traditional criticism of maps and start to consider what they are in reality: objects laden with meaning, which reflect the context of their creation. Yet maps continue to be incredibly useful for capturing data as well as for providing a starting point for analyzing those data statistically.

Inherent weaknesses: stat errors/ positioning can affect how the world is viewed/ they are influenced by the social and political context they are created in/ their study in rapidly changing populations impose a false appearance of stability/ as records it is essential to take into account the historical time they were created in/ iconographic: color can carry powerful moral connotations, it can also be used for propaganda/ by drawing boundaries around people other from themselves, European powers defined the separation of the center from the periphery/ the complex use of space belies the normal approach to interpreting segregated social space, which tends to focus on the residential location of a minority group, overlooking their opportunities for movement across the city, throughout the day and the week/ not all spatial arrangements are a direct reflection of the societies: more complex societies are normally comprised of a structured non-correspondence

Notes and excerpt from Laura Vaughan’s: “Mapping Society: The Spatial Dimensions of Social Cartography,” UCL Press, 2018