Medialab Prado


Visualizing Urban Spaces’ Digital Skin. How? Why?

04.11.2008 16:30h

Place: Medialab-Prado. Plaza de las Letras, C/ Alameda, 15 · Madrid

Lecture by Juan Freire as a part of the International Seminar VISUALIZAR'08: DATABASE CITY (November 3-18, 2008).



"The "digital skin" of urban spaces-- the layer of geotagged digital data providing information about physical spaces and social relationships in cities-- is taking on an increasing significance. Part of this data comes from conventional sources, such as sensors, public or private information systems, and the media. However, social media currently generate greater volumes of data and are particularly important in the lives of city residents.
While the "local Internet" plays an increasingly significant role in cities, it continues to be “invisible” to a large extent and uses only a small amount of available sources of information and technologies. This is due to several barriers, which are: 1) political and legal: the availability of information (much of it is public legally but not in practice); 2) technological: a good part of this information is not geotagged or available in formats that make it easy to integrate; 3) social: most initiatives are based on technology, developing platforms offered to users so they can contribute information, but they do not address motivation or incentives to foster user participation, nor do they manage community dynamics.
There are two types of approaches for developing this type of projects-- push and pull-- that correspond to a great extent to two ways of understanding public spaces and their digital equivalents: a "clean", tidy city that has been thoroughly designed in which residents are seen as consumers; or an apparently chaotic, "dirty" city that is self-organized to a large extent, in which residents play an active role, using tools for autonomous, unexpected purposes. In addition, the ubiquitous presence of digital media in public spaces brings three types of dangers: urban spam, continuous and ubiquitous surveillance, and the privatization of pubic digital spaces.
What we propose here is a strategy for the construction and visualization of the urban digital skin, adding and remixing social media and conventional sources of information. Geolocation, tagging, data scales and intensity, and local residents’ participation comprise basic technologies and strategies in this process. The active role of users forces us to reflect on the motives that lead to the development of visualizations. How do residents take part? Do they provide information, consume visualizations, or use the visualizations to make individual or collective decisions?"

By Juan Freire


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