People making places

People make places @ Demos

Just wandered tonight along to Demos for the launch of their “People make places” report. A skim on the bus home made it seem the sort of thing I would like the Dan Hills and Anne Galloways of the world to have a look at…:

“The rise of privately owned corporate malls, out-of-town shopping centres and the virtual landscapes of the internet have cast doubt on the publicness of our towns and cities. Privatised space is seen to be in the ascendancy and, it is argued, this is squeezing out the possibility of shared social spaces in our cities, replacing them with a ‘shopping mall culture’ of sanitised, frictionless consumer environments where architecture and technology are used to filter out undesirable people and groups. So far it is unclear whether the new set of public spaces created through the urban renaissance are countering this trend and proving effective hosts for shared public life and exchange between people, or whether they are adding to the loss of publicness by imitating the character of private space. Many of the shiny new quaysides and squares seem either curiously empty of people or curiously monocultural in the type of people they attract.

The mission of Demos over the past 12 months has been to take on this uncertainty and track down the public life of cities – to identify the shared spaces of interaction and exchange, the value that such spaces generate and how that value is created. We explored in depth three cities in the UK – Cardiff, Preston and Swindon – to discover and illuminate the processes by which the public life of cities more widely might be reinvigorated.”

I arrived a little late as I only read about the event on the train back from Farnborough, so I don’t know whether it was covered before I got there, but there was little on the effects of digital technology, particularly personal, mobile digital technology on the use of public space. The debate wasn’t all that, although Greyworld were exciting – pointing out the role of play and playful technologies in invigorating and maintaining public spaces.

There’s a small mention of the venerable grassroots geoguide Knowhere in the report, but otherwise very little investigation it seems (again, I haven’t read it in great depth yet) of the impacts of digital technology.

There is a tantalising section heading: “Visible and invisible choreography” on page 62 of the report [PDF], with a brief mention of NYC’s “311” phone line as a concrete example – but nothing about pershaps, how space and place can be ‘reprogrammed’ smartmobs-style by mobile technologies, or how invisible infrastructures can change a place, e.g. free wifi in Bryant Park. I’m sure there are better examples, but hopefully you get my drift (derive?)

Worth a read, and as I say, I hope some of the more hardcore cyburbanists I know will offer their 2p…

0 comments
  1. Pingback: Demos Greenhouse

  2. Dan said:

    Thanks for the tip – will have a look.

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