cinema street art urban

Dirty Hands / Arty documentaries

David Choe - Dirty HandsDavid Choe: Set­ting a good example.

I'm psy­ched to check out Dirty Hands, a new doc­u­men­tary about artist David Choe. I'm usu­al­ly skep­ti­cal about "street art" films, but the trail­er looks pret­ty great, and I've heard that Choe is kind of a mad­man. I com­pare every­thing in this street/art vein to Video Days — which, by the way, did you know that can watch all of Video Days on Google Video? — and I'm always hop­ing that new stuff will some­how advance the form that Spike Jonze laid out all those years ago. Maybe this will? Maybe oth­er stuff has? David Choe - Black Dynamite - watercolorChoe worked some water­col­or mag­ic for a movie called Black Dyna­mite that just made some waves at Sundance.

ixd lit reviews urban

Research / East Baltimore police narratives

Last week I picked up a book called Cop in the Hood by a grad stu­dent turned cop (turned aca­d­e­m­ic) named Peter Moskos. He's a law pro­fes­sor now [UPDATE: Oops. He's actu­al­ly an "assis­tant pro­fes­sor of Law, Police Sci­ence, and Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Admin­is­tra­tion." My bad], but he spent a year polic­ing East Bal­ti­more dur­ing his PhD work and wrote a part soci­o­log­i­cal analy­sis, part police pro­ce­dur­al about his expe­ri­ence. If The Wire had a lit­er­ary ana­log, this would be it, not only because it takes place in East Bal­ti­more, but because it presents a moral­ly com­plex view of the rela­tion­ship between law enforce­ment and the cit­i­zen­ry with whom they inter­act (most­ly poor peo­ple in des­per­ate cir­cum­stances). It also adds aca­d­e­m­ic under­pin­nings and a tru­ly excel­lent set of foot­notes that pro­vide avenues to a vari­ety of inter­est­ing sources, one of which led me to one of my all-time favorite New York­er arti­cles, a 1998 install­ment of the Cop Diary called "The Word on the Street" about the lan­guage of NYC cops. The author, the pseu­do­ny­mous Mar­cus Laf­fey (actu­al name: Edward Con­lon) recent­ly wrote a mem­oir called Blue Blood, which is going on the list for sure.I real­ly appre­ci­at­ed his dis­cus­sion of research meth­ods because it puts in high relief some of the chal­lenges that any researcher (e.g., one who is try­ing to under­stand how peo­ple use high-tech tools) inter­acts with their inter­view sub­jects. So much of it is very un-objec­tive, and Moskos address­es his skep­tics ear­ly on:

Some will crit­i­cize my unsci­en­tif­ic meth­ods. I have no real defense. Every­thing is true, but this book suf­fers from all the flaws inher­ent in ethno­graph­ic work … Being on the inside, I made lit­tle attempt to be objec­tive. I did not pick, much less ran­dom­ly pick, my research site or research sub­jects. I researched where I was assigned. To those I policed, I tried to be fair. But my empa­thy was to my fel­low offi­cers. Those near­est to me became my friends and research sub­jects. My the­o­ries emerged from expe­ri­ence, knowl­edge, and under­stand­ing. In aca­d­e­m­ic jar­gon, my work could be called "front-and-back­stage, mul­ti­sit­ed, par­tic­i­pant-obser­va­tion research using ground­ed the­o­ry root­ed in sym­bol­ic inter­ac­tion­ism from a dra­matur­gi­cal perspective.

You can read more in an excerpt here [PDF], and he's got a blog that dis­cuss­es media cov­er­age of the book here.

food urban

Urban farming / My robot bees are pregnant

[Dan­ger: I could only get the video to play in IE. Not sure if it's my par­tic­u­lar array of Fire­fox add-ons that are block­ing its mojo, or what.]So every few weeks I sift through the most­ly asi­nine archives of SFist, and today, against all odds, I found some­thing inter­est­ing: A llit­tle blurb about urban bee­keep­ing in San Fran­cis­co with a link to a Cur­rentTV short. The direc­tor pro­files this guy Jon Ral­ston, some­one I vague­ly recall from my time in the bee club. He's younger (in bee­keep­ing age, any­way) and takes a very sim­i­lar approach to bee­keep­ing that I did: Just get a hive, put it in your back­yard, let the bees do what they do until some­one com­plains. Worked for me until my land­lord stum­bled upon it dur­ing a very active day (that turned into a swarm), and became ter­ri­fied. I also iden­ti­fy with Jon's rea­sons for get­ting into bee­keep­ing in the first place — feel­ing clos­er to the out­doors, and hav­ing a source of cheap gifts. He seems like an inter­est­ing guy, and he's got a fun­ny blog, too: My robot is preg­nant.

ixd mobile urban

UX / Cellphones & world poverty

Jan Chipchase seems to be the "it" guy1 of user expe­ri­ence these days. He lives in Tokyo, works at Nokia, and plays this kind of swash­buck­ling, Indi­ana-Jones-ish role in research­ing mobile tech­nolo­gies in devel­op­ing cul­tures. He keeps an intrigu­ing blog called Future Per­fect, where he doc­u­ments UX-relat­ed nuggets from the shan­ty­towns of Lagos, the mar­kets of Accra, the Sin­ga­pore air­port, and so on. This week's NYT Sun­day mag has an arti­cle about him — "Can the Cell­phone End World Pover­ty" — which, aside from hav­ing a some­what puz­zling title, pro­vides an inter­est­ing per­spec­tive on the field of UX in general.

Indian bike ride
My own per­son Jan Chipchase expe­ri­ence: Walk­ing through a back alley in Bom­bay, from my trip there to deliv­er design train­ing to GE engineers.

First, what's the title all about?

It's called "Can the Cell­phone End World Pover­ty," but it's real­ly a pro­file of a researcher rather than an eco­nom­ic analy­sis of the effect of mobile tech­nolo­gies. And Jan's research — if his blog and con­fer­ence keynotes are any indi­ca­tion — focus­es on the ways in which peo­ple in devel­op­ing cul­tures *use* and *adapt* the tech­nol­o­gy, not about the ways in mobile tech­nol­o­gy can effect macro­eco­nom­ic change. It's a quib­ble, real­ly, but it seems strange to describe mar­ket research as an effort to "end world pover­ty," and to cast Nokia in an altru­is­tic light when what they're doing is real­ly iden­ti­fy­ing and under­stand­ing a unserved mar­ket and poten­tial customers:

… No com­pa­ny churns out phones like Nokia, which man­u­fac­tures 1.3 mil­lion prod­ucts dai­ly. Forty per­cent of the mobile phones sold last year were made by Nokia, and the company's $8.4 bil­lion prof­it in 2007 reflects as much. Chipchase seems dis­tinct­ly uncom­fort­able talk­ing about his part as a cor­po­rate rain­mak­er, pre­fer­ring to see him­self as a most­ly dis­pas­sion­ate ethnographer …

I also sym­pa­thize with Jan. It would be impos­si­ble to do the kind of research he does with­out a high­er pur­pose, and I know I've spent a lot of time ratio­nal­iz­ing some our client work (which is always about the ben­jamins) with what I imag­ine the greater good to be. It's easy to say that Nokia's stock will ben­e­fit from tap­ping the bil­lions of peo­ple below the pover­ty line, but it also seems pos­si­ble that mobile tech­nolo­gies and con­nect­ed­ness in gen­er­al could effect pos­i­tive change. Nev­er­the­less, I real­ly think that the arti­cle should be called some­thing like, "How the devel­op­ing world sees tech­nol­o­gy," or "What the devel­op­ing world tells us about tech­nol­o­gy," or some­thing way less catchy than end­ing world poverty.

What methods are used to gather input from folks in developing nations?

I was most curi­ous to hear anec­dotes of what exact­ly he was ask­ing peo­ple, how exact­ly he was gath­er­ing infor­ma­tion, whether he was sim­ply observ­ing or con­duct­ing sur­veys, or what. (He has a num­ber of inter­est­ing entries on "field research" on his blog, but none that give much insight into his meth­ods). The arti­cle has an inter­est­ing descrip­tion of the out­come of an exer­cise in which peo­ple around the world were asked to draw their ide­al mobile phone:

[Jan's research­ing cohorts] said they'd found … [that] the phone rep­re­sents what peo­ple are aspir­ing to. "It's an easy way to see what's impor­tant to them, what their chal­lenges are," [a cohort] said. One Liber­ian refugee want­ed to out­fit a phone with a land-mine detec­tor so that he could more safe­ly return to his home vil­lage. In the Dhar­avi slum of Mum­bai, peo­ple sketched phones that could fore­cast the weath­er since they had no access to TV or radio. Mus­lims want­ed G.P.S. devices to ori­ent their prayers toward Mec­ca. Some­one else drew a phone shaped like a water bot­tle, explain­ing that it could store pre­cious drink­ing water and also float on the mon­soon waters. In Jacarèzinho, a bustling favela in Rio, one design­er drew a phone with an air-qual­i­ty mon­i­tor. Sev­er­al women sketched phones that would mon­i­tor cheat­ing boyfriends and hus­bands. Anoth­er designed a "peace but­ton" that would halt gun­fire in the neigh­bor­hood with a sin­gle touch.

Hmm. I can see how some of this stuff could be help­ful in aggre­gate. Peo­ple see the phone as a plat­form — and per­haps there's a sense that it's some­what mag­i­cal — a "peace" but­ton, a land­mine detec­tor, a cheat­ing boyfriend mon­i­tor, etc. (Maybe?) But does the per­son in Liberia real­ly want a phone, or does he want a land-mine detec­tor? I won­der about this.1 Not I.T. guy. It guy, like it girl. It's sort of amus­ing to me that it's total­ly clear what is meant by the words "it girl" but that the words "it guy" just seem to relate to the guy who fix­es your internets.

architecture new york travel urban

New Yorks, new museums, new coffees

Flickr photoThis is an incred­i­ble mosa­ic in the bath­room of the New Muse­um of Con­tem­po­rary art in New York. It is also EASILY the most impres­sive thing in the whole museum.

New York was filled with good times, as usu­al, but a cou­ple of the things that total­ly blew my mind (and that are link-friend­ly) were Jamaican beef pat­ties at a place called Christie's in Flat­bush and an off­shoot of San Francisco's Blue Bot­tle jug­ger­naut that recent­ly opened in New York, Abra­co [a nice NY mag review]. Yoshi insist­ed that we stop at Christie's even though we'd just eat­en a big brunch, and we got a cou­ple of warm, spicy pat­ties to share on a walk through chilly Prospect Park. The first thing I noticed is that they're not real­ly "pat­ties" in the sense of ham­burg­er pat­ties. They're like hot pock­ets, but fresh­ly baked, with an amaz­ing crust and filled with super-spicy beef. Pret­ty much the per­fect walk­ing food.

On an unre­lat­ed note, last week's This Amer­i­can Life was the best I've heard in a long time. Every seg­ment is good, but the third is about what hap­pens to chim­panzees after they "retire" from movies, and it reveals that Chee­ta — the chimp from the 40's‑era Tarzan movies — is still alive, liv­ing in Palm Springs, enjoys drink­ing Diet Iced Tea, and was once quite fond of beer and cig­ars. There's more in this fun­ny Nation­al Geo piece from 2003, awk­ward­ly titled Tarzan's Cheeta's Life as a Retired Movie Star.

inside art urban visual

Philly / A few minutes at Space 1026

Flickr photo

I was in Philadel­phia last Thurs­day evening, and I dis­cov­ered that I was stay­ing near Space 1026, a studio/gallery near down­town. Some artists from 1026 had some cool work in a show at Yer­ba Bue­na a while ago, I walked over and spent a few min­utes walk­ing around as the res­i­dents were set­ting up for the place's 10th anniver­sary party. 

It's got a pret­ty great vibe; part punk club, part work­shop, part hobo vil­lage. Sit­u­at­ed above some retail space near the bus sta­tion, there's a nice open space in the front, but the major­i­ty is sec­tioned off into sev­en or eight (or more) most­ly small stu­dios dense­ly packed with art sup­plies, knick-knacks, bikes, and oth­er crap. I didn't get to see much, but I took some pic­tures of the var­i­ous hall­ways and spaces so check em out.

architecture urban

Washington DC / Fortress of democracy

If the gov­ern­ment build­ings are any indi­ca­tion, Wash­ing­ton DC is a city brac­ing for some­thing. Makeshift bar­ri­ers sur­round the Capi­tol; men with auto­mat­ic weapons stand watch over ran­dom gov­ern­men­tal door­ways and inter­sec­tions. Sure, this is no dif­fer­ent than oth­er "sig­nif­i­can­t†places in the West­ern world — Lon­don and Frank­furt have their share of fortress­es and sen­tries — but as a cit­i­zen and ide­al­ist I'd hope that Wash­ing­ton would be dif­fer­ent. I'd hope that *we* would do it differently.

Flickr photoOur law­mak­ing build­ings were designed to be approached: Sit­ting at the head of the Mall's long run­way, the Capi­tol Build­ing inspires fur­ther inves­ti­ga­tion. Nowa­days, if a per­son (say, me) decides to take a pic­ture of the fences around this bea­con of democ­ra­cy, that per­son may get rep­ri­mand­ed by a guy with a gun. I'm just say­ing: It happens.

Any­way, I hope that we'll search for solu­tions to the prob­lem of secu­ri­ty that don't run counter to the ideals of democ­ra­cy: that law­mak­ers oper­ate in the open, that any­one can see how it's done (and indeed that every­one should see how it's done), that peo­ple are inno­cent until proven guilty, and that I'm pay­ing for those fences, dammit, so I should be able to take a pic­ture of them with­out get­ting harassed.UPDATE: Even the new $50 bill empha­sizes the approach­a­bil­i­ty of the Capitol.

50 dollar billCheck out the lit­tle white fig­ures climb­ing the steps on the left-hand side of the Capi­tol build­ing. This seems to imply, to me, that peo­ple can (and should) walk up the stairs to see what's hap­pen­ing with­in the hal­lowed halls of democracy.

architecture san francisco the ancient past urban

San Francisco / Maps and earthquake shacks

San Francisco in Maps: 1797 - 2006

This week­end I got an incred­i­ble book about San Fran­cis­co called San Fran­cis­co in Maps & Views. I usu­al­ly avoid glossy cof­fee-table his­tor­i­cal books because they're so often filled with dis­ap­point­ments — bad col­or, bad print­ing, messy lay­out, unin­spired writ­ing, PLUS they're real­ly expen­sive. But THIS ONE. This one is dif­fer­ent. The maps are very well-repro­duced, high-res and col­or­ful, and all are sup­port­ed by detailed and sur­pris­ing­ly engag­ing com­men­tary. After I got over the ini­tial thrill of using it like a flip-book and watch­ing my neigh­bor­hood evolve, I start­ed to notice small­er trends in land-use evo­lu­tion — a plot labeled "orphan asy­lum" became "hos­pi­tal;" many things labeled "cemetary" became "park" or "civic cen­ter." "Dunes" become "the Sun­set." I was also intrigued by the use of pub­lic places as refugee camps after the big one hit in 1906. Appar­ent­ly, SF car­pen­ters sprang into action and built thou­sands of makeshift cot­tages for the earthquake/fire refugees, turn­ing many well-known SF pub­lic spaces into refugee camps, includ­ing South Park, Dolores Park, and Precita Park, and lots of the then-out­ly­ing, unde­vel­oped areas, like the Rich­mond and the Sunset. 

Earthquake_shacks_in_Dolores_ParkA shack on Biki­ni Ridge would have been puh-ret­ty sweet. (This is Dolores Park, believe it or not). Pho­to: West­ern Neigh­bor­hoods Project

As the city began to return to nor­mal a year lat­er, a few of the refugees decid­ed to use the cot­tages — or, "shacks" as they were com­mon­ly known — as more per­ma­nent res­i­dences. Some indus­tri­ous peo­ple com­bined mul­ti­ple shacks into one res­i­dence. Incred­i­bly, a few shacks are still around, and nat­u­ral­ly folks have orga­nized to pre­serve them. (Here's a 2002 Chron­i­cle arti­cle about efforts to save some shacks in the out­er Sun­set).

Cumby_shackI believe that this is the house that is list­ed as 300 Cum­ber­land on the West­ern Neigh­bor­hood Project's list of known shacks. The crazy thing is that this is at the top of an insane­ly steep hill, like un-bike-ably steep and long, so it must have been built there rather than trans­port­ed from Dolores Park. On the oth­er hand, who knows? Peo­ple were crafty back then, right?

Final­ly, here's a map of the loca­tions of the known exist­ing earth­quake shacks. Seems like a good project for a week­end afternoon.

ixd urban visual

NYC subway maps / The great debate of 2007

A graph­ic design­er named Eddie Jab­bour has pro­posed an alter­na­tive design for NYC sub­way maps. The New York Times wrote about it last week, and since then blogs have been blow­ing up over it. 37 sig­nals eval­u­at­ed it, and applauds the effort to increase usabil­i­ty at the expense of geo­graph­ic accu­ra­cy: "Sub­way map read­ers want to know how to get from A to B a lot more than they want to know the exact curve of the tracks along the way. Some­times truth is less impor­tant than knowl­edge." If points A & B are always sub­way sta­tions, I whole­heart­ed­ly approve. As seen in snip­pet form below, the redesign much more clear­ly presents infor­ma­tion that is rel­e­vant on the subway. 

Brooklyn train line comparison

Eddie Jabbour's pro­posed redesign trades geo­graph­i­cal accu­ra­cy for read­abil­i­ty But a sub­way trip is always part of a big­ger logis­ti­cal process. You're not just try­ing to get from Atlantic Avenue Sta­tion to Astor Place Sta­tion. You're try­ing to get from an apart­ment on Pres­i­dent Street to the place where your friend cooks near Wash­ing­ton Square Park. And often the opti­mal sub­way route is not avail­able to you; the line you want to take is extreme­ly delayed; anoth­er line is not run­ning; anoth­er is express past 9pm; anoth­er only runs to this sta­tion on Sun­days; etc; etc. The real­i­ty is that you need to be able to impro­vise when you're in the sub­way sys­tem, and a map that is not geo­graph­i­cal­ly accu­rate inhibits your abil­i­ty to adjust to the real­i­ties of the system.Which brings me to the Lon­don A‑Z. Lon­don can get away with a rep­re­sen­ta­tive sub­way map because it has a com­pan­ion book that allows you to fig­ure out stuff like that. So the Cir­cle line isn't run­ning? Trust­ing the Tube map to go to the next near­est sta­tion may be dis­as­trous, but you can always find your des­ti­na­tion in your trusty A‑Z, scan for anoth­er sta­tion near­by, etc. More­over, mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers often place the A‑Z grid loca­tion next to an event list­ing. Remov­ing geo­graph­i­cal con­text from the NYC map may make it eas­i­er to scan, but at this point, I feel like it's per­haps pre­ma­ture­ly reduc­tive. On the oth­er hand, a reduc­tion of infor­ma­tion on the sub­way map may sim­ply under­score and high­light (and ital­i­cize and cap­i­tal­ize) the need for a NYC A‑Z. Or per­haps the MTA itself just needs to be more pre­dictable. Or maybe every­thing should stay the same so every trav­el­er can have that spe­cial scary feel­ing of being strand­ed in Brook­lyn at 2am on a weeknight.UPDATE: My friend Jonathan Gabel, a New York res­i­dent for the last 13 years, had some inter­est­ing thoughts on the matter: 

The cur­rent map is a total fab­ri­ca­tion of geog­ra­phy any­way — Man­hat­tan is made fat and short, and Brook­lyn and Queens lose all of their length. In fact, the L line through Williams­burg and Bush­wick is actu­al­ly more accu­rate in the changed map, as it makes a rad­i­cal zig-zag through the area. For instance, the L train runs: Lorimer, Gra­ham, Grand, Mon­trose. From Niki's house, 8 blocks north of the Gra­ham stop, to meet our friends who's live 4 blocks East of the Mon­trose stop, we often walk to Man­hat­tan Ave, one block West of the Lorimer stop because it is half way between our hous­es. Fig­ure that one out. I have nev­er seen the Lon­don A‑Z but I looked at one of the NFT (not for tourists) guides to New York and found it wasn't real­ly help­ful, specif­i­cal­ly because it doesn't real­ly help you find address­es. Even the address­es of things it is telling you about — like restau­rants. Say you want to find Snacky's in Williams­burg. It shows you a map of the gen­er­al area, and list­ings of all the restau­rants and oth­er things by street address, next to the map of the area. The map is bul­let-rid­dled with lit­tle icons to tell you where all bars/ restaurants/ laundromats/ clubs/ sweatshops/ motor­cy­cle-repair-shops are — but every bar/restaurant/laundromat/club/sweatshop/motorcyclerepairshop is only labeled with the sign for b/r/lc/ds/mrs and no num­ber. So to find your Snacky's you have to look at 20 r's and try to fig­ure out which one it is, and ignore 40 b's, 20 l's, 5 c's 50 s's that are cov­er­ing all the names of the streets. It's like that inter­face you described for the New York­er — it takes all the plea­sure out of car­tog­ra­phy. I would like to see a guide­book that makes dis­cov­er­ing one's way pleasurable.

Amen to pleasure.

architecture ecology urban

Architecture / Teddy Cruz's urban acupuncture

teddy cruz - tijuana river

Last night, I saw archi­tect Ted­dy Cruz deliv­er a fast-paced, idea-rich pre­sen­ta­tion at the San Fran­cis­co Art Insti­tute. In a lit­tle over an hour, he tore through a slide show cov­er­ing his recent work on the social, cul­tur­al, polit­i­cal, and eco­nom­ic forces at work in com­mu­ni­ties along the US-Mex­i­co bor­der. The slide show itself was pret­ty impres­sive — a blend of research pho­tog­ra­phy, sim­ple Pow­er­Point ani­ma­tion, and pho­to col­lages (like the ones shown in this post, cour­tesy of UCSD, where Cruz teach­es) that looked some­what like maps but also some­what like actu­al pho­tos of urban density.I'd first heard of Cruz in the NYT Mag­a­zine fea­ture from last spring, Shan­ty­towns as a New Sub­ur­ban Ide­al. It details "Liv­ing Rooms at the Bor­der," his pro­posed project to turn a lot in the bor­der com­mu­ni­ty of San Ysidro into a mul­ti-use dwelling/community center/market. He dis­cuss­es it in more detail in "Urban acupunc­ture", an arti­cle he wrote for Res­i­den­tial Archi­tect Online:

Hous­ing and den­si­ty need to be seen not as an amount of units but as dwelling in rela­tion­ship to the larg­er infra­struc­ture of the city, which includes trans­porta­tion, eco­log­i­cal net­works, the pol­i­tics and eco­nom­ics of land use, and par­tic­u­lar cul­tur­al idio­syn­crasies of place … In a par­cel where exist­ing zon­ing allows only three units of hous­ing, the project pro­pos­es (through nego­ti­at­ed den­si­ty bonus­es and by shar­ing kitchens) 12 afford­able hous­ing units, a com­mu­ni­ty cen­ter result­ing from the adap­tive reuse of an exist­ing 1927 church, offices for Casa Famil­iar in the church's new attic, and a gar­den under­pin­ning the community's non­con­form­ing micro-economies, such as street mar­kets and kiosks. In a place where cur­rent reg­u­la­tion allows only one use, we pro­pose five dif­fer­ent uses that sup­port each other.

Cruz dis­cuss­es his archi­tec­tur­al mis­sion in this arti­cle at the Amer­i­can Insti­tute of Architecture's site: Bor­der Post­card: Chron­i­cles from the Edge.