Urban Sensing and the Data of Cities

“Artists have long been fascinated with changes in the environment and have designed works to focus viewers’ attention on these changes. For example, in his series of haystacks at various times of day, Monet explored changes of light and the daily passage of time. Turner often highlighted weather changes. In part these artists wanted to freeze one set of changes they observed, but I imagine they also wanted to make the audience more observant and appreciative of the changes occurring in their world.”

Stephen Wilson
Environment-Sensing Artworks and Interactive Events: Exploring Implications of Microcomputer Developments
Leonardo, Vol. 16, No. 4 (Autumn, 1983), pp. 290–291

Venice, from the Porch of Madonna della Salute, 1835
Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) was an English Romantic landscape painter, watercolourist, and printmaker.

In the Air, by Nerea Calvillo, is a visualization project which aims to make visible the microscopic and invisible agents of Madrid’s air (gases, particles, pollen, diseases, etc), to see how they perform, react and interact with the rest of the city.

Mapping

“The way the street feels may soon be defined by the invisible and inaudible. Cities are being laced with sensors, which in turn generate urban informatics experiences, imbuing physical space with real-time behavioural data. The urban fabric itself can become reflexive and responsive to some extent, and there are numerous implications for the design and experience of cities as a result.”

Dan Hill on the “New Soft City” (February 2010)

The Drawing of My Life: London
Daniel Belasco Rogers

Psychogeography

“Psychogeography could set for itself the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals. The adjective psychogeographical, retaining a rather pleasing vagueness, can thus be applied to the findings arrived at by this type of investigation, to their influence on human feelings, and even more generally to any situation or conduct that seems to reflect the same spirit of discovery.”

Guy-Ernest Debord
Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography
Les Lèvres Nues #6, 1955

The Naked City
Illustration de l’hypothése des plaques tournantes en psychogeographique
Screenprint, 1957
Guy Debord with Asger Jorn

Design Concept and Scenarios

1. Agents: Private individuals, associations, local authorities, companies, non-profit organizations
2. Environment: City architecture, infrastructures, landscape, waterways, climatic conditions
3. Technology Features: Positioning, detecting movement and interaction, evaluating density, visualizing, sensing environment values

Francesco Calabrese, Kristian Kloeckl, Carlo Ratti
WikiCity: Real-Time Location-Sensitive Tools for the City, 2009
MIT Senseable City Lab

Urban Sensing

“A crucial aspect of further development in this area will have to be focused on how to ensure that the technology of real-time location-based mapping remains focused on providing better information for people to base their decisions on instead of formulating decisions for the people. Any decision is based on knowledge and insight in the context in question. The better a situation and the actual dynamics in place are known, the better one is able to interact in an effective way with that situation and open up at best the implicit potential of that circumstance. Understanding urban dynamics with the help of digital technologies that enable real-time and location-based information is a powerful instrument to support just that, and it will be exciting to see how this tool can be used in constructive and inclusive ways for the benefit of a city.”

Francesco Calabrese, Kristian Kloeckl, Carlo Ratti
WikiCity: Real-Time Location-Sensitive Tools for the City, 2009
MIT Senseable City Lab

Toward a New Soft City

“These artists had to be content with using an allegorical process to sensitize their audience. Microcomputers connected to a variety of sensors allow artists to create works that respond directly to characteristics of the viewer’s current physical environment in a precise and direct way. Unlike the works described in previous sections, these do not focus on human choices but on physical qualities such as time of day, time of year, temperature, amount of light, rain and sun, barometric pressure, vibration, movement of objects in the surroundings, and electromagnetic radiation. Any change that a sensor can convert into an electrical pulse can be read by a computer and used to shape what the computer creates—for instance, video imagery, sounds, sequences of lights and physical movements. The viewer’s experiences change with changes in the environment. The artwork becomes a special window that lets viewers see their world more clearly.”

Stephen Wilson
Environment-Sensing Artworks and Interactive Events: Exploring Implications of Microcomputer Developments
Leonardo, Vol. 16, No. 4 (Autumn, 1983), pp. 290–291