Friday, May 28, 2004

Of cities and mobility

In An Architect in the City of Bits, David Pescovitz interviews Bill Mitchell++ about location-awareness. Touching on MIT's Smart Cities research programme, Mitchell describes cars that "operate as part of a giant distributed scanner that builds a real-time model of the city and keeps it updated." Hmm. Modelling the city from the perspective of an automobile? The city as car-only space? Surely the city is more than that.

In Inhabiting the Car (pdf), John Urry cites Freund and Martin's The Ecology of the Automobile, in which they argue that "Modernist urban landscapes were built to facilitate automobility and to discourage other forms of human movement… [Movement between] private worlds is through dead public spaces by car." Urry continues: "Such car environments or non-places are neither urban nor rural, local nor cosmopolitan. They are sites of pure mobility within which car-drivers are insulated as they 'dwell-within-the-car'. They represent the victory of liquidity over the 'urban'."

Urry then calls for 'smart' cars that are "better integrated into the public transport systems and public spaces" :

The key to integrating such 'post-steel-and-petroleum' cars into a mixed transportation system will lie in a multifunction 'smart-card' that will transfer information from home, to car, to bus, to train, to workplace, to web site, to shop-till, to bank. Cars could then be partially deprivatised by making them available for public hire through using such a smart-card to pay for their use, as well as to pay fares on buses, trains, or more flexibly-routed collective mini-vans. Smart cards for welfare recipients, students, families with young children, and the elderly could be subsidised. But all of these vehicles would have to become more than technologies of movement – they would also have to be hybridised with the rapidly converging technologies of the mobile telephone, the personal entertainment system and the laptop computer.

Mitchell finally gets at (just some of) the social and cultural implications of the car/city in his acknowledgement that :

Technology is advancing faster than our ability to think through the ethical and cultural issues ... You can't slow down innovation. I think what designers and writers need to do is paint really compelling pictures of possible futures in very human terms so that the public debate can really evolve at a high level in a sophisticated way. We must understand the relationship between these rather abstract technologies and our everyday lives. We need to ask ourselves how we want to live our lives and how we can organize our technological capabilities to fulfill those ideals. Public debate is critical. And you can only have that debate if you engage the public's imagination.

I, for one, am happy to explore the possibilities of 'intelligent' cars, but only if we give equal attention to other forms of (technologically-engaged) mobility, like cycling and walking.

Update - BBC News: Wireless web gets a set of wheels (on Yury Gitman's Magicbike, linked above)

**

Photographing urban mobilities (and such) at grand magasin and la forme d'une ville. (via)

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