Tag: Cities

With all the attention given to urban applications of machine vision — from facial recognition systems to autonomous vehicles — it’s easy to forget about machines that listen to the city. Google scientist Dan Ellis has called machine listening a “poor second” to machine vision; there’s not as much research dedicated to machine listening, and it’s frequently reduced to speech recognition. 7 Yet we can learn a lot about urban processes and epistemologies by studying how machines listen to cities; or, rather, how humans use machines to listen to cities. Through a history of instrumented listening, we can access the city’s “algorhythms,” a term coined by Shintaro Miyazaki to describe the “lively, rhythmical, performative, tactile and physical” aspects of digital culture, where symbolic and physical structures are combined. The algorhythm, Miyazaki says, oscillates “between codes and real world processes of matter.” 8 The mechanical operations of a transit system, the social life of a public library, the overload of hospital emergency rooms: all can be intoned through algorhythmic analysis.

From Urban Auscultation; or, Perceiving the Action of the Heart by Shannon Mattern (via Andrew Small)

“But what city leaders have been trying to reckon with recently,” writes Andrew Small, “is how representative that audience sample is of the community they represent.”

The audience sample in question here being those who show up for things like local neighborhood planning meetings and whether or not they “represent the moderate opinion of everyone who’s just okay [on] a decision but don’t have the time between work, school, and play to show up to a meeting”.

I’ve deep reservations about the use of the word “recently” there, as this was a perennial question back when I was covering local planning matters on Portland Communique back in the early-to-mid aughts, and even then it wasn’t a new issue.

Those kinds of observations must be tempered by the day-to-day realities of those who don’t have the cheat codes of whiteness to help them avoid racial harassment, especially from police. The Jane Jacobian idea of “eyes on the street” very easily becomes “eyes on the black people” — which is why some African Americans disengage from public spaces like parks altogether. These peaceful green spaces just as easily induce anxiety and trauma for black and brown people, especially when they know the cops can be unleashed at any moment.

From The Toxic Intersection of Racism and Public Space by Brentin Mock

Lily Bernheimer, writing for Reasons to Be Cheerful, examines the “missing middle” housing that isn’t merely about mid-density dwellings which typically get the attention of that phrase: courtyard communities.

Living at the Salemi compound for 17 years, Dolan realized that its Mediterranean-style site plan fostered the kind of vibrant neighborly interaction that staves off isolation. The layout of the average American block — with front entrances around the external perimeter and private, fenced-off yards in the center — was essentially reversed here, where residents typically enter their homes through the commonly held central courtyard.

But when appealing to a highly educated, mobile, upper-middle class resident or employer, uniqueness gives way to a candied sameness. While publicly funded arts and cultural planning efforts can serve to materially improve the lives of residents, top-down, developer-centric efforts can result in a homogenous banality. The effect is an algorithmic kind of beauty: sleek and modern, while also gorily Frankenstein-esque. Popped color palettes, parklets, and glass-walled buildings make cities indistinguishable from each other. It’s the architectural equivalent of “Instagram face,” designed with the robotic pragmatism of a targeted ad. In coding design elements towards wealth and the professional class, cities and developers also necessarily code aesthetics toward the sensibilities of white urban transplants, given the makeup of this class.

From Slicker Cities by Saritha Ramakrishna (via Paris Marx)

The Upshot section of The New York Times has a fascinating look (what’s the aural equivalent of “look”?) at how social distancing measures have changed the soundscape of cities.

Microphones listening to cities around the world have captured human-made environments suddenly stripped of human sounds. Parks and plazas across London are quieter than they were before the pandemic. Along Singapore’s Marina Bay, the sounds of human voices have faded. In suburban Nova Scotia, the noise of cars and airplanes no longer drowns out the rustle of leaves and wind. In New York, the city has been quieter than on the coldest winter days.


  1. The aural equivalent of “look” of course is “listen”, and I don’t know what was happening that I didn’t know that at the time.

Then I got into small Twitter feud with Timothy B. Lee, a writer at Ars Technica, about those stupid sidewalk delivery robots. He used one, waited 90 minutes for his order to be delivered, acknowledged “this generation of the technology is only going to be viable in fairly high-density areas,” but refused to accept they were yet another bullshit tech solution that could be more easily solved with e-bike couriers in the limited areas where robot delivery would make sense distance-wise. He kept arguing that scale would bring down cost, while refusing to recognize that the very same scale will mean crowded, inaccessible sidewalks, which people will not accept — the same way they hated dockless scooters intruding on sidewalks.

From Enough with the autonomous crap by Paris Marx

It’s reasonable to assume that the world, left to its own devices, will continue to entrench and enrich the powers that be, during and after this crisis. It’s clear that the treatment of street vendors and the homeless are two places to start when considering the equitable implementation of al fresco streets. Police enforcement of social distancing has also shown glaring discrepancies along racial lines in some cities, as have decisions about which parks and public spaces have stayed open, and which are closed. Public transit ridership could crater long enough to kill off transit service all over the country. If people start relying on cars for even more trips, cities could lose some of the most effective resources for social and economic mobility. If people start relying on cars for even more trips, entire cities, not just bus riders and pedestrians, will be overwhelmed with the traffic and pollution caused by cars.

From Cities Are Suddenly a Little Less Car-Centric by James Brasuell

Civic Signals is seeking “five graduate student researchers with expertise in digital ethnography and urban spaces to conduct research for a two month fieldwork project on digital public spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic, beginning June 2020”.

Research will focus on key issues such as digital inequalities, infrastructures, misinformation, digital publics, and digital literacies, in relation to community building, education, activism, exercise, nightlife, and more. How are understandings of public and private shifting and for whom? What are the material conditions of these shifts? Researchers will conduct fieldwork independently, but will collaborate with the research team and the research leads, Dr. Mona Sloane (Principal Investigator) and Dr. Jordan Kraemer.

Joe Cortright compares Vancouver, BC, and the Navajo Nation and suggests that when it comes to rates of infection, the apparent key is “not density, but rather poverty, a lack of health care, and housing over-crowding”.

The vague irony of a 1500-word piece for Curbed making what are very important points about urbanism and privilege and exhorting people “to center the voices of their black, Latino, Asian-American, and immigrant neighbors” being written by a white woman.

Link Log Roundup for May 15, 2020

In this edition: a decline in distancing, hot spots, strange new worlds, an inability to focus, mixed messages, concentration fatigue, Marion County, race and immobility, making or breaking cities, and a Grubhub scam.

Link Log Roundup for May 13, 2020

In this edition: PTSD at Facebook, bankrupt hospitals, conservation efforts, incel communities and autism, a surreal Senate hearing, black men in masks, losing health insurance, ignoring CDC guidance, disability tech, urban air quality, rent strikes, Oregon counties, failed leadership, protests at the Oregon coast, dogs finding whale scat, vacating non-unanimous verdicts, suburban flight, investing in black neighborhoods, testing and stigma, evolutionary psychology, defending life, and the psychology of consumption.

Link Log Roundup for May 12, 2020

In this edition: presidential courage, post-pandemic cities, post-pandemic homes, disruptions to HIV care, voluntary surveillance, reopening Iceland, paying the rent, getting sick on the job, disrupting routines, mandatory vaccination, engineered misalignments, jury trials, Census undercounts, open streets, and political investigations.

Link Log Roundup for May 11, 2020

In this edition: labor surveillance, viral surfaces, blurb writing, knowing the risks, testing questions, child vaccinations, engineering ventilators, actuarial science, Cannon Beach, bunk beds, institutional discrimination, public pharma, money for Western states, virtual reality, false balance, the social safety net, salon workers, opening up the streets, and public opinion.