Urban Spaces and Data Spaces

Contemporary communication systems as imbued with GeoTagging or GeoTracing (after 2005) show a more "complex network of differentiations" (Certeau 1988:126) than could be anticipated by older uses of cameras, for example, in the video activism of the seventies and in the net communication with and on webcams in the mid-nineties.4 The individual contribution and the participant's local camera position are displayed on maps which consist of sequences of images made in flying camera positions. These images from satellites and airplanes fill the geometric space of the world map with updatable images of an ephemeral world situation.

The relation between anthropological and geometric space5 becomes precarious in supraregional organized net projects with annotated locations based on Google Maps and Yahoo! Local Maps: aspects of the lived and livable regional limited anthropological space are communicable in images and texts between participants but the communication happens within the supraregional frame of the world map making it necessary to segregate regional projects or galleries and other frames in frames: localization in the "totalizing stage" world.

In "Yellow Chair Stories", artist Anab Jain uses neither camera nor maps. Developed in London in June 2005, the project serves to compliment networked projects with maps and localized media contributions. Jain places a yellow chair in the front of her entrance (43 Sinclair Road). A plate with the following inscription is mounted behind the chair: "My WiFi network is open for neighbours and passersby. Free access from this chair!" The inscription invites passersby with their laptop (with WiFi card) to use her computer and its wireless open access not only as an access to the internet but to read or to listen to her "Today's Offer" in the "shared folder" as well as to store comments. Jain stated "both the sign and the chair defined a 'real world blog space' - a territory for conversation between neighbours." (Debatty 2006)

Within the range of Jain's wireless access, participants are able to read the comments stored on her computer. This computer is the basis for a local network between neighbours which is not supraregional accessable like newsgroups, mailing lists or blogs. Jain connects the marked 'site' in urban space with two data spaces - one data space offers her computer to the neighbourhood's network and the other data space is constituted by the internet.6

Jain's regionalisation via neighbourhood network operate at a different scale altogethor than projects focused on maps, cameras and communication networks. The presentations of urban experiences reported by participants take place within distinct supraregional map systems. The projects combines these systems in different manners with organizations of the databases allowing different criteria in the storing of content.

[Left: Carbon Defense League / MapHub Project, Pittsburgh - state of the project in March-November 2006, Right: Anab Jain / Yello Chair Stories / 2005]

Carbon Defense League's MapHub offers possibilities for groups to install "hubs" in the database. The tags of a hub appear with a distinct signet on the map of Pittsburgh: the urban map is developed as a datascape which sorts out references to various characteristics of the urban space. In one implementation the project was installed only within Pittsburgh, on the other the system was availabe as Open Source (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike) and it could be reused in projects in other cities.7

Projects for interactive urban experience are based on communication systems whose proliferation depends on the efforts of some of the organizers to attract participants. Municipalities adopt projects that pass the test of social practice in another city where the achieved a "critical mass" of users. In 2004, Yellow Arrow was started as a website for New York. After the installation of a second website for Boston in 2004 and several nation specific sites for Germany, Great Britain and Denmark in 2005, all these sites were integrated into one comprehensive platform (version 2.0 - November 2005) documenting arrows from 38 countries. Yellow Arrow rose from a local to a supraregional organized project offering visitors to opt between galleries which are sorted out following the classification criteria of countries, towns, projects and participants.

A contribution's visual and textual documentation can gain distinctness in relation to the context of data built by other contributions. The archive with all contributions constitutes a data pool which supports and relativizes simultaneously all content. Against the backdrop of geometric space, the data pool of a project appears as the collective horizon of experience which is worked out cooperatively and which changes its character with the local priorities and the addition of new contributions.

The relative arbitrary role of one's own contribution in 'infinite' open projects including many cities like Yellow Arrow, and on the other hand its importance in closed projects like Sense of the City (see above), mark two poles on a scale of possibilities for mapping with locative media. The Yellow Arrow website counteracted the arbitrariness of discrete contributions using frames within frames, It was possible to build projects and the state of a project's development remained surveyable.

[Left: Yuan.CC Maps - Geotagging on Google Maps with photos from flickr / 2006, Right: Bauhaus Imaginiste (Hg.): Guide psychogéographique de Paris / 1957]

Assoziatons-Blaster by Dragan Espenschied and Alvar C. Freude was one of the most popular collaborative writing project of the 90s. It combines link and filter as central functions. Since 1999, a community of contributors have developed content for this project.8 The information architecture for Assoziations-Blaster was set up as a decentralized horizontal model. Around 2005, this horizontal model was redeveloped as a vertical stratification of data9 in archives like ckyuan's Yuan.CC Maps, which combines distributed databases like Google Maps and Flickr. The data organization is based on distributed nodes and allows users to choose local contexts. The technical organization of media content (texts, photos, films, audio, maps, localization procedures) and the structure of the informational levels of the database for contributions constitute the 'nodal points' within a project.

The Art of Activities: Only Local?

William T. Cavanaugh combined Michel Foucault's investigations of the "dispositifs" produced by "disciplinary societies"10 and Gilles Deleuze's short sketch of their transformation into "societies of control" (Deleuze 1990) with Michel de Certeau's criteria of space to a criticism of globalization: universal and universalized "geometric spaces" abstracting from local particularities as well as from individual experiences are featured as characteristics of globalization.11 Globalization is described as being prepared by the disciplinary and surveillance societies and perpetuated by the subordination of anthropological spaces under the geometric space in the control society.

The following criteria of the projects mentioned above are indications of the geometric space's dominance in surveillance and control societies:

1. the geodetic zoning of world maps for the localization of all the places which are on the earth,
2. the camera's observation positions in the aerial perspective of satellites and airplanes,
3. the grid of Google Maps and Yahoo! Local Maps for cartographic image sources, and
4. the civilian use of available GPS signals allowed since 2000 by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Acting in the anthropological space as an ideal vision of an environment without or liberated from globalization is a counter concept to the spatial practices of surveillance or control societies and their characteristics as we can find them in cartography and locative media.

Brian Holmes follows this line of argumentation in "Drifting through the Grid" and characterizes the geometric space of world maps organized by geodetic criteria and the technical structure of GPS as a part of the "hyper-rationalist grid of Imperial infrastructure" against which he offsets the psychogeography of the Situationists. To Holmes, mapping with locative media is at best "an inscription of the individual, a geodetic tracery of individual difference" able to constitute in relevant projects nothing more than "a fragile gesture, fraught with ambiguity."12

Chris Byrne, Ben Russell, Alison Sant, Marc Tuters, Kazys Varnelis und Tobias C. van Veen are some of the authors who offer occasions to Holmes' criticism.13 These authors try to transmit semantic fields of the Situationist term "psychogeography" to the characteristics of projects using locative media for "collaborative mapping". Holmes criticizes the evident deviations of these projects from the Situationist dérive as consequences of globalization.14

For members of the Lettrist International (1952-57) and Situationism (1957-72) the term psychogeography signified the logging of urban experiences provoked by pointedly pointless vagrancy. If one tries to actualize the term in a manner relevant for projects using collaborative mapping with locative media then a redefinition with the assistance of environmental psychology will be a crucial step: the subject of these projects are observing attitudes in the urban everyday life, not their situationistic dissolution. What Situationism wanted to unmask as the one-dimensional practice of everyday life proves itself polymorphic: the schemes of self-orientation in a socially precoded urban environment (Batty 2002, Lynch 1960, Milgram and Jodelet 1976, Ramadier and Moser 1998).

In "The Limits of Networking" Alexander R. Galloway and Eugene Thacker interpret the protocols of the internet which regulate the technical preconditions of the data transfer between computers as parts of a "techno-culture" constituting "a totalizing control apparatus". The concept of a closed system, that should be attacked by a "counterprotocol practice" (Galloway and Thacker 2004, cf. Cramer 2004), is yielded in Galloway's book Protocol to a multi-layered study. In Galloway's revised approach, protocols constitute possibilities for the control of the internet15 and they are reported as a feature of the societies of control but this doesn't explain if and how power is wielded with technically expanded means for control.16

The projects for locative media described above use technologies of the societies of control. Platforms for collaborative mapping with locative media allow users to articulate ways of observing urbanity which have not been taken into consideration by "decision makers" in urban planning, architecture or finance. The attention of city dwellers is directed not only to the traces of regulatory procedures and to new buildings but to conglomerates with remnants of different construction and phases of use. These conglomerates are threatened by the activities of the professionals mentioned above even though they continue to be memorized as parts of "mental images" (Lynch 1960:2-13,87-90) and as important elements of a social structure.

Urban environments rely on a balance between their social, economic and ecological conditioned infrastructures. The maintenance of this balance obliges to regulation. Participants demand the permanent renewal of this balance with their articulations of urban experiences and urban imaginations in projects which offer platforms with databases for these contributions. These projects claim this counterbalance not only in a direct manner via the contributors' criticism describing the endangerment of urban infrastructure but indirectly with references to the role of urban diversity. Contributions about (memories upon) the traffic, the shops, the inhabitants and the passersby provide informations on the cultures and social strata which determined and determine an urban quarter. A simplistic criticism of globalization arguing with adverse comments on geometric spaces renounces these possibilities of articulation as they are offered by projects for collaborative mapping with locative media.17

The projects should be able not only to archive changes in urban environments but to contribute to the changes of the change: Will the future of urban environments be to become a local mirror of global operating investors and will its character as public space be undermined by safeguarding strategies using video surveillance in the sake of private properties (Dreher 2007c), or will it be possible to revitalize permanently its character as public urban space?

Cognitive and Collaborative Mapping

Brian Holmes' predilection for the "cognitive mapping" (Holmes 2003) of ways of thinking and power structures, as well as his reservations towards collaborative mapping with locative media, especially with GPS, provoke the following consideration:
The term cognitive mapping includes operations of observing by structuring correlations as well as the results of these operations presented as diagrams (for example concept maps like Kealy 2001). The reader will concede to these diagrams the double function as a reconstruction of structures and as an influence on her/his imaginations of these structures. Diagrams 'structure': they visualize correlations based on past experiences and influence imaginations and schedulings with decisions about future possibilities.

[William A. Kealy / Benefits of Integrating Technology into the Classroom - concept map detail/ 2001]

Possibilities for the presentation of texts, photos and films on maps are used in collaborative mapping with locative media to come up with data configurations which are able to affirm, modify or transgress the map readers' imaginations of the life in a city as well as the city life. Ways of observing emerging from projections of contributions on maps can afford causes for cognitive mapping. Trials to represent the social city life in its 'real' existence assert claims concerning the reproduction of reality in its totality which have to be resigned. Readers/viewers can't find precise distinctions between the past, present and future, neither in specific comments nor in selected images, nor in configurations of the contributions in the database - memory protocol and vision penetrate each other in the imagination of users. Digital information systems for the use of world maps as well as views of the whole earth from satellites and airplanes constitute playing fields for configuration which provoke individual readings.

The anthropological space can be extrapolated with the help of the geometric space - the global organization of space opens up possibilites for a multi-layered local, self orientation. Collaborative mapping with locative media offers an opportunity to use the different layers of cognitive space organization as the substructure for the articulation of interactive urban experience. One level for the construction of relations between the global and the local is offered by the localization on world maps and a further level is constituted by the contributions located on these maps. In a direct or an indirect manner, they express the experiences of the global in local relations via images and texts.

Meanwhile Holmes apprehends deviant behaviours of passersby as détournement of the structures of town planning and city life.18 Fredric Jameson's position can be critiqued as a consequence of the organization of geometric space and can be proven in attempting détournement. There is no escape from the reconstruction of the interplay of supraregional organized systems for the facilitation of the practice of everyday life with such systems complicating and hampering this practice as well as from the analysis of the interplay's reasons: criticism of globalization without vanishing point (Lee 2006).

If - with Fredric Jameson - "the project of cognitive mapping obviously stands or falls with the conception of some (unrepresentable, imaginary) global social totality that was to have been mapped" (Jameson 1988:356, cf. Ramadier and Moser 1998), then mediations between global and local processes are constituents of a "history in work" (Bussmann 1988), which wants to recognize and criticize the global in the local.19

continue

here