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.

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 

 

Urban Radiance

Urban Radiance

Urban Radiance

A visual companion for the essay “Sticky data – context and friction in the use of urban data proxies.” published in Data and the City. ed. Rob Kitchin, Tracey P. Lauriault, and Gavin McArdlel. New York: Routledge. [pdf]

What have global data sets that estimate population density, economic productivity, measles outbreaks, rural poverty, resource footprints and electrification rates, urbanization and suburbanization, or average wages in common? They are all based on nighttime imagery of city lights captured by the Operational Line Scanner (OLS) sensor on the satellites from the US Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP).

What should later become the workhorse of geographers and economists was initially a completely accidental by-product: of a cold-war era military satellite program—launched in the 1950s by the US Air Force for estimating cloud cover and precipitation for reconnaissance missions. Army engineers discovered that the sensors were sensitive enough to capture the artificial radiance of cities during moonless nights without cloud cover.

In 1978, Thomas A. Croft published the first global composite of night-time images in the Scientific American. At that time, the image data had to be manually stitched together from analog films ejected in capsules from the satellite, which had to be laboriously recovered by the military. Today, the Black Marble data set has become one of the most popular motifs of space imagery.

While DPMS images are usually used to show regional differences, this project visualizes the temporal change in urban radiance from 1992 until 2015. It is the first interactive visualization of radiance time series data.

Link to project

Decoding the City

Decoding the City

Decoding the City

Edited volume on data-driven urbanism together with Senseable City Lab Director Carlo Ratti.

The book focuses on research approach of the Senseable City Lab and includes essays from guest authors including Fabien Girardin, Luis Betttencourt (Santa Fe Institute), Andres Sevtsuk (City Form Lab), Francisca Rojas and a group of authors from the Barabasi Lab.

This edition, edited by Dietmar Offenhuber and Carlo Ratti, shows how Big Data change reality and, hence, the way we deal with the city. It discusses the impact of real-time data on architecture and urban planning, using examples developed in the SENSEable City Lab. They demonstrate how the Lab interprets digital data as material that can be used for the formulation of a different urban future. It also looks at the negative aspects of the city-related data acquisition and control. The authors address issues with which urban planning disciplines will work intensively in the future: questions that not only radically and critically review, but also change fundamentally, the existing tasks and how the professions view their own roles.

The book has been translated into several languages including Chinese, Korean and Farsi, the German version has been published at Bauwelt Fundamente.

Accountability Technologies

Accountability Technologies

Accountability Technologies

Published in Fall 2013

 

The basic need of civil society to live in responsibly planned and managed cities, to be involved in the planning process, or to at least be informed about it, has become a renewed focal point of debate in the past years. While the incipient criticism of the institutionalized and oft-unquestioned decision- making chain of urban planning was accompanied by a basic struggle for more say and participation in the 1970s, the varieties of participation, the technical possibilities of knowledge transfer and the understanding of transparency—keyword Open Data—have fundamentally changed in today’s information society. Much suggests that the classic distribution of roles between public and “individual” responsibility and the interface between citizens, activists and government have to be re-negotiated under new conditions. With the help of visualization, analysis and measurement tools subsumed under the term Accountability Technologies, as well as socio-cultural practices, extensive data on noise, environmental pollution, mobility and corruption, for instance, can be compiled and represented. This book exemplarily shows which socio-political areas of action are opened up by Accountability Technologies, but also which critical aspects are tied in with them. Such as, for example, the seemingly simple insight that the enormous convolutes of availably-made data are neither neutral, nor do they imply a better understanding of complex processes “per se.” The subtitle of this book indicates the direction: Accountability Technologies are to be understood as Tools for Asking Hard Questions, not as keys to ultimate answers.

“Like the volume Inscribing a Square: Urban Data as Public Space (Springer Verlag, 2012), edited by Katja Schechtner and Dietmar Offenhuber as well, this publication also rests upon the precondition that architecture and urbanism go far beyond the physical space and the singularity of built structure. The basis for this book is provided by the second edition of the symposium Sensing Place/Placing Sense, again carried out with exceptional cooperation between the AIT Austrian Institute of Technology, the Ars Electronica and the afo architekturforum oberösterreich within the scope of the Ars Electronica Festival 2012. Thanks to these initiatives at the interface of several disciplines, the increasingly dense interweaving of urban data and their physical context has been continued in such an exciting way under the aspect of Accountability Technologies. I would like to thank all those involved, especially the two editors, for their competence and commitment in realizing this book. What began as a one-off publication now reveals itself—also in its graphic appearance—as a mutually related, mutually stimulating twosome.” Gabriele Kaiser, architekturforum oberösterreich

cover visualization: crowd-investigation of plagiarism in the doctoral dissertation of a former German defense Minister – by GutenPlag/User8

 

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