Urban Computing round 1 wrapup

So we brought our first semester of Urban Computing to a close last night with a marathon four-hour review of student projects. It was exhausting, but also undeniably exhilarating, and a really nice way to wind things up for the year.

For the most part, I was delighted to see how fearlessly our students pursued their ideas despite the challenges involved in resolving projects on the conceptual, technical, and graphic levels. As an instructor, of course, it’s impossible to take any kind of credit for their hard work and inquiry, but that doesn’t stop me from being really proud of some of the work that emerged from class this semester.

These were my particular favorites:

Catherine Colman and Angela Pablo‘s Under The Level mapped the reality of New Orleans’ post-Katrina devastation onto the streets of New York, using FEMA’s rather sinister site-marking iconography as its graphic jumping-off point.

– If you’ve ever been haunted by the way waves of cicadasound arise and subside with the passage of people underneath the summertime trees, you’d recognize the intention at the heart of Michael Dory‘s very poetic Concrete Crickets project, which used a self-organizing network of sound devices camouflaged as garbage to build the Lower East Side equivalent.

Adam Simon‘s ingenious scheme to deploy self-powered guerrilla BitTorrent servers out in the streets, using the familiar old-school neighborhood trope of sneakers slung over the utility lines as concealment, probably came closest to fulfilling my hopes that our students would truly grasp and fuse the “urban” and “computing” elements inherent in what they were presented.

Chunxi Jiang amazed us with the technical virtuosity of her project, singlehandedly developing a system of camera-readable tags for printed maps that allowed the 3D virtual objects she imported from SketchUp to be superimposed on them. It’s hard to describe, but its brilliance is self-evident the moment you see it working – and the potential latent in her project, to allow anyone with a mobile device to add a layer of physical information to an otherwise-ordinary printed map, is near-limitless. (Too, the uncanniness of seeing virtual World Trade Center towers being swapped in and out with the Ground Zero pit is something that will stay with me for awhile.)

Jonathan Cousins‘ project caught that iconic Japanese commodity of the 1980s, the boom box, at the moment of its transition into the ghetto blaster, asking how it was used to claim urban space, and how things might have been different if it used noise-canceling technology to blast the streets with silence instead of sound. The product mockups and especially the video he made to demonstrate some likely scenarios of use were a total hoot.

The diversity of these projects kind of speaks for itself, doesn’t it? It’s kinda gratifying to see the city picked up and considered from so many different angles.

So: my congratulations and thanks to everyone who presented, in the hope that you’ll continue to develop these incredible ideas. I’d also like to thank our semester’s esteemed guest speakers – our friends Soo-In and David from The Living and the unstoppable Roy Kozlovsky – the guys from area/code for sitting in as our impromptu murder board, and above all, from beginning to end, Kevin Slavin, for having invited me along for the ride to begin with, and for helping me understand on a weekly basis what it is to inspire.

For now, what I need more than anything else is a neck-and-shoulder rub, a vacation from ubiquitous anything, and a large volume of intravenously-administered mai tais. See you in September?

One response to “Urban Computing round 1 wrapup”

  1. Andrew says :

    Wow, those are really impressive. The sneakers-as-servers one in particular is fantastic.

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