Defining Neighborhoods

Posted: November 19th, 2007 | 1 Comment »

Humans think and talk about regions imprecisely in terms of vague concepts (e.g. downtown). While administrative regions such as area codes and land parcels have sharp boundaries imposed on them, other regions concepts used by people are more fuzzy. The use of vague spatial concepts in geospatial communication have been studies for many years (see for instance Daniel Montello’s Where’s downtown?: Behavioral methods for determining referents of vague spatial queries). However, the understanding human’s perspective of the space hardly translates to its digital definition stored geographic information systems. As a consequence, the local search and location-based services industry has invested a large amount of energy and money in obtaining neighborood expertise. Companies such as Urban Mapping sells its extensive user-centered neighborhood datasets to major search engines. New approaches profit from people submitting their own version of the boundaries for the same neighborhood. WikiMapia is an example of this kind of community editing. It defines specific areas (roads, parks) with polygonal entries (see Matt Jones’ Wikimapia Invades Google Earth!. Similarly, the Intelligent Middleware project at the MIT aims at providing a mechanism for accumulating local knowledge about neighborhood-scale land use. This people-generated content helps re-interpreting the administrative datasets and develop customized analyses of neighborhood conditions.

992 Wiki Mapa Barcelona
A classic Neighborhood areas & census block groups (2000) by the Seattle City Clerk’s Office neighborhood map atlas (right). People-defined neighborhoods and areas of Barcelona in Wikimapia

Nowadays, there are new sources to implicitly reveal the crowd “mental maps”. This has mainly been done by via tag maps such as the ones generated by WorldExplorer. In Tracing the Visitor’s Eye, I am currently taking this idea a bit further and try to generate the “area of influence” of monuments and points of interest. This work should reveal a spatial relevance of geographic objects as zones (i.e. neighborhoods) instead of administratively-defined points or rectangles (like the ones provided by GeoNames). Inspired by Jonathan Raper’s concept of “Geographic relevance” (match between area of attention and area of influence). For instance, areas defined implicitly by people’s behaviors (mobility, digital traces) and activities (geotagging) could help provide more relevant answers to queries based on monuments and proximity such as “what is close to the Empire State Building?”

A crowd’s mental maps of Barcelona in WorldExplorer

Update: I forgot about the The Neighborhood Project (mentioned previously), as an attempt to map what street addresses people on Craigslist consider to be within certain neighborhoods. One problem with, though, it is that Craigslist provides a certain list of neighborhood names and they aren’t necessarily the same ones that people use in real life.

Neighborood Project
Neighborhoods defined by people using Craigslist.

Geographic relevance
Jonathan Raper’s Geographic Relevance presented at LBS2007

Relation to my thesis: Exploring the relationship between people’s perception of neighborhood and the concept of location information granularity.

Contribution to

Posted: November 17th, 2007 | No Comments »

On the kind invitation of Juan Dürsteler, I contributed to the newsletter with a text on current approaches to visualize urban activities and their evolution through space and time: “Visualising the Pulse of the City” and in Spanish “Visualizando el Pulso de la Ciudad“.

Infovis Pulse-1

DEA Defended

Posted: November 17th, 2007 | 3 Comments »

After 2 years of doctoral school and the defense of my DEA thesis (pdf), I guess I now hold a Master of Philosophy in Computer Science and Digital Communication. The slides of the defense are available here.
Dea Defense Approach

Relation to my thesis: The defense ended up being a bureaucratic formality. One feeling I have after having presented the same slides a few times this year is that I now drag and try to combine too many concepts together. To move forward, I will need to make choices and trim my scope and get more depth in the details.

Abstract Accepted for Situating Sat Nav: Questioning the TomTom Effect

Posted: November 11th, 2007 | No Comments »

In April of next year, I will attend in Boston the AAG meeting and participate to a session on “Situating Sat Nav: Questioning the TomTom Effect“. Organized by Chris Perkins and Martin Dodge, it aims to address the social effects, cultural meanings and political economy of in-car satellite navigation. I will be in the middle of a spectacular line-up:

Session One

Amy Propen: The Use of Sat Nav Systems: An Empowering Cultural Practice or Portentous of a Lost Geographical Imagination?
Don Cooke: The TomTom Effect: Industry Point of View
Allan Brimicombe and Chao Li: Sat Nav: Rising theft of a geo-engineered must-have.
Tristan Thielmann: Navigation becomes travel scouting: The augmented space of car navigation systems
Caren Kaplan: Precision Targets: Consumer Subjects, Militarization, and the Politics of Location.

Session Two

Fabien Girardin: The co-evolution of taxi drivers and their in-car navigation systems
Georg Gartner: Restrictions in mental representations of the world as a result of relying upon navigation systems
Jonathan Raper: The mistakes that satnavs make (and what they don’t know)
Alexander Klippel: Can we afford to provide cognitively inadequate wayfinding assistance?
Discussant: David M Mark

The abstract of my paper entitled “The co-evolution of taxi drivers and their in-car navigation systems” goes as follow:

In the recent years, the massive use of in-car navigation systems has symbolized the emergence of location-based services for wayfinding. This market success creates the opportunity to learn from a real-world use of present location-aware systems in order to inform the design of future applications. In that context, we are using an ethnomethodological approach to study the different ways taxi drivers rely on their navigation system. First, this work focuses on describing how location technologies impacted the wayfinding practices and similarly how the practice influences the appropriation of navigation systems. This co-evolution starts from the acquisition and setup of a navigation system to mastering the system shortcomings and limitations. Second, we study the criteria that steer a driver in selecting among the different modes of a navigation system and the other artifacts and tools (e.g. maps, street directories, landmarks) he or she uses for location awareness and wayfinding. Moreover, we are analyzing the role of context in this dynamic. That is where and when a driver accesses location information from the system, the external supports and the surrounding environment. We are currently collecting data from 20 semi-structured interviews each augmented by in-car observations of 1-hour ride. The study concentrates on the taxi drivers of the city of Barcelona, Spain. This community forms a massive population of early adopters of in-car navigation systems with a strong past practice of relying on mobile technologies and maps to support their work.

Relation to my thesis: I can’t imagine a better set of people to receive feedback on my taxi driver study.

Presentations at the 4th International Symposium on LBS and TeleCartography

Posted: November 9th, 2007 | No Comments »

I am in Hong-Kong for the 4th International Symposium on LBS and TeleCartography where I introduced two different works in the Mobile Users Analysis track. First I presented my paper “Understanding of Tourist Dynamics from Explicitly Disclosed Location Information” that describes the early results of the Tracing the Visitor’s Eye project based with data collected in the Province of Florence. I intended to communicate the complementary perspective new types of digital footprints can bring to mobility, urban and travel studies. The content of other presentations in the session (mainly Ahas Rein‘s Mobile Positioning: New Perspective in GIS and Geographical Studies. Ahas chairs an upcoming workshop on social positioning method) that are based GSM network data, helped situate the originality of my approach based on act of communications “I was here” instead of passive, implicit mobility data. It means also no issues of scalability, infrastructure and negotiations with operators. I suggested the idea the explicitly disclosed location data can help inform the design of LBS (e.g. help define area of attention of people, the area of influence of objects, and the granularity of information). Finally, of course, I mentioned the feedback loop generated by people’s past interactions with the urban environment and infrastructure that become recommendations and impact the perception of the space.

Lbs2007 Presentation Traces
Understanding of Tourist Dynamics from Explicitly Disclosed Location Information (slides in PDF)

Later, I presented (on behalf of the WikiCity team) the main concepts and design of the MIT SENSEable City Lab current project WikiCity. Without getting into the technical details, I stressed the importance of developing a real-time mapping of city dynamics for people to become actuators and prime actors of the cityspace. The scenarios of WikiCity is based on the fusion of 3 elements agents (individuals, companies, local authorities…), the environment (architecture, infrastructure, climate…) and technology features (opportunities and limitation positioning and sensing technologies. A main challenge is to provide a common format for interchange of realtime location-based data and to communicate the information to multi-modal interfaces (close to the person such as mobile/fixed devices, embedded in the infrastructure, vehicles (public transport, individual cars).

Lbs2007 Presentation Wikicity
WikiCity: How can a city perform as an open-source real-time system (slides in PDF)

Sustainable Socio-Technical Mobility Systems

Posted: November 4th, 2007 | No Comments »

An upcoming issue of Built Environment will feature combine insights from social and technical disciplines to highlight opportunities of how mobility systems can be shaped so that they are not only technically efficient but also socially accepted and used. As suggested by its title “Sustainable Socio-Technical Mobility Systems” the approach of urban sustainability does not solely tackle technical nor an exclusively social problem, but rather a co-evolutionary dynamics in urban socio-technical ensembles. For example, employees working in a building with no shower are understandably reluctant to cycle to work. In short, the built environment and social mobility practices are inherently intertwined and constitute a system of mutually shaping parts.

The issue is edited by Ralf G. Brand, the author of Synchronizing Science and Technology with Human Behaviour in 2005.

The CFP goes as follow:

Many scholars, in particular those in the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS), argue for interdisciplinary collaboration to develop not only a better grasp of socio-technical systems but also to devise more effective policy advise on how to make such systems more sustainable. However, it has not yet become standard practice for STS scholars to expose themselves to the engineering details of, say, more sustainable mobility systems.

Conversely, it seems fair to state that engineers typically do not systematically seek advice from social scientists – or only in an “end-of-pipe” fashion to advertise resource efficient products to public, corporate or private consumers. The Fourth Dubrovnik Conference on Sustainable Development of Energy, Water and Environment Systems is trying to provide a venue where a more truly interdisciplinary dialogue about sustainable development – in particular about sustainable transport – can take place.

Its conceptual starting point is the acknowledgement of sustainable development as a complex, multi-criteria challenge requiring interdisciplinary collaboration. Papers exploring “engineering, social, and environment aspects” of sustainable transport are therefore invited as contributions to the emerging field of sustainability science. The special session on a socio-technical understanding of transport systems will be a platform for such cross-fertilisation and mutual refreshment. Its contributions will offer insights from recent STS research about the hybrid constitution of sustainable transport systems and the systemic interweavement of their social and technical elements. Papers are also invited about concrete tools to put these insights to action, like Co-evolution audit, Strategic Niche Management (SNM), Constructive Technology Assessment (CTA), Co-Evolutionary Sociotechnical Scenario Method (CEST-method).

Relation to my thesis: The co-evolution mentioned in this issue focuses on the mutual shaping processes between all kinds of urban artefacts (road networks, buildings, street furniture, etc.) and social practices (shopping routines, perceptions of safety, commuting patterns, etc.). Now, new urban technologies (GPS, wireless networks, Near-field communication) also support mobility systems and impact the social practices and vice-versa. The analysis of this process should certainly inspire from previous work in urbanism and sustainable architecture. Finally, I particularly enjoy that the editor calls for the analysis of both failed and successful projects conducted under the flag of sustainability. It is particularly rare in research to considure failure as an outcome as already mentioned by Nicolas in Dark data to be set free.

Bill Gaver Implicitly Talks about Feedback Loop, Seamful Design, Digital Traces, Their Temporality and More…

Posted: November 3rd, 2007 | No Comments »

In his presentation at Open Plan in 2005, Bill Gaver implicitly mentioned a few concepts I am currently focused on. First he presented the The Urban Pollution Monitoring Project that provides some sort of feedback loop to residents in providing resources to reason themselves about fluctuating pollution in the city space. The system providing information about the content, but also about the infrastructure providing the content (i.e. a sort of seamful design). Then he highlighted the notion of “over time” with a project by Richard’s Swinford‘s use of GPS traces and their use of satellites to carve out the boundaries of the physical space. It shows that the model of the phisical world can be created in a bottom-up fashion (implicit digital traces) and reflect reflect “over time” of individual’s knowledge on the local space. In other words, there is a connection between the system produced and the places they inhabit that grows and can can be appreciated over time for instance in a game or to support social navigation. The data of this spatio-temporal use come from the technologies themselves or the experience of the people using them. OpenStreetMap (evolution in London and Great Britain), courier activity and cabspotting are clear examples of the former.

 People Phds Richard-Swinford Projects Project1 Images Images 00 Media Sw7 Modelled
Realising the extensions of man by llistening to the user: model the neighborhood in 3D by using GPS and the satelites. The model gains in accuracy with the use of the system. Source: Richard’s Swinford. I guess it uses the same kind of data at the Anthony Steed’s GPS Availability Visualization.

Later in his talk, Bill mentioned Ben Hooker and Shona Kitchen project called Edge Town done in 2004 that aimed designing interfaces with the flows of electronic data that run through our cities so that “they can be experienced as an enriching complement to other, more ‘earthly’ phenomena”. I was fascinated by then (and still am) by their Sensor park aimed to be situated in tumultuous landscapes, such as directly underneath the airport’s final approach flight paths. The structure of the sensor park provides support for a host of screen-based and electromechanical displays, which offer numerical representations of the data collected from the sensors. This type of information would be provided to Edge Town resident and experienced for their week-end recreation.

Tw Sensorpark
Picture 3-1
Sensor park in the Edge Town project

Relation to my thesis: Tagging with concept names a 2-years old message… I got to know Bill Gaver from his Ambiguity as Resource for Design.