WEEKEND READING: February 23-29, 2008

Happy Leap Year everyone! The crappiest month gets a whole day longer...Seriously, y'all, I hate February. Hooray for Weekend Reading, right?

ITEM ONE: TNAC becomes NAC, and kicks off a contest to come up with a tagline. The response so far has been El Lame-o, so go make some noise.

ITEM TWO: A massive wishlist for Hong Kong, Asia's Global City.

ITEM THREE: Pop City talks to Urban Design Associates honcho Don Carter about the eight things Pittsburgh needs to become a 21st Century City. It's about the Steel City, but many of Carter's points can be applied universally.

ITEM FOUR: Richard Florida frames urban development with an article about the Sex Pistols, and some interesting conversation follows.

ITEM FIVE: The Ground Floor explores the relationship between density and safety in urban areas.

ITEM SIX: Planetizen takes a look at Rotterdam's new "Blue Building" (seen in last week's Urbanffffinds).

ITEM SEVEN: A detailed written account of the soundscape of the boomtime Chinese city.

Have a fantabulous weekend, everyone! This blogger's headed home to Milwaukee for the weekend.

(Photo from Flickr user cblee. The original full-color version can be viewed by clicking the photo.)


Page 123

Where was "tagged" today by the web's slickest Larch blog, Pruned. The rules of the tagging game are as follows:

1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.

The following is a passage from p. 123 of the book Michael Palin Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years. Monty Python movies are big in my family; I got the book from my cousin for Christmas. Haven't started reading it yet, but it's been on my bedstand for two months. And today, it found an unpredicted purpose...

When we arrived there, about thirty people were sitting around tables in a dark basement, drinking. Slowly but surely, it became obvious that we could not get away without some sort of cabaret. Eric and Tony took the microphone and, after some opening banter, asked for questions.

And there you have it. Five victims: BLYGAD, Line of Sight, Brand Avenue, Landscape+Urbanism, and Social Practice. Have at it, folks.

The Staten Island of Tomorrow

The following comment was made in response to a post at the NY Times blog Dot Earth about the future of suburbia:

"The answer to can we uninvent Suburbia is Queens, which in my youth was essentially a suburb and is now a city. Before that in my father’s time it was Brooklyn, a borough of little villages, and more recently Staten Island. The best way of accomplishing this is through good urban transit. In the DC area where I now live, the biggest mall (Tyson’s corner) is in despair trying to attract a new Metro line. The most successful new malls (White Flint and Pentagon City) are on the Metro."
— Posted by Eli Rabett

Building on yesterday's post, how plausible might it be to link Staten Island to Brooklyn or Manhattan with an underwater tunnel neighborhood? Would it be possible to extend the 1 train from South Ferry to Tottenville? Could an entire transit corridor lined with high-density underwater apartment complexes and shopping centers finally provide a high-speed link between the forgotten fifth borough and "The City"? Lord, maybe they could bring back the 9 so that it could run express and actually serve a purpose.

But then, who would want to live in New York Harbor? Something tells me the view is less than pristine.

Still, it's an interesting concept; Staten Island as the new frontier in New York City...

(Photo from Flickr user dclarson. The original full-color version can be viewed by clicking the photo.)

Can We Uninvent Suburbia? (Dot Earth)


Mixed-Use Infrastructure

Cities are extremely complex organisms made up of hundreds of independent and interdependent systems. The most basic and oft-overlooked of these systems are some of the most vital. Sewers, which remove waste and excess water, keep our streets clean and dry. They do this out of sight. Canals, rivers, bridges, and roadways allow for the transportation of goods and people within densely populated urban centers. We take them for granted. We have many large facilities for cleaning our water, recycling our trash, and producing our energy, and we hate it when we have to look at them. We so often forget to appreciate the importance of having a strong network of well-maintained public and green spaces. We get so involved in our own social systems that we forget that the larger framework of the city is there, making it all possible. We forget that cities themselves are living things, and that, ours are just tiny parts of a huge, interconnected process -- of creation, of destruction, of life.

What if more of the overlooked nerves and veins could be brought out into the open, or highlighted in some way? What if we had to interact with filtration systems and electric grids in a more direct way? What if we had to live on and in our bridges and tunnels instead of just passing over and through them. What might our cities look like if none of the processes that supported its existence went overlooked? How could we create an urban environment that helped citizens to better understand how their city works, and how they work within that system?

Bridges like the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy, and the Chateau de Chenonceaux in France are evidence of the fact that bridges can be made into livable, functioning parts of the city. But what of the tunnels? In a twist of radical genius, a firm in Amsterdam recently proposed that the Dutch capital drain its canals and build an entire subcity of public, commercial, and parking (which, hopefully, could later be converted to other uses) under the canal system before re-filling the canals with water. No traffic topside would need to be disturbed, and a huge amount of space would be created, seemingly from scratch. There could be subterranean cafes dappled in light dancing through a glass ceiling open to the canal water overhead, movie theaters buried beneath bustling public plazas, perhaps even underground extensions of the city's many wonderful museums. No need for Renzo or Zaha; just dig down.

If these tunnels were to be dug, and another physical layer added to the fabric of Amsterdam, it would change the way that the canals were experienced by the public. Topside, they would remain serene, almost pastoral. But there would be the new knowledge that, once again, these canals were serving as a major thoroughfare, moving thousands of people through the city. Perhaps a public elevator system could be designed to access the tunnels using canal water in a hydraulic system, even more tightly tying the tunnels, the people, and the waterways together.

Speaking of water, Pruned recently took a detailed look at the work of Kevin Robert Perry, whose project on NE Siskiyou Street in Portland, Oregon, uses a system of landscaped "cells" reclaimed from parking space alongside the road. Water flows downhill into the landscaped areas, which use a series of checkdams to distribute water to the cells and prevent overflow, retaining and cleaning stormwater runoff on-site. While Perry's award-winning system only serves a small corner of the city, imagine the possibilities presented by a city-wide system. Much as Frederick Law Olmsted connected his parks with broad greenways, all of a city's streets could be lined with water retention gardens, with a hierarchical system designed to send all overflow, eventually, to parks specifically re-configured to collect and clean runoff. Think of Urbanlab's winning City of the Future entry, taken even further.

And what of our parks? While we take them for granted as part of the city's infrastructure, we certainly don't forget that parks exist like we sometimes forget about water treatment facilities. But couldn't parks be more than just gathering places? Couldn't -- and shouldn't -- they also be used as teaching tools? These public spaces provide a unique opportunity for showing urbanites how they impact their surroundings, and how their city works. In addition to cleaning wastewater and runoff, what other roles could re-imagined parks serve?

A contest was announced on February 15th by the Design Trust for Public Space and the Grand Army Plaza Coalition to generate ideas as to how Brooklyn's severely underused Grand Army Plaza, at the northern entrance to Prospect Park (which many, this blogger included, consider to be Olmsted's greatest park) could be redesigned as a more lively, energetic public space. The plaza, which sits atop a subway station, provides an excellent platform for any designer interested in creating a space that more clearly and fluidly emphasizes and integrates the transit system with the public space at street level. How do the public (park) and semi-public (subway station) interact, and how can design make this not only more enjoyable, but more informative?

Infrastructure could be an intriguing new frontier for the mixed-use movement. While inhabitable bridges seem long-overdue, there must be a thousand different ways of re-thinking infrastructure. Any ideas?

(Photo from Flickr user Rita Crane. The original full-color version can be viewed by clicking the photo.)

Gallery of Bridges in ArchitectureWeek (Civic Nature)

Amsterdam Subcity (BLDGBLOG)

Hyperlocalizing Hydrology in the Post-Industrial Urban Landscape (Pruned)

Growing Water (Urbanlab)

Reinventing Grand Army Plaza (Design Trust for Public Space)


WEEKEND READING: February 16-22, 2008

You know how once a month or so Weekend Reading starts off with me getting all excited and writing something along the lines of "OMG you guys this week is SO GR8!! Read all of these they are AMAZIN! FURRILZ!"? Well, this is one of those weeks.

Read all of these. They are amazing. For reals.

ITEM ONE: Tijuana's enterprising spirit influences the design of a new affordable housing project in Hudson, NY.

ITEM TWO: Airoots features another great post about resistance to the Dharavi Redevelopmet Project in Mumbai, this time focusing on the efforts of the fiercely independent neighborhood of Koliwada.

ITEM THREE: Hayley Richardson on the obnoxious futility of twenty- and thirtysomethings bemoaning the loss of "authentic New York," a place that most of them never really knew in the first place.

ITEM FOUR: All About Cities pulls some great Lewis Mumford quotes, including the following gem: "The chief function of the city is to convert power into form, energy into culture, dead matter into the living symbols of art, biological reproduction into social creativity."

ITEM FIVE: A spectacular and almost disturbingly detailed map of London, reimagined as an island. (Photo credit)

ITEM SIX: Part IV highlights some recent articles about the Untergunther, a subgroup within les UX, which is itself a group of people "who are on a mission to uncover and exploit the city’s neglected cultural underworld."

ITEM SEVEN: AdaptiveReuse.net is a blog about creative adaptive reuse projects around the world (natch).

See, what did I tell you? That's some good stuff right there. See you next week!


Dispatch From Across the Blogosphere

This week is turning out to be unusually busy here at Where HQ, so while I get my proverbial shit together, take a gander at this post that Dan, the author of the urbanism-focused blog Flipping Pencils, emailed over this morning. It's an interesting question he's posed here. Any ideas?

A law professor I know is looking for a novel that celebrates the virtues of city life. She can't think of one. Neither can I.

In the law and literature course that she teaches, her students read—among other works and writers—Fidelity: Five Stories by Wendell Berry. Like many of Berry's stories, these take place in Port Williams, a fictional rural community in Kentucky. I haven't read these particular stories but they are, I'm told, complex and subtle and celebrate what Berry thinks are the virtues of life in a small farming community.

Is there fiction that does the same thing for big cities?

"I've combed through my book shelves," the professor says, "and I can't find anything that treats an urban community as the kind of 'value' protective environment that Berry seems to have created."

Cities play important roles in lots of fiction. As settings, of course. As characters in their own right—think of Dublin in Ulysses or Dubliners by James Joyce, for example. As metaphors and images. But, like the professor, I can't think of any novels or stories that explicitly celebrate the moral and community virtues of city life.

There's got to be something, doesn't there?

Tell us what we're missing by adding a comment to this post.

Please direct any commentary on this one to the original post, linked below.

Wanted: Novel that Celebrates City Life (Flipping Pencils)


The Endless City Q&A

After a tiny bit of prodding, the folks at Phaidon sent over a review copy of the recently released book The Endless City, edited by Ricky Burdett and Deyan Sudjic, and containing essays by the likes of Saskia Sassen, Enrique Peñalosa, and the indefatigable Rem Koolhaas. Where will feature a review of the book soon, but first, another treat from Phaidon; the editors were asked a series of questions. The following is a selection of the highlights from the record of this Q&A.

What are the main issues that you think people should be concerned about when it comes to city growth?
The book has a section titled ‘Issues’ that we hope synthesizes the complexities of urban growth. In it, a number of the contributors outline key issues but approach them from a variety of viewpoints. For example, Richard Sennett argues that ‘over determination’ can kill the vitality and growth of urban centers. Cities need to be dynamic and its physical forms and functions need to be endowed with the capacity to respond to indeterminate, unpredictable forces. Frank Duffy applies a similar idea when explaining the urban office, so ‘adaptability’ is the central issue they both cover. Another issue the book clearly prioritizes is sustainable development. The contributions from Guy Battle and Nicky Gavron, along with the Knoflacher, Rode and Tiwari essay, all detail urban growth strategies that respond to the environment and the challenges of climate change. Another central issue summarized by the three essays by Gerald Frug, Enrique Penalosa and Geetam Tiwari is governance and civic participation – cities need to allow for a multiplicity of voices and actors as well as a variety of experiences but there needs to be an agent or authority that can intelligently negotiate this multiplicity and still get something done. Tiwari explains this with particular reference to the forces dominating the informal sector. Both Anne Power and Sophie Body-Gendrot elaborate on this as well as some of the other pressing sociological concerns that urban designers, policymakers and the general public confront in the act of city making. Of course it goes without saying that quality design is the ingredient that delivers a truly remarkable city and allows individual places to flourish. The essays by architects Rem Koolhaas, Alejandro Zaera-Polo, and Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron all contribute various reflections about how to reconcile a variety of factors and perspectives enmeshed within the city’s physical reality. It should be noted that many of the essays in the Cities section resonate with the broader themes in the Issues section as well. The result is a cross-sectional analysis between the six cities [New York, London, Shanghai, Johannesburg, Mexico City, and Berlin] and the global world with issues finitely referenced to specific urban conditions.

What world cities do you expect to go through the greatest changes in the 21st century?
The fastest growing cities are in Africa and across Asia and its up to the next generation to make sure their development does not repeat the mistakes of cities in the developed world – this means Lagos and Kinshasa, Mumbai, Deli and Dhaka, as well as Shanghai and Jakarta. It is projected that by 2030, over 4 out of every 5 urban dwellers will be in the developing world so this will have huge implications for the global economy. At the same time, mature cities such as London and New York City, Berlin and Mexico City need to ensure that their future growth reconciles their layered history of planning mistakes and prioritizes sustainable transport and inclusive, contained growth.

The book talks about the importance of cities learning from each other. Can you explain that? For example, what can NYC learn from Shanghai? Can small cities learn from big cities?
There are countless examples of cities looking to other cities when deciding how to invest in their future growth and health. Congestion charging in NYC wouldn’t be a viable option had London not demonstrated how it could be done, and Mexico City’s Metrobús is a stunning success modeled on the Transmilenio in Bogota and of course Curitiba. Ideas must be partnered with implementation strategies and learning often is a matter of scale. So yes, small cities can learn from big, and vice versa. The essay by Knoflacher, Rode and Tiwari describes how small cities can serve as incubators for innovation precisely because of their scale. Understanding how cities implement large projects such as the Olympics in London, doing it with the right amount of investment in public space, has a lot to do with acknowledging how the city and individual neighborhoods have developed over time and how open space serves to socially integrate people from disparate backgrounds. The contributions of both Saskia Sassen and Enrique Peñalosa emphasizes this learning, especially in the latter how urban centers in developed countries are recovering from their love affair with the car, delimiting the access of automobiles in favor of public transport. Cities in developing countries could learn a lot from this. Most importantly, in order for ideas to transfer from one city to another, there needs to be a complementary understanding about how policies, decision making and funding align to facilitate implementation. Frug’s essay explains how the power structures of the six cities vary and what impact permutations to each city’s existing systems could have on local and regional planning mechanisms.

What are the key ideas that you want people to take away from reading this book?
The 34 contributors to the book – along with the hundreds of policymakers, politicians, academics, architects, planners, and urbanists involved with the Urban Age project which forms the basis for The Endless City – all believe that cities can offer a better social and economic life for its citizens. Now that half the world’s population live in cities, there is an urgent need to take stock of the new urban condition and find an approach to dealing with it. City sprawl should be contained and there are innovative strategies for creating high density, highly liveable environments. We want to help those charged with running and making cities understand the relationship between the socio-economic and spatial characteristics of cities – and we want the general public to understand how sustainable urban development can actually improve the physical form of their cities and the quality of their lives.

Are you hopeful for the future when it comes to our cities?
Enrique Peñalosa, the former mayor of Bogotá, offers an incredible explanation for why we should all be hopeful for the future of cities. Cities offer the potential for ‘quality of life equality’, i.e. access to green, open space and social and economic mobility as well as physical mobility. Across the world, people are moving into cities at an alarming rate – and not just mega-cities but smaller cities comprising an overall urbanized region. Most importantly, the twenty-first century will be increasingly focused on reducing both the overall sum and per capita production of carbon emissions, and as emitters of 75 per cent of the world’s pollution, cities are the battleground on which the future and health of our planet will be determined.

Is there any way for ordinary people to make change in their own cities? Do you have any recommendations for someone who wants to get involved?
Ordinary people make change in their city everyday. They do this by opting for public transport instead of a private car, by holding their government officials responsible for the quality of the built environment, and by advocating for equal access to green, open space. Ensuring that there is investment in sustainable forms of transport, and that access to healthcare, education and community services does not depend on how much money you make or the wealth of your locality. Most importantly, if you don’t know what your community is doing locally to advocate sustainable urban development, then join a forum and find out. Participate.

(Thanks, Faye!)

(Photo from Flickr users thequickbrownfoxjumpsoverthelazydog and howzey. The original full-color versions can be viewed by clicking the respective photos.)


WEEKEND READING: February 9-15, 2008

Good stuff, good stuff, good stuff. Enjoy some reading this weekend, folks. There's something here for everyone...

ITEM ONE: Deputydog explores Portland's Dignity Village, the "most organized shanty town on earth."

ITEM TWO: Creative class guru Richard Florida, MIT Department of Architecture head Yung Ho Chang, and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybek are just a few of the experts to which Architect Magazine posed the question: "How Would You Spend $1.6 Trillion on Infrastructure in the US?"

ITEM THREE: A pleasingly astute assesment of the Gentrifyer's Guilt from the blog Believe in the Greatest City that Reads in America (which is Baltimore, apparently).

ITEM FOUR: Landscape Urbanism with a great (and well-illustrated) profile of Jean Nouvel as part of the Veg.itect series. (Also check out this review of the Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes exhibit, which opened this week in Minneapolis). (Photo credit)

ITEM FIVE: WorldChanging on how peak population -- and the inevitable decline to follow -- should frame the current discussion of susatinability.

ITEM SIX: Guest blogger Dave Atkins reviews Suburban Transformations over at All About Cities. Where featured a review of this book last month, and if you missed that, make sure to check out Mr. Atkins' post.

ITEM SEVEN: In case you missed it, Science just put out a special issue focusing on cities and the "urban planet" phenom.

See you Sunday for Urbanffffinds!



"I do believe that suburban living is a form of torture. If you made suspected terrorists live in big suburban houses, they would talk eventually. But they'd probably only say things like, 'Have you seen my keys?'"

--Cary Tennis at Salon.com

Conscious Urbanism: Sister Neighborhoods

Happy Valentine's Day. Who's your neighborhood's sweetheart this year? Yeah, you read that right. Who are you and your neighbors sending a gift to? If the answer is "nobody" (and I'm guessing that it is), consider this February 14th a missed opportunity.

There are no shortage of complaints about neighborhood associations and other community groups, the most common being that they tend to be insular, cliquey, out of touch, and outright anti-change. Another major complaint, which results directly from the aforementioned, is that these groups tend to be made up of only the higher end of the neighborhood's age range. Young people, we are reminded time and again, aren't active in their communities. They don't care enough to get involved, or they're too lazy, or they're something else that isn't the fault of the people doing the complaining.

But what if young people avoid joining community groups (as has been speculated before, no doubt) because the community groups just aren't active in a way that appeals to them? Could it be that college students, twenty- and thirtysomethings just aren't interested in joining what they view as stoic, regressive groups with their heads in the sand? I'm betting that, with a bit of elbow grease and some new ideas, we might see people below the age of 40 start to get more involved in their neighborhoods.

There are already examples of this, to be sure. Guerilla Gardening comes to mind, as do organizations like Neighbors Project and Rebar, as well as government programs like City Year. In its own (ironic) way, a lot of street art -- the kind that challenges and inspires, not those aimless spray-paint scribbles -- is evidence of young peoples' interest in their communities and their cities at large. It's not everyone's idea of being involved, but the desire to be involved in the neighborhood dynamic is apparent nonetheless. So what do all of these things have in common? What is it that gets younger generations excited about where they live, and what gets them involved? From the look of things, there is definitely an anti-bureaucratic attitude. These groups and activities are all perfect for someone who's looking to skip the runaround and get involved right away. Access is easy, and the activities are usually very social. In addition -- and more importantly -- these groups are defined more by what they stand for, not what they stand against.

Could there possibly be a way to create that kind of attitude on a larger scale within slightly more traditional community groups -- ones that might actually encourage people on both ends of the age spectrum to work together not just to improve their own neighborhoods, but their city as well? One idea: look at the Sister Cities movement.

While it is not particularly well-publicized (and, thus, utilized), Sister Cities International is an organization that pairs cities with similar economic structures, natural features, or demographics up in an effort to build a worldwide network of diplomatic relationships between urban areas. Cities help each other out by sharing policy ideas, discussing problems, and forging economic and trade agreements. What might this kind of program look like at a more local level?

On the international level, this might be a challenge, since getting people across oceans is much easier with large civic budgets instead of community group coffers (which are never full enough to begin with). But might it be productive to partner with community groups in the same city? Cross-community meetings could be held, local solutions and problems shared and discussed. The residents of a neighborhood across town cease to be faceless, and the city begins to feel smaller, its residents more tightly bound together.

There would be benefits within community groups, as well. The more hands-on, social activity of meeting and working proactively with neighbors-across-town could bring in a younger crowd. The older members of the group would gain new allies, as newly-joined young people will have more of a vested interest in preserving and strengthening their own communities through their involvement with their neighborhood group. As Matias wrote in a recent Airoots post: "[C]ommunity groups...do not defend 'local identity' as much as they create it. In other words, the moment of activism is more meaningful than the cause being defended."

Try getting together with some neighbors to form a Sister Neighborhood-esque relationship with a community group across town. Maybe next year you'll be planting a flower garden for your neighborhood's sweetheart in addition to buying a bouquet for your own. (Unless you live somewhere where it snows in February. Then you'll have to figure something else out).

(Photo from Wikimedia Commons. The original full-color version can be viewed by clicking the photo.)

Sister Cities International

Guerilla Gardening

Neighbors Project


City Year

The Moment of Activism (airoots)

Buy One House Get One Free (Springwise) (Not mentioned in the post, but a cool related idea)


Living in SimCity

SimCity, one of the most popular electronic games of all time, played an undeniable role in the return to the popular consciousness over the past few decades of urban planning. While the original game succeeded by breaking cities down into their most basic elements (residential, commercial, industrial, institutional, infrastructural, recreational), subsequent versions have become more complex, and more nuanced. And with the most recent version of the game, SimCity Societies (the first version not developed by creator Will Wright and his team at Maxis), came and went with barely a whimper, the franchise is ideally poised for a thorough revamp.

I recently read two posts at Very Spatial that got me thinking about SimCity and its potential for revival. The first of these posts was about mixed reality gaming, and it discussed a Nintendo DS game that allows players to visit a real island north of Tokyo and participate in a treasure hunt, with the handheld gaming system acting as an interface between the real island and the electronic version of the same place. This technology literally breaks down the walls between the player and the game, blending reality and fantasy. The second Very Spatial post focused on using online mapping technology to record personal histories or memories. The rise of mapping as a customizable, highly social tool should not be ignored by anyone interested in developing a city simulation game. Collaboration and customization are powerful selling points when trying to grab the interest of today's young people.

Mix quasi-reality and personalized cartography together and what have you got? Enormous potential. Consider the possibilities: a game could be created that allows people to create an alternate reality version of their neighborhood or their whole city and then upload that alternate reality onto a central server. Using a handheld device, they could then venture out into the city to interact with alternate realities created by other users. Games could cross paths and interact, teams could be built, and stories could intertwine. Social media and a wiki format could allow users to modify games created by other users, and whole alternate mythologies could be built, each one intrinsically tied to the place where it was developed. Gamers could travel to other cities to take part in other games. It's virtual reality without the stupid headgear.

The truly ingenious part of SimCity is that the game is disguised as a simple simulator that allows one to play God by building (and/or destroying) a city. Entire regions become customizable, and whole worlds and cultures imagined. Meanwhile, the game is also teaching players valuable lessons about how and why cities work: houses and factories don't do well next to each other; large buildings create more traffic, but well-planned transit alleviates that pressure; parks and recreational facilities are vital to morale (or "aura" as it was called in SimCity 3000) and public health. These lessons are still important today, but with advanced technology this type of simulator has the ability to teach an entirely new set of lessons.

In truth, the most basic building block of urban civilization -- more basic than residential, commercial, or industrial -- is social interaction. And by looking at cities at this most basic (and, at the same time, complex) level, we see an entirely new set of problems. Gentrification, segregation, resource distribution, community -- all of these issues could be explored through a SimCity game that mixed reality and personal fantasy.

An example: there is a triangular plaza in my neighborhood in Chicago. While it has a fountain and some trees, this scrappy public space has long been a source of frustration for some of my neighbors, who wish that the "Polish Triangle" would be better cared for, and that it could serve as a beautiful public gathering place. In an existing version of SimCity, a player could cover an empty triangular plot with parks and watch the land value of surrounding blocks rise. Imagine a SimCity that allowed users to completely re-design the Polish Triangle so that any player walking through the area could access this visionary public space and interact with it. The lessons learned would not only be more resonant -- they would be more personal, more real, and might actually affect public sentiment and, eventually, political will.

Another recent phenomenon suggests that this kind of gaming technology could be extremely successful if implemented: the Japanese cellphone novel. These novels, written by teens and young adults on their mobiles, have become a major literary movement in Japan, with half of the Top Ten bestseller list from the last year being made up of cellphone novels that were turned into actual print novels. A striking fact about the genre: most cellphone novels eschew details about the setting of the story. “If you limit it to a certain place," an author explained in a recent NY Times article on the subject, "readers won’t be able to feel a sense of familiarity.” Thus, while a core group is creating personalized content -- for free, unless and until their novels are printed -- massive demand is coming from outside of that core. It is a community that anyone can be involved in, and one where you can very easily make the switch between producer and consumer at your leisure.

The same could be done with a hyperlocal, mixed reality version of SimCity. You could import buildings to your neighborhood from around the world. Stick the Eiffel Tower in the middle of Central Park. Walk through Shibuya in the suburbs of Buenos Aires. Ultimately, the most compelling and useful alternate realities would rise to the top, whatever the reason for their popularity. In the future, you might be able to walk up and down your block several times and see it in a completely different way on each lap.

And, if you didn't like any of what you saw, you could change it in an afternoon.

(Photo from the Centre for Education in the Built Environment. The original full-color version can be viewed by clicking the photo.)

Mixed Reality Gaming In Japan (Very Spatial)

Creating Memories Using Maps (Very Spatial)

Wicker Park's Dirty Doorstep (Chicago Reader)

Thumbs Race as Japan’s Best Sellers Go Cellular (NY Times) (via Smart Mobs)



(Photo from The New York Times. The full-size version can be viewed by clicking the photo.)