The Next Street Art

Say there was a place that had some special meaning to you. It could be the alcove where you had your first kiss, the alley where you were mugged, the square where you participated in an important rally, or the location of an historic uprising. Good or bad, we all infuse places with our memories. This is what makes physical places so powerful, and why peoples' opinions and experiences of the same place can be vastly different. Places are what people make of them. Now, technology could be making it easier for tech-savvy street artists to etch their own experiences and opinions onto physical places, communicating the artists' own sense of a place to others who pass through it.

Barcodes are most commonly used in retail environments, but their size and informational storage capacities make them ripe for adaptation for more inventive uses. In Japan, barcodes are now being applied to gravestones to store and transmit information, when scanned, about the deceased. The idea here is that family members will, through videos, photos, and stories, be able to reconnect with the deceased in a less mournful, more celebratory way. Imagine "a sort of gravestone based, family fueled, wiki of the dead."

This technology could easily be used in public spaces to represent a political viewpoint or a historical event. Imagine walking down a street for the first time and noticing a bright green barcode sticker affixed to the facade of a building. Using a scanner-enabled mobile device, you could access a website loaded with the history of the building site, or a series of short stories about the surrounding blocks, or photos of a lifechanging event that a stranger experienced in the very spot where you are standing. Reading or viewing material like this would give the place a new gravitas, and would change your perception of what might otherwise be a mundane stretch of asphalt and brick.

RFID tags are another method of remote-storing information that, thanks to increased range, provide the opportunity for a bit more mischief. With the technological know-how, a clever street artist could program a chip to send a text message or photo to any wi-fi enabled mobile device passing by. Imagine again: you're walking down a street and you pass a hidden RFID tag; your phone rings. You answer. An audio recording plays, recounting a woman's personal account of a riot that took place across the street a decade earlier. Later, walking through a park, your text alert sounds. You open the message to find a set of coordinates and the time of an upcoming event, perhaps a flash mob or a constructive riot. Or, perhaps, a photo of the view from the very place that you are standing, hyperlinked to a database of stories and photos of places around the city (along the lines of Invincible Cities, linked below).

While they would only be accessible to those with the proper devices to read the information that they stored, RFID tags and barcodes have distinct advantages over more traditional forms of street art like posters, graffiti tags, and murals. For one thing, they are smaller, and less intrusive. While this could be seen as a weakness (especially for barcodes, which require direct interaction), it is also a strength in that RFID tags and barcodes are less likely to prompt their own removal than more readily noticeable artistic interventions. These tiny storage units can also provide more vivid, personalized accounts of events or viewpoints, and have the potential to be more impactful on their viewers.

RFID and barcode street art has the potential to turn the urban environment into a virtual minefield of information. While the potential for abuse by malicious hackers or marketing drones is there, the idea of being able to literally "tag" a place with multimedia information is an exciting one. Perhaps it's already being done. Anyone know of some examples?

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

Barcodes on tombs to connect with the dead (The Inquirer)

Invincible Cities (Thanks, Pete!)


The Linkdump

Weekend Reading has been on hiatus, along with the rest of this blog, for the past three weeks. That was unfortunate, as there was a ton of great reading material online during that time. If you find yourself with some reading time over the next few days, check out some of the following posts and articles.

The art and architecture of arcologies || Lessons from those who've never seen a city || A note to the Midwest: Change or Die || Four artistic ruminations On Cities || Digital Nomads: the podcast interview || Amazing Title Award goes to "Growing Pains for a Deep-Sea Home Built of Subway Cars" || Stepsister cities: not always ugly, but usually forgotten || Tatlin's Tower as archetype || Beautiful drawings of Buenos Aires' architecture || Nigel Coates takes the stage in Milan (Yay! Where loves Nigel Coates!) || Manaugh presents erudite posts on noise pollution, cloud writing, and video game architecture || Justin Davidson on Nouvel's brillaint 53 W 53rd || A fascinating look at Sao Paulo's growing (!) traffic problem || Four conditions for exuberant diversity || When architecture is freer than the people who use it || Baghdad: feral metropolis on the dunes || Why homeownership may not be the best option || Coolest green building ever || The Earth is making music (Incredible) || Rich Florida on The Big Sort || Phototour of a "constructive riot" || A wiki route planner for urban explorers || The chronicles of an adventuresome boulder || If you still need more proof that cities are living things, look no further... || Dubai's Palm runs into big problems (Raise your hand if you're surprised) || The Bowery Boys explore the history of NYC as a video game setting || An example of "new urban hieroglyphics" || How urban nomads are changing architecture || Design as economic salvation in BsAs

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


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Apologies for the lack of Urbanffffinds last week. This week, please accept this double-shot of urban imagery goodness as a peace offering. And some more happy news: part-time employment has been secured, and regular posting will resume at Where, starting with almost three weeks of great arch&urb stuff in a hearty linkdump, tomorrow morning.


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So what I actually meant when I said "no new posts" was "no new long, fancy-pants psuedo-philosophical ramblings." Urbanffffinds is too fun to put on hiatus. Besides, the crop this week is hot. And so:

And the Winner is...

"As a way of improving safety and bridging the gap between the city core and the bulging periphery, the city has launched a Defense of Modern Ruins program, stringing together blighted sights that range from industrial sights to downtrodden art-déco buildings to bureaucratic baroque whales. The program includes low-rent housing schemes, urban wilderness tours and itinerant party circuits."

Congratulations to H.B., whose entry in the Blogedanken contest recieved almost a full 50% of the public vote.

Many thanks to all of the participants for making this a fun impromptu blog-event. Note to the winner: shoot me an email and your copy of Hyperborder will be in the mail.



In order to force myself to devote the maximum amount of time and attention to my new job search, there will be no new posts at Where until I'm gainfully employed. See y'all soon. I hope ;-)


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Urbanism revelation of the week: cities need more giraffes. And camels.


WEEKEND READING: March 29-April 4, 2008

First things first: MONU has put out a Call for Submissions for their upcoming issue on "Exotic Urbanism." Sounds freaking brillaint. Now, on to this week's cream o' the crop.

ITEM ONE: New-ish blog Boredom Is Always Counter-Revolutionary with a cutting rant about advertisements, architecture, and envisioning the city of the future.

ITEM TWO: Lee Bey has his own cutting rant this week, this one zeroing in on race, crime, and public housing in Chicago. Spot-on.

ITEM THREE: Switching gears a bit, MNP's post on suburb-eating robots will blow your mind and tickle your funny bone. (Photo credit)

ITEM FOUR: Interchange blogger Scott Page on DIY Urbanism and the upcoming Wicker Park Bucktown workshops in Chicago.

ITEM FIVE: CS Monitor examines Hugo Chavez's plan to build a Venezuelan Brasilia of sorts. Welcome to Caribia, the 21st Century Socialist City.

ITEM SIX: Some eye candy from The Map Room -- a collection of late 19th and early 20th century maps of Latin American cities.

ITEM SEVEN: More humor to cap things off this week. The Onion features an hilarious exposé on the aristocrization of gentrified neighborhoods in American cities (via Super Colossal).

Adios, compadres. See you next week!


Blogedanken Public Poll

Here are my favorite entries from each of the six Blogedanken participants who submitted full responses. Take a quick read-through, pick the one you think is the most interesting, and vote in the public poll at the bottom of the post. One-two-three, and by April 10th we'll have a winner! That person will then recieve a copy of Hyperborder, courtesy of PA Press.

(Portland, Maine, USA)
It sure would be nice to have a suburban commuter rail network in southern Maine. It would be even nicer if the commuter rail stations weren’t sited in the middle of vast parking lots, especially closer to the urban core. So why not allow development to cluster around those stops, like say Morrill’s Corner? And by development, I mean dense development. We’ll need to reform our zoning to encourage such growth, of course – not just by creating incentives for density but by creating disincentives for sprawl as well. Oh, and remember – this is Maine, a land that get’s pretty damn cold over the course of our long winters, and global warming hasn’t turned us into South Carolina just yet. Yet I hear tell of other cities even further north that are colder and get more snow than us, yet still manage to have a vibrant street life even in depressing old February. We gots to have that. I don’t know how exactly but if we’re going to discourage driving so we can have more walkable and transit oriented neighborhoods, we might as well make the streets of Portland a pleasant place to be in the depths of winter – bike and pedestrian friendly snow clearance, warm transit shelters, fun festivals, whatever it takes.

(Medellin, Colombia)
24 hour public transportation makes shifts easier to stagger, so bus drivers are not competing with each other in hazardous maneuvers. Every bus and taxi driver will receive mandatory drivers ed and courses on politeness and good manners. If they are rude or customers complain, their punishment won´t be a fine, but they´ll have to do public service hours cleaning the riverbanks.

(Mexico City, DF, Mexico)
As a way of improving safety and bridging the gap between the city core and the bulging periphery, the city has launched a Defense of Modern Ruins program, stringing together blighted sights that range from industrial sights to downtrodden art-déco buildings to bureaucratic baroque whales. The program includes low-rent housing schemes, urban wilderness tours and itinerant party circuits.

T H Rive
(Victoria, BC, Canada)
Wireless capable crosswalks.
Edit: *apologies for the absolute shortness of mine. explanation: The crosswalk I was requesting was the ones that go green on ALL sides so that diagonal crossing is validated. It's quicker. The wireless part was more outdoor, cafe oriented Etc green wireless spaces. The result of the mixup?>> Wireless Crosswalks. Still a good idea. (4/1/08 5:38 PM)

Dan Lorentz
(Lexington, Kentucky, USA)
Organize a strong city-wide neighborhood group to promote mixed-use planning that supports street-level vitality, and make the first priority of that group the reweaving of the city's street web to create more corners for mixed-use development.

(Cambridge, England, UK)
Hovering leisure boats with transparent roofs and floors, which hover about twenty feet in the air and provide lifts around town above underwater gardens with glass walls at street level as well as terraces, balconies, shops, and restaurants that open onto the streets and river

Remember: vote or die! (Hah. Always wanted to use that in context).