Wednesday, May 30

New Urban Cartography

We have a couple of reports from the urban cartography department today, followed by some personal thoughts about the kind of futures this new urban cartography might be pointing to.

First up is truliaHindsight, which maps the growth of cities over time through a massive online real estate database. The image below (Las Vegas, NV) is indicative of the data overlay you will see over most American cities: a massive housing boom in the 1950's that begins a trend pushing the city edge further and further away from the core. truliaHindsight is just one example of how massive information databases are being used and re-used in new and sometimes very surprising ways. Imagine combining this overlay with 200 years of census data... a thesis project on environmental racism just waiting to happen.

The truliaHindsight website was designed by Stamen Design in San Francisco. One of their more abstract pieces of urban cartography is called Cabstopping.
"The patterns traced by each cab create a living and always-changing map of city life. This map hints at economic, social, and cultural trends that are otherwise invisible."

Their map is part of a bigger project that
works "across the domains of art, design, cultural geography, cartography, information design, sociology, hydrology, marine sciences, and history" for The Museum of Science, Art and Human Perception (a place that I apparently need to visit). Some very cool timelapse videos of these maps can be found here.

Going from abstract and invisible to concrete and very visible, we end with a new project from granddaddies/ mommies of all things searchable. The Google Maps team recently released a new hybrid web application called Street View in which you can navigate through the Google Map as if you were a pedestrian on the street. The people/ hours that must of have gone into this thing are staggering.

It starts out looking like the familiar Google Map, but within the space of a few clicks, you are standing at the intersection of Liberty and Church Streets, looking out over void at the World Trade Center from the comfort of my tiny apartment in St. Paul, MN.

Once in Street View mode, you're free to walk up or down the streets, turn in full 360 degrees, and zoom in for a closer look. Below, I do a 180 and go into full screen mode:

How is this achieved? Let's just say keep an eye out for one of these, coming soon to reflective glass near you.

--- Begin personal thoughts on the topic here ---

What all of this brings to mind is William Gibson's early cyberpunk Sprawl trilogy (Neuromancer, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive - all excellent novels). This body of fiction, as well as much of Gibson's other work, revolves around his extrapolation that the internet (in its infancy at the time - mid to late 80's) would move beyond information on a screen and become an inhabitable place. In fact, Gibson ended up coining the term "cyberspace" to name his then fictional invention.

Gibson's "cyberspace" literally translated in the film Hackers.

If the Google Street View is any indication of what is to come, we can begin to imagine all manner of information being mapped onto a virtually inhabitable simulacrum of our world. Unlike the cyberspace that Gibson describes in Neuromancer:

"...a graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding..." (69),
this new cyberspace will be much more familiar to us. It will look and behave in ways we understand - dangerous because the line between real and virtual will be that much more hazed. As the possibilities for exploration, learning, and knowledge building expand - so too will the potential for surveillance, misuse, and abuse.
"Emergent technology is, by its very nature, out of control, and leads to unpredictable outcomes." - William Gibson
Can Google Life really be that far off?


AM Putra said...

From an architect's view, I think Google Maps will be better help. It still stores more potentials. Google has already touched all of our life aspects.

Jennifer said...

Had not heard (yes I'm behind) of the new Google street view - thanks for taking me on a nice little walk-through. Cool post.