Monday, February 16, 2009

Res Novae, Urbes Pro Populo (New Things, Cities for the People)

Repurposing Urbanism:
I've been enjoying The Where Blog while on my extended blogging hiatus (the hiatus applied mostly to writing, not reading), a blog that I think brings together ideas about the new,or as I like to think of it, the "repurposed" urbanism, one that grapples with the reality of surburbs that have no urban hub ---they are housing developments built out on what was farmland---, megamalls, and all things decidely non-urban. I often think, especially when I read the blogs of our cycling academics (see sidebar), that many of us envision an urban infrastructure of sorts for transportation (or should I say locomotion ? walking, cycling, public transport), local shopping, and community,while hanging onto gardens, yards, and less costly square footage. It's this complex and potent brew that seems to thrive in our imaginations and our websites, something post- the urban-suburban, beyond the town and country binaries that simply keep swapping out elements from each other to build a better version of what they already are (vs. transforming them all together). The Where Blog keeps track of many other fine blogs, many expert at paying attention to things we ought to notice (or to tell us to give them more than a passing shrug of the shoulders). Here is one such analysis, reminding me of John B's exercise over at Blog Meridian, trying to get his students to grasp the importance of describing ordinary things. Well, here you go:

from a blog called Pasta and Vinegar, quoting a book by someone named Rob van Kronenburg:
“Just think back a decade or so. Did you not see cars on pavements and guys (mostly) trying to fix them? Where are they now? They are in professional garages as they all run on software. The guys cannot fix that. Now extrapolate this to your home, the streets you walk and drive on, the cities you roam, the offices in which you work. Can you imagine they would one day simply not function? Not open, close, give heat, air…

As citizens will at some point soon no longer be aware of what we have lost in terms of personal agency. We will get very afraid of any kind of action, and probably also the very notion of change, innovation - resisting anything that will look like a drawback, like losing something, losing functionalities, connectivities, the very stuff that they think is what makes us human.
If as a citizen you can no longer fix your own car – which is a quite recent phenomenon - because it is software driven, you have lost more then your ability to fix your own car, you have lost the very belief in a situation in which there are no professional garages, no just in time logistics, no independent mechanics, no small initiatives. (…) Any change in the background, in the axioms that make up the environment has tremendous consequences on the level of agency of citizens. They become helpless very soon, as they have no clue how to operate what is ‘running in the background’, let alone fix things if they go wrong. As such, Ambient intelligence presumes a totalizing, anti-democratic logic.“

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