Paper: Manila Improstructure

Paper: Manila Improstructure

Paper: Manila Improstructure

An improvisational perspective on smart infrastructure governance

In this new paper, Katja Schechtner and myself look at appropriation in the power-grid of Manila. Inventions by residents, bricolage, and improvisational repair; tactics to combat power theft by electricity providers, and the efforts of local government to mediate the diverse interests and of the actors involved.

Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Manila and interviews with city officials, planners, residents and local activists, we develop the notion of  improstructure as a conceptual model for understanding infrastructure governance as an improvisational process of “call and response” in a network of diverse actors.

We apply this perspective to ongoing modernization efforts by the city of Manila and its utility companies, involving smart city technologies including sensor networks, drone mapping, and data analytics. We argue that despite the placeless and generic rhetoric surrounding these technologies, they constitute improvisational responses to local conditions. We conclude by formulating design principles for improvisational infrastructure governance, which are not limited to the Global South, but also apply in developed countries.

Published in Cities Journal

You can read the preprint here

Monograph “Waste is Information” (MIT Press)

Monograph “Waste is Information” (MIT Press)

Monograph “Waste is Information” (MIT Press)

Waste is Information – Infrastructure Legibility and Governance

By Dietmar Offenhuber, foreword by Carlo Ratti

Waste is material information. Landfills are detailed records of everyday consumption and behavior; much of what we know about the distant past we know from discarded objects unearthed by archaeologists and interpreted by historians. And yet the systems and infrastructures that process our waste often remain opaque. In this book, I examines waste from the perspective of information, considering emerging practices and technologies for making waste systems legible and how the resulting datasets and visualizations shape infrastructure governance. He does so by looking at three waste tracking and participatory sensing projects in Seattle, São Paulo, and Boston.

I expand the notion of urban legibility—the idea that the city can be read like a text—to introduce the concept of infrastructure legibility. He argues that infrastructure governance is enacted through representations of the infrastructural system, and that these representations stem from the different stakeholders’ interests, which drive their efforts to make the system legible. The Trash Track project in Seattle used sensor technology to map discarded items through the waste and recycling systems; the Forager project looked at the informal organization processes of waste pickers working for Brazilian recycling cooperatives; and mobile systems designed by the city of Boston allowed residents to report such infrastructure failures as potholes and garbage spills. Through these case studies, I outlines an emerging paradigm of infrastructure governance based on a complex negotiation among users, technology, and the city.

Women’s March Archive

Women’s March Archive

Women’s March Archive

The Art of the March

Just-In-Time preservation and documentation of 6000 protest signs of the Women’s march protest that took place on Jan. 21, shortly after President Trump’s inauguration. After the event, protestors arranged their signs along the fence of the old graveyard at the Boston Common. Struck by this ephemeral monument, a group of colleagues including Nathan Felde, Alessandra Renzi, Lucas Freeman, Alifa Rachmadia and myself spontaneously arranged for a collection of the signs after we learned that they were bound for disposal. With the help of volunteers, we collected, stored, sorted, classified and digitized every individual sign, which is currently the only complete collection of protest signs covering a major event. 

Credits: Initiated by Alessandra Renzi, Nathan Felde, Dietmar Offenhuber. Visualizations & Web: Siqi Zhu, Navarjun Grewal, Christopher Pietsch, Colleen Curtis

Press coverage:

Zamudio-Suaréz, Fernanda. 2017. “In Discarded Women’s March Signs, Professors Saw a Chance to Save History.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 24.
Fleming, Nicole. 2017. “Volunteers Begin to Sort through Signs from Women’s March.” The Boston Globe, April
DeRuy, Emily. 2017. “Boston’s New Accidental Archive of Protest Posters.” CityLab. January 26. 
DeRuy, Emily. 2017. “What Happens to Those Posters From the Women’s Marches.” The Atlantic. January 25. 
Annear, Steve. 2017. “Professors Stash Boston Women’s March Rally Signs to Preserve a Piece of History.” The Boston Globe, January 23. 

Visit Art of the March Website

Video by Emily Gordon, Ellie Lacourt, Connor Lewis.
LA Noise Array

LA Noise Array

LA Noise Array

Offenhuber, Dietmar, Sam Auinger, Susanne Seitinger, and Remco Muijs. 2018. “Los Angeles Noise Array—Planning and Design Lessons from a Noise Sensing Network:” Environment and Planning B: Urban Analytics and City Science, August. [pdf]

The urban soundscape is the result of complex interactions between activity and the built environment. It is multifaceted, changes constantly across space and time. The auditory space has a distinct shape and spatial structure. The soundscape is invisible, yet it has a profound impact on how we make sense of our environment.

Ambient noise is an almost universally accepted concern for public health. Among the scientific community as well as the general public there is a broad consensus that noise can be both annoying and unhealthy. Epidemiological studies have shown that populations exposed to night-time aircrafts and road traffic noise tend to suffer from elevated blood pressure. Beyond these general effects, parts of the population, including children and the elderly are especially sensitive to environmental noise. Frequency also matters. Many people are more sensitive to low frequencies, which are emitted by ventilation systems, vehicles, and electric machinery. However, low frequencies are generally underestimated in conventional noise measurements, which are the basis of most noise ordnances.

To enable a differentiated understanding of urban auditory phenomena requires a large number of simultaneous measurements, extended over time. Until now, such fine-grained measurements of ambient noise were not available. Point measurements conducted by cities and agencies are too sparse to allow an investigation of how the built environment and human activity influence the soundscape, and which policies, urban design measures are effective in addressing noise pollution. Attempts to address the lack of data through crowd-sourced measurements conducted by citizens using their smartphones are hampered by unsystematic data collection and inaccurate measurements.

In this pilot project, a collaboration with Philips Lighting and the city of Los Angeles, we use urban streetlights for measuring the urban soundscape at a fine-grained level, allowing for an in-depth analysis of the urban soundscape and supply evidence for policy measures.

Link to the project: http://noisearray.org