developing a sense

Architecture and city design has almost always been thought of as more of an art than a science (especially among architects themselves; ignoring structural engineering because it is “how” not “why”). Art itself is seen as something quite subjective. Something that couldn’t be reconciled into objectivity—and yet there are patterns and probabilities for how people will see the world. We have shared meaning and there is usually only one or two common interpretations of films, paintings, or poems—even if the artist tried to make it as open and abstract as possible.

The development of a sense beyond visual aesthetic is logically the next evolution in how we think about architecture and place. But part of the problem today is that there is not a lot of scientific data being used to inform urban planning theory. We need more of a “morphological-structural-functional” approach rather than an “artsy” approach. We NEED data to accelerate global wellbeing.

Urban and territorial planning implies knowing how to govern long-term actions. It follows that efficiency and effectiveness checks require not only certification of measures but continuity of monitoring them over time.

In addition, the organization of the territory involves social and physical aspects.

Monitoring will therefore cover the well-being of the inhabitants (educational response, cultural health, housing standards, work, job security, for instances), soil consumption, energy sustainability and emissions (ie: environmental quality and local contributions to global change) as well as the ability to withstand exceptional natural events, or manage emergencies.

Luca Piero Marescotti

A building might feel satisfying on paper or in a 3D modeling application but once constructed the lived experience of the building might be quite different due to changes in the surrounding environment. Context is everything in the world of art, interpretation, and psychology.

Aesthetic evaluation begins as cognitive and forced—but with enough lived experience the conscious will eventually become subconscious. The new sense of the environment will be cognizant. We can be more aware of our environmental stressors if we try to become aware of them. Once we are aware of them then we can modify our environment (culture jamming!) to make our lives more peaceful for ourselves (and those around us who have the same stressors).

Since I’ve started my research into psychogeography, GIS, and urban design, I’ve realized that there is a huge gap in our current understanding and effectiveness of city and neighborhood planning. While contemporary urban design seems to fall short in terms of meeting human needs, I’ve learned a lot from researching the history and origins of urban theory.

Rather than doing urban planning on my own, I only want to create a tool to help urban planners do a lot better by identifying and experiencing cities similar to their own but better than their own. Through self-analysis tools and emergence into a different world, I believe urban planners will be able to develop robust and testable models of their ideal neighborhood and live in it without having to actually build it because it is likely already built somewhere else in the world.

I want everybody to be able to be an urban planner. To make that happen I’m building a travel planning application that is fun and fast. It will be intuitive enough that people won’t need to know any prior urban theory to start thinking like a scientific urban planner.

Modern urban planning practice doesn’t seem to fit very closely with the work that I’m doing but the work of early urban theorists like Patrick Geddes, or Guy Debord is very close to what I’m trying to do with my neighborhood analysis project. I’m trying to create a science of urbanism and catalog of human settlements which is both accessible and relatable to the average person.

Geddes advocated the civic survey as indispensable to urban planning: his motto was "diagnosis before treatment". Such a survey should include, at a minimum, the geology, the geography, the climate, the economic life, and the social institutions of the city and region.

It’s difficult for cities to improve because the mayors and developers of the world don’t often have a clear picture of the needs of citizens and residents. Ranking and comparing cities is absurd because cities are large and complex. Cities are neither constant nor uniform. Neighborhoods differ wildly one from another, but on the whole, the spatial auto-correlation of neighborhoods is much more constant.

Geddes wanted the visit to the Outlook Tower roof-terrace to encompass interaction of a temporal nature. Whereas passers-by at ground level were aware only of the present and everyday matters, the view from the roof-top terrace should offer visitors perspectives into the past and the future - the two horizons of time.

The temporal aspect of seeing from above was highlighted by Roland Barthes in his analysis of the Eiffel Tower: "After all, the panoramic view is intellectual in character, as is further attested by the following phenomenon which, incidentally, was exploited by Hugo and Michelet in their aerial views: a story is always conjured up on seeing a bird's eye view of Paris.

At the top of the Eiffel Tower, one's mind starts dreaming about mutations in the landscape before ones eyes; triggered by spatial amazement, the mind plunges into the mystery of time and falls into a kind of spontaneous amnesia - duration itself becomes panoramic".

As stated earlier, Geddes saw the Outlook Tower as a way to resolve an "evolutionary" crisis perceived as a breakdown between the individual and his environment. By re-articulating the landscape and its history, he aimed to re-situate visitors in the evolutionary cycle by helping them to become citizens capable of envisaging and building their own future and, collectively, that of their city.

Cities and urban systems are very special examples of complex systems that are both self-organized and designed (Batty, 2013) simultaneously. Two types of processes lead to continuous changes of city structures. Centralized planning decisions are top down, with planning authorities at the local, state, and national levels bringing in policy and developmental changes at multiple spatiotemporal scales. These changes range from short term and continuous, as in local policy changes or developments over time, or they can be large scale and rare; an excellent example is the Paris Haussmann Plan (Barthelemy, 2013).

However, there is also a second type of process: a large part of the physical structure of the city is generated by the actions of multiple, distributed, socioeconomic processes enacted by millions of residents living in the city. The final spatial structure of urban systems is the final encoder of both the actions of planners and designers and policy makers, as well as the results of these distributed, decentralized processes. It is important to understand this structure, because it is only this physical structure that can be “decomposed” into components that may bring out the effects of the centralized versus the bottom-up processes.

Urban planning and design will shift from top-down, centralized interventions, mostly qualitatively driven insights, to interdisciplinary, bottom-up, data-driven, and empirical-evidence-based, quantitatively informed interventions. The political process and the political use of data in the spatial sciences, however, will remain extremely problematic and will likely increase the complexity of the situation.

Jane Jacobs, for example, proposed that a city needs four ingredients to be exuberant: mixed uses, short blocks, buildings that vary in age and condition, and a dense concentration of people. "At the core of this book is a four-part hypothesis that is demanding to be tested," Marshall says. "But when I went to look to see if it had been tested, there was virtually nothing."

Some researchers are already studying cities in scientifically valid ways, but much of this work is being done by physicists and mathematicians who have little use for urban design theory.

"In urban planning, we're like physicists without a particle theory or doctors without a germ theory," says Michael Mehaffy, an urban designer at Portland, Ore.–based design company Structura Naturalis. "We don't have a unifying idea about the nature of what we're looking on. We say we're artists but it's as if we're medieval doctors with potions... We need to recognize that we have a responsibility to use models that are more likely to produce better outcomes."

Being able to use a bus to travel ten miles to a super market is not the same as having a grocery store around the corner. Mobility, even sustainable mobility, is not the same as access.

It's interesting to me that the ideal of respect for individuality in America actually requires a uniform and collective basis. Everyone has to agree that individual rights are the greater good. everyone feels entitled to a single family home with a large backyard and front lawn because the TV told them this is the ideal. Within this individuality we are unified and collective.

Classical socialist doctrine finds it difficult to come to terms with political and social pluralism, understood not simply as a plurality of parties and trade unions but as the co-existence of various ways of working, producing and living, various and distinct cultural areas and levels of social existence... Yet this kind of pluralism precisely conforms to the lived experience and aspirations of the post-industrial proletariat, as well as the major part of the traditional working class.

André Gorz

When you advocate for nationalism you promote the history as written by the government as perhaps unjust but still immutable. You suggest and hope that the future be unchangeable as well. Localism on the other hand does not necessarily have this dependence upon a narrative or history in order to have meaning. Localism is able to withstand greater symbolic attack. Relationships within the local (vs national) are much stronger because they have a living heartbeat of proximity. Relationships at the national level is intermittent in strength with waves of extreme nationalism rising and falling.

The home can be thought of as akin to the national level. Some homes may corrupt, some homes may be successful, some homes productive, some homes poor. On the neighborhood level this follows a regression to the mean bounded by spatial and temporal auto-correlation. This effect of spatial-temporal auto-correlation weakens as the distance of either time or space grows. At the city level there are many different socio-cultural contexts that exist.

Of course, different people can grow up in the same neighborhood and have an entirely different life experience but most of that divergence is due to their interaction path within different neighborhoods. The propensity for divergence of two people growing up in different neighborhoods of the same city is much greater, but it’s still entirely possible that they live similar lives if they have a similar daily interaction path—meaning their daily activities follow a similar path through the city. They go to the same (or adjacent) school, their family goes to the same (or nearby) restaurant, etc. It’s not unreasonable to think that this phenomenon is an emergent behavior of quantum entanglement—because it feels eerily similar.

The politic at the national level is understood as representing the needs of the local. So this politic is an extension of the local. When the national fails then it can only fail once before affecting all of its supposed represented communities. The politic at the national level often fails purely due to logistical and logical errors. The national politic cannot represent the issues of the local because those issues are beyond the scope of spatial-temporal autocorrelation. In order to represent the needs of one group, the politic at the national level must implement a law which is simultaneously contradictory to the needs of another community. At the national level policy is contradictory at near 100% of the time, yet at the local neighborhood level policy is contrary to the needs of the community 50% of the time or less—simply because of this spatial-temporal auto-phenomena. The local is much more consistent and stable because it can withstand the rise and fall of empires.

At a global scale the multiplicity of nations creates another stable network. One nation may fail but another nation may be able to provide assistance or welfare. This is the benefit of segmentation and boundaries. Different nations are not expected to represent each other but they are expected to form relationships and develop a reciprocity. This respect between nations is something that is not often felt between nations and their states, or cities and their neighborhoods. In these two relationships the hierarchy is emphasized rather than the acknowledgement of local providence. (some of the volumes are pay-walled)

sensors to collect “urban data” to better inform housing and traffic decisions