Install Theme

Posts tagged with ‘new urbanism’

The Great Senior Sell-Off Could Cause the Next Housing Crisis - Emily Badger - The Atlantic Cities →

This scenario won’t happen, because the urban flip-flop is already in progress, but read it anyway:

The Great Senior Sell-Off Could Cause the Next Housing Crisis - Emily Badger

According to data from the American Housing Survey, from 1989 and 2009, 80 percent of new homes built in that era were detached single-family homes. A third of them were larger than 2,500 square feet. And most startling – “I checked my numbers over and over again,” a bemused Nelson says – 40 percent were built on lots of half an acre to 10 acres in size. Now, he says, 74 percent of new housing demand will come from the people who bought these homes, now empty-nesters, wanting to downsize.

A vast majority of today’s households with children still want such houses, Nelson says. But about a quarter of them want something else, like condos and urban townhouses. That demand “used to be almost zero percent, and if it’s now 25 percent,” Nelson says, “that’s a small share of the market but a huge shift in the market.” And this is half of the reason why many baby boomers may not find buyers for their homes. “Even if the numbers matched,” Nelson says, “the preferences don’t.”

Demographics will further complicate this picture. We’re moving toward a future in America when minorities will become the majority. But given entrenched educational achievement gaps, particularly for the fast-growing Hispanic population, Nelson fears that the U.S. is not doing a good job educating the “new majority” to make the kinds of incomes that will be required to buy the homes we’ve already built.

As the Hispanic population expands, and more baby boomers retire, the gap between the two groups in the housing market – expressed in unsellable houses – will only widen.

“That’s going to hit us,” Nelson says. “Not right now. But my guess is that about the turn of the decade, that number will become a real number. It’s only a few percentage points now, but it’s like a glacier, and if it keeps moving and building and growing, it’s going to be a big number in about 2020.”

Roughly 7 percent of over-65 households move each year, and as people get older, their likelihood of moving from owning to renting gets higher and higher (it’s about 79 percent for households over 85). By 2020, there were will be around 35 million over-65 households in the U.S. That year, Nelson calculates, seniors who would like to become renters will be trying to sell about 200,000 more owner-occupied homes than there will be new households entering the market to buy them. By 2030, that figure could rise to half a million housing units a year.

“Between changing preferences and declining median household income because of poor education – because we’re not willing to spend money on education,” Nelson says, “that means we can predict the next housing crash, and that’ll be in about 2020.”

In that environment, he says, there will be two classes of seniors in America: those “aging in place” voluntarily, and those “aging in place” involuntarily because they can’t sell their homes. Nelson is critical that “aging in place” will really be feasible for many seniors.

“It’s romantic for the first 15 years when you’re turning 65 and retired,” he says. “But aging in place among 90-year-olds? 95-year-olds?” Many of these people, he predicts, won’t realize that they can’t mow the lawn or pay for repairs until they’re really elderly, and the market for the their homes has collapsed even further. “My suspicion,” Nelson says, “is that many hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of those households in the 2020s to 2030 and beyond will simply give up the house and walk away.”

Why won’t this happen? We’re undergoing a huge urban flip-flop. Empty nesters and hipsters are moving into the city core, displacing the urban poor. Those former city dwellers are moving to the near suburbs, and Exurbia is emptying out.

Rather than a straight drop in the next decade we’ll see a downward slide of exurban populations, and a demographic switch in core cities and near suburbs.

The wealthy seniors will have moved to hacked office buildings in the former financial district, the hipsters will live in the lofts of what was once Chinatown, and the poor oldsters will live across the river in what used to be the prosperous commuter town, now with aging strip malls turned into old age communities, and unwalkable neighborhoods populated with immigrants waiting at bus stops to commute to hotel and restaurant jobs in the city. Out in the former exurban fringe, back-to-the-landers are building a circle of farms, and growing produce, cattle, chicken, and goats, turning abandoned car dealerships into greenhouses and Dairy Queens into barns.

theurbanvillage:

Urban Transect

theurbanvillage:

Urban Transect

(Source: )

Facebook Metaphors: New Spatialism

I often compare Facebook to a large and impersonal shopping mall, with a lot of noise and the cloying stink of Cinnabon and cheap candles getting deep into your sinuses. Others use other metaphors, and ex-Facebooker Dave Morin is probably influenced by the value of his stock portfolio when he recently compared Facebook to a town:

Jessica Roy,  Former Facebook Social Design Evangelist Says Facebook Model Is ‘Self-Serving, Egocentric’ via Betabeat

The discussion started with this prompt:

[by Dave Morin, the founder of Path] Facebook has built the cities, they’ve built the town squares, and they’re more of a general social network, he said. Path, on the other hand, is more like the home, as if adding each friend is filling out your dinner table.

On Twitter, Mike Karnjanaprakorn–CEO and cofounder of Skillshare–added, “If Facebook built the cities and Path is building the houses, Skillshare is building the schools.”

Mr. Miller started a discussion about this approach to design on Branch, and Mr. Morin and Mr. Karnjanaprakorn both weighed in.

“The Internet is like the Wild Wild West. But over time, you can see certain infrastructures being put in place. AOL created the roads, Facebook created the Town Square, PayPal created the bank, Twitter created the newspaper, Path is creating the home, and Skillshare is creating the school,” said Mr. Karnjanaprakorn. “We still need a sheriff.”

Mr. Morin agreed. “I think Mike hit the metaphor on the head,” he said.

But then another voice chimed in. It was the voice of Mr. Fisher, whose former title at Facebook was “Social Design Evangelist.”

“On the contrary, Facebook is NOT a town square,” he wrote. “In fact there’s little sense of community at all. It’s centered on individuals and their friends which is a very self-serving, egocentric model that does little to help people actually work together, as would a town.”

Da-yum. That’s definitely a burn coming from someone a source says wrote Facebook’s social design guidelines.

It appears Mr. Fisher is building his own version of a town square, which is probably why he doesn’t like the idea of Facebook overtaking that moniker very much. His LinkedIn lists him as the founder of Townsquared, Inc., a ”social platform that helps organizations grow niche communities.”

I am interested to learn more about Townsquared, certainly, but this seems to be nothing more than entrepreneurs caught up in metaphorical chinese checkers; all of them are trying to jump over Facebook to some better, warmer, more productive social matrix, at least conceptually.

The mall metaphor works for me because I dislike malls and spend as little time in them as possible. But malls somehow seem to be filled with people, looking in the windows, checking each other out, trying on cheap shoes, and eating bad pizza. Or maybe the suburban sprawl metaphor (from 2009):

Facebook Is The New Suburbia by Hugh McLeod

New Spatialism:  Reclaiming Social Space In Web Media via stoweboyd.com

Using an analogy from city planning and architecture, we need a rethinking of the basics: something like the New Urbanism movement, that tried to reclaim shared urban space in a way that matches human needs, and moved away from gigantic and dehumanizing cityscapes of the mid and late twentieth century, where garbage trucks seemed more at home than a teenage girl walking a dog.

So, we need a New Spatialism movement, to rethink web media and reclaim the social space that is supposed to be central to so-called social media. Some web media may just remain what it is, like an industrial district at the edge of town. But at least some parts of web media should be reconceptualized, and reconstructed to get back to human scale. Just as New Urbanism is about organizing streets, sidewalks, and plazas to support the growth of social capital, New Spatialism would help us channel interactions on line to increase sociality, and thereby increase the growth of social capital.

New Spatialism is based on the idea that our primary motivations for being online are extra-market drivers: we are not online for money, principally. We have created the web to happen to ourselves: to shape a new culture and build a better, more resilient world. And we need better media tools than we have at present, to make that a reality.

As usual, when the techies start talking about online shared space, they lose their way because that haven’t actually studied urbanism, nor anthropology.

China’s Swift Trains Are a Boon to Development, but a Costly One - Keith Bradsher via NYTimes.com →

People worrying about the US losing its lead to China should stop the nonsensical talk about declining math SATs, and look to the difference in our investments in high speed rail. The know-nothing GOP have cut our investments to zero, but that’s lunacy:

Keith Bradsher via NYTimes.com

Just as building the interstate highway system a half-century ago made modern, national commerce more feasible in the United States, China’s ambitious rail rollout is helping integrate the economy of this sprawling, populous nation — though on a much faster construction timetable and at significantly higher travel speeds than anything envisioned by the Eisenhower administration.

Work crews of as many as 100,000 people per line have built about half of the 10,000-mile network in just six years, in many cases ahead of schedule — including the Beijing-to-Shanghai line that was not originally expected to open until next year. The entire system is on course to be completed by 2020.

For the United States and Europe, the implications go beyond marveling at the pace of Communist-style civil engineering. China’s manufacturing might and global export machine are likely to grow more powerful as 200-mile-an-hour trains link cities and provinces that were previously as much as 24 hours by road or rail from the entrepreneurial seacoast.

Zhen Qinan, a founder of the stock exchange in coastal Shenzhen and the recently retired chief executive of ZK Energy, a wind turbine producer in Changsha, said that high-speed trains were making it more convenient to base businesses here in Hunan Province. Populous Hunan has long provided labor to the factories of the east, but its mountains have tended to isolate it from the economic mainstream.

Mr. Zhen ticked off Hunan’s attributes: “Land is much cheaper. Electricity is cheaper. Labor is cheaper.”

Around China, real estate prices and investment have surged in the more than 200 inland cities that have already been connected by high-speed rail in the last three years. Businesses are flocking to these cities, now just a few hours by bullet train from China’s busiest and most international metropolises.

Meanwhile, a shift in passenger traffic to the new high-speed rail routes has freed up congested older rail lines for freight. That has allowed coal mines and shippers to switch to cheaper rail transport from costly trucks for heavy cargos.

Because of this shift, plus the construction of additional freight lines, the tonnage hauled by China’s rail system increased in 2010 by an amount equaling the entire freight carried last year by the combined rail systems of Britain, France, Germany and Poland, according to the World Bank.

The bullet train bonanza, and the competitive challenge it poses for the West, is only likely to increase with the opening of the 820-mile Beijing-to-Shanghai line, which will create a business corridor between China’s two most dynamic cities. The railway ministry plans 90 bullet trains a day in each direction.

The trains will barrel along at initial speeds of 190 miles per hour, with plans to accelerate to 220 miles per hour by the summer of 2012, if the first year of operation goes smoothly.

Even at the initial speeds, they will take less than five hours to cover a distance comparable to New York to Atlanta — which requires nearly 18 hours on Amtrak.

China’s huge investment in high-speed rail may be instructive to the United States, whether for proponents of federal rail investments or critics who consider bullet trains a boondoggle.

President Obama, who has proposed spending $53 billion on high-speed rail over the next six years, faced a setback in his budget deal in April with Congressional Republicans, who eliminated money for that plan this year.

Last fall, newly elected Republican governors in Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin turned down federal money their Democratic predecessors had won for new rail routes, worrying that their states could cover most of the costs for trains that would draw few riders.

We need to start building an infrastructure connecting our major cities that scales to what is needed in a post-automobile economy. Imagine a 5 hour train ride between Chicago and New York, or a 1 hour train ride between Boston and New York.

The entrenched mindset of cars and highways is an impediment to real cost savings for business and new opportunities for innovation. There is no possible way to have trucks moving goods or cars driving people at 220 miles per hour, but it is totally possible with trains.

We are also at the perfect time for this investment since the US can borrow money at 2%, which is the lowest it has ever been, and likely to be cheaper than we will see in decades. I won’t even mention the benefits of employing a few hundred thousand unemployed people building the lines and the trains.

And let’s not forget that the US has fallen behind in the maintenance of the current, now obsolete highway infrastructure to the tune of at least $1.6 trillion as of 2008, more like $2 trillion at this point. And most of that is unfunded, so the bridges, on ramps, and streets are falling apart.

Urbanized [a documentary by Gary Hustwit, of Helvetica and Objectified fame] posits that city dwellers must not only forge an innovative self-reliance, they must imagine higher forms of living. The radical fluctuations of growth and decline happening in modern cities necessitate infinite innovation. Urbanized is an extraordinarily ambitious attempt to make sense of a world flowing into cities. This visually arresting film, like Hustwit’s past work, elegantly conveys the omnipresence of design in daily life. Essential viewing.

(Source: urbanizedfilm.com)

smartercities:


Sentient CityUbiquitous Computing, Architecture, and the Future of Urban Space

via humanscalecities:

smartercities:

Sentient City
Ubiquitous Computing, Architecture, and the Future of Urban Space

via humanscalecities:

(via emergentfutures)

It’s when West switches the conversation from infrastructure to people that he brings up the work of Jane Jacobs, the urban activist and author of “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.” Jacobs was a fierce advocate for the preservation of small-scale neighborhoods, like Greenwich Village and the North End in Boston. The value of such urban areas, she said, is that they facilitate the free flow of information between city dwellers. To illustrate her point, Jacobs described her local stretch of Hudson Street in the Village. She compared the crowded sidewalk to a spontaneous “ballet,” filled with people from different walks of life. School kids on the stoops, gossiping homemakers, “business lunchers” on their way back to the office. While urban planners had long derided such neighborhoods for their inefficiencies — that’s why Robert Moses, the “master builder” of New York, wanted to build an eight-lane elevated highway through SoHo and the Village — Jacobs insisted that these casual exchanges were essential. She saw the city not as a mass of buildings but rather as a vessel of empty spaces, in which people interacted with other people. The city wasn’t a skyline — it was a dance.

If West’s basic idea was familiar, however, the evidence he provided for it was anything but. The challenge for Bettencourt and West was finding a way to quantify urban interactions. As usual, they began with reams of statistics. The first data set they analyzed was on the economic productivity of American cities, and it quickly became clear that their working hypothesis — like elephants, cities become more efficient as they get bigger — was profoundly incomplete. According to the data, whenever a city doubles in size, every measure of economic activity, from construction spending to the amount of bank deposits, increases by approximately 15 percent per capita. It doesn’t matter how big the city is; the law remains the same. “This remarkable equation is why people move to the big city,” West says. “Because you can take the same person, and if you just move them to a city that’s twice as big, then all of a sudden they’ll do 15 percent more of everything that we can measure.” While Jacobs could only speculate on the value of our urban interactions, West insists that he has found a way to “scientifically confirm” her conjectures. “One of my favorite compliments is when people come up to me and say, ‘You have done what Jane Jacobs would have done, if only she could do mathematics,’ ” West says. “What the data clearly shows, and what she was clever enough to anticipate, is that when people come together, they become much more productive.”

West illustrates the same concept by describing the Santa Fe Institute, an interdisciplinary research organization, where he and Bettencourt work. The institute itself is a sprawl of common areas, old couches and tiny offices; the coffee room is always the most crowded place. “S.F.I. is all about the chance encounters,” West says. “There are few planned meetings, just lots of unplanned conversations. It’s like a little city that way.” The previous evening, West and I ran into the novelist Cormac McCarthy at the institute, where McCarthy often works. The physicist and the novelist ended up talking about Antarctic icefish, the editing process and convergent evolution for 45 minutes.
Of course, these interpersonal collisions — the human friction of a crowded space — can also feel unpleasant. We don’t always want to talk with strangers on the subway or jostle with people on the sidewalk. West admits that all successful cities are a little uncomfortable. He describes the purpose of urban planning as finding a way to minimize our distress while maximizing our interactions. The residents of Hudson Street, after all, didn’t seem to mind mingling with one another on the sidewalk. As Jacobs pointed out, the layout of her Manhattan neighborhood — the short blocks, the mixed-use zoning, the density of brownstones — made it easier to cope with the strain of the metropolis. It’s fitting that it’s called the Village.

In recent decades, though, many of the fastest-growing cities in America, like Phoenix and Riverside, Calif., have given us a very different urban model. These places have traded away public spaces for affordable single-family homes, attracting working-class families who want their own white picket fences. West and Bettencourt point out, however, that cheap suburban comforts are associated with poor performance on a variety of urban metrics. Phoenix, for instance, has been characterized by below-average levels of income and innovation (as measured by the production of patents) for the last 40 years. “When you look at some of these fast-growing cities, they look like tumors on the landscape,” West says, with typical bombast. “They have these extreme levels of growth, but it’s not sustainable growth.” According to the physicists, the trade-off is inevitable. The same sidewalks that lead to “knowledge trading” also lead to cockroaches.

Consider the data: When Bettencourt and West analyzed the negative variables of urban life, like crime and disease, they discovered that the exact same mathematical equation applied. After a city doubles in size, it also experiences a 15 percent per capita increase in violent crimes, traffic and AIDS cases. (Of course, these trends are only true in general. Some cities can bend the equations with additional cops or strict pollution regulations.) “What this tells you is that you can’t get the economic growth without a parallel growth in the spread of things we don’t want,” Bettencourt says. “When you double the population, everything that’s related to the social network goes up by the same percentage.”

West and Bettencourt refer to this phenomenon as “superlinear scaling,” which is a fancy way of describing the increased output of people living in big cities. When a superlinear equation is graphed, it looks like the start of a roller coaster, climbing into the sky. The steep slope emerges from the positive feedback loop of urban life — a growing city makes everyone in that city more productive, which encourages more people to move to the city, and so on. According to West, these superlinear patterns demonstrate why cities are one of the single most important inventions in human history. They are the idea, he says, that enabled our economic potential and unleashed our ingenuity. “When we started living in cities, we did something that had never happened before in the history of life,” West says. “We broke away from the equations of biology, all of which are sublinear. Every other creature gets slower as it gets bigger. That’s why the elephant plods along. But in cities, the opposite happens. As cities get bigger, everything starts accelerating. There is no equivalent for this in nature. It would be like finding an elephant that’s proportionally faster than a mouse.”

Umair Haque Is Another New Spatialist

Umair Haque makes an economist’s argument about the devaluation of relationships because of social media, suggesting that what is going on, here, online is not as cool as the social media gurus would have us believe. He compares this to the real estate bubble:

Umair Haque, The Social Media Bubble

On the demand side, relationship inflation creates beauty contest effects, where, just as every judge votes for the contestant they think the others will like the best, people transmit what they think others want. On the supply side, relationship inflation creates popularity contest effects, where people (and artists) strive for immediate, visceral attention-grabs — instead of making awesome stuff.

The social isn’t about beauty contests and popularity contests. They’re a distortion, a caricature of the real thing. It’s about trust, connection, and community. That’s what there’s too little of in today’s mediascape, despite all the hoopla surrounding social tools. The promise of the Internet wasn’t merely to inflate relationships, without adding depth, resonance, and meaning. It was to fundamentally rewire people, communities, civil society, business, and the state — through thicker, stronger, more meaningful relationships. That’s where the future of media lies.

I think, first off, Umair is undervaluing the utility of weak ties, which is what the socializing online largely creates. Mark Granovetter and others have shown that it is through those that we are weakly connected to that we are most likely to get a job or meet a future mate. Likewise, they are extremely important for the transmission of ideas across different social groups.

But the central point that Umair is making is that social media — or social tools in general — are not doing a great job in certain areas:

  • Making strong ties stronger — He suggests that because we are creating and expending time on a growing number of weak ties then we are diminishing our involvement with intimates. I think this is debatable. While the time I spend writing this blog or twittering could in principle be applied to talking to loved ones directly, in reality many of my closest friends read this blog and my twitter stream to remain in contact with me, at no extra cost (here I am adopting Umair’s economics jargon). This in no way weakens my strongest ties, and certainly is the wellspring of thousands of weak ties.
  • The power laws lead to popularity contests — Umair skews the logic of the power laws that underlie influence online. Yes, it is true that a small number of social media participants have exponentially greater influence than the rest, but this does not necessarily mean that what they are talking about is unimportant. It is not just Casablanca v Farmville, as he styles it. Thinkers like Larry Lessig and David Weinberger (and Umair and me, by the way) are sharpening their axes everyday, and having an impact. It isn’t all ‘10 tips for packing’ or Farmville.
  • The social revolution is bigger than this — Maybe Umair is standing too close to the SxSW hoopla, and can’t see the changes that are going on. We are being changed, as individuals, as a society, and particularly mainstream media. But the largest impacts are still ahead of us.

I do agree with the shadow of his argument though, which is the fact that social tools don’t go far enough, and certain critical areas in social theory just haven’t percolated through at all.

I wrote several posts last year based on talks I gave on this theme: see Better Social Plumbing For The Social Web, and The New Spatialism. In the second, I advanced the idea that we need the equivalent of the new urbanism movement for social tools. Based on the (flawed) metaphor that we are creating something like a shared space online, I suggested that we need to be new spatialists. Just as the new urbanism movement rejected the massive and dehumanizing architectural approaches of the ’60s and ’70s, which led to the destruction of vibrant although noisy and messy neighborhoods, and replaced them with concentration camp-like highrise tenements and inhuman urban cores designed to streamline traffic instead of walking your dog.

Maybe that’s what Umair is hinting at: our existing social tools are making some things easy, but the hard things aren’t being done at all, or at least, not enough. Maybe he’s a new spatialist, and he wants more Kivas. Me too. But there are things like Ushahidi emerging, too.

***

Here’s a very different take on this, the talk I gave several times last year, but never wrote up. The notes accompanying each slide are included, and I have only updated them a little.


What? Yet another call to action?

I am going to intentionally push a metaphor a bit too far. However, in the past, whenever I created metaphors and overdid it, it has worked out. I suggested years ago that email would die off; there is more email than ever, but a generation has grown up that distrust it, and use it only as a last resort. I had an insight in 1999 that social tools would emerge as the dominant form of communication media, as we actively sought to shape culture, and today the most important advances in the web are deeply social.

Now, I am suggesting that what we think of as social has first of all, not gone far enough: it’s really not very social at all.

Second, I am afraid that the corporate types have moved in and commoditized the little bit of social that we got right.

And lastly, I end worrying about the governance of this social space we’ve emigrated to, on the web.

I am calling for a return to the basic principles of social tools, and a movement of web denizens — designers, developers, and the lowly, lowly users — to push hard to reclaim the web.

We may have to stop thinking about this using the mercantile model — software ‘products’ that we ‘use’. Social connection on the web is nothing like buying and ‘consuming’ kleenex or ketchup. The fact that we have repurposed the concepts of buying Excel or choosing an O/S on our computers may be leading us astray when we talk about and think about social software on the Web.


Ten years ago, when I started blogging, it wasn’t called blogging yet. I thought I was writing an ‘e-zine’ although it had all the characteristics of a blog: reverse chronological entries, categories, and so on.

We were like pioneers, fooling around out in the wilderness, cutting crude roads, building villages.

Relatively soon, however, this personal publishing by the fringe lunatics became big business and old media arrived. Now the leading ‘blogs’ are either run by old media giants, or bloggers who have become new media giants. Social media has been strip-malled. The funky soulfulness of the early days has been replaced by SEO, ad networks, and ersatz earnestness.

The reality is that so-called social media — even in its earlier, Birkenstock and granola days — wasn’t very social. We didn’t call it that until much later, anyway. We thought of it as personal publishing, and it adopted the basic dynamics of publishing. Most notably, there was a publisher or author and then there were readers. It seemed more egalitarian since anyone could be a publisher, but still there was a broadcast media dynamic despite the fact that anyone could argue or agree with someone else’s posts on their own blog. Then for a few years, we just called it blogging. Rhymes with slogging, because, in the final analysis, most people didn’t blog: too hard, too much work, not rewarding enough.

And the problem may be the publishing metaphor, itself.


But the format is perfect for publishing companies, which is why the largest ‘blogs’ now are generally corporate media machinery. And as the blogosphere has become an increasingly corporate neighborhood, people are moving out.

Sprawl = developer’s decisions in the face of a zoning system based on an earlier reaility, not taking into account the impacts dowstream, and which leads to way way suboptimal results.

Developers own the land, zoning doesn’t require sidewalks: ergo, no sidewalks.

I visted Noida, a suburb of New Delhi in India. I couldn’t understand why the streets did not meet at the same height at intersections. There was very commonly a gap, filled with sand, and the streets were of different heights. Turns out the developers of different blocks were building the streets, and there is no master plan. So there is a chaotic mess, which is sort of workable, but which is a hassle for hundreds of thousands of drivers everyday.


Using an analogy from city planning and architecture, we need a rethinking of the basics: something like the New Urbanism movement, that tried to reclaim shared urban space in a way that matches human needs, and moved away from gigantic and dehumanizing cityscapes of the mid and late twentieth century, where garbage trucks seemed more at home than a teenage girl walking a dog.

Note: this was a response to urban ‘renewal’, which led to the inhumanification of shared spaces: towering housing projects where diverse and active communities stood. And also to suburban sprawl and the rise of edge cities as many fled the ‘inner’ cities, and distanced themselves from their problems.

New urbanism is utopian because it (at is core) operates on the assumption that caring can be built into cityscapes, or dehumanizing behaviors (like ignoring the man bleeding on the sidewalk) can be avoided by getting the streets and parks right.


So, we need a New Spatialism movement, to rethink web media and reclaim the social space that is supposed to be central to so-called social media. Some web media may just remain what it is, like an industrial district at the edge of town. But at least some parts of web media should be reconceptualized, and reconstructed to get back to human scale. Just as New Urbanism is about organizing streets, sidewalks, and plazas to support the growth of social capital, New Spatialism would help us channel interactions on line to increase sociality, and thereby increase the growth of social capital.

New Spatialism is based on the idea that our primary motivations for being online are extra-market drivers: we are not online for money, principally. We have created the web to happen to ourselves: to shape a new culture and build a better, more resilient world, for ourselves.

And we need better media tools than we have at present, to make that a reality.

 

Deconstruction may be more important that new planned communities.

Now we are having an economic reset, and malls are being repurposed all over America. Many cities are being ‘rewilded’ where entire neighborhoods are being deconstructed and turned back into wilds, instead of block after block of abandoned residences.

(There’s real opportunities for urban food belts, too.)


I noticed a few years ago that comments seemed to be moving from blogs into faster paced social tools, like Facebook and then streaming apps like Twitter. (Twitter has become so popular that most of the competitors have closed shop). People are moving to where things are more social, where the author/audience divide is less sharp, and where the scale of interaction is human-sized. This is the new loft district: social networks.

Social networks are truly social, where web media isn’t, very.

Social networks are really about individuals and their personal relationships with others. So, if web media is to really become social — which it isn’t at present — we need to take what we have learned from other, more social tools, and take another run at social media.


The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common;
But lets the greater felon loose
Who steals the common from the goose.

as Twitter has become the bedrock underlying a growing and dynamic neighborhood of the web, how will it be governed?

Side story about instant messaging interoperability — which we still don’t have. A world where Jabber — an open source standard — did not make real headway against AIM (and later Yahoo and MSN). The justice department failed at the AOL / Time Warner merger to force this. And we have all been disadvantaged as a result.

From one point of view, Twitter is an application owned and operated by Ev and his colleagues, and our use of the app is controlled by the terms of the service agreement we all checked ‘OK’ to. From this point of view, they are free to do whatever they want, and we have the freedom to take a hike if we don’t like it. Or gripe, or write a petition. But otherwise we have little recourse if in fact Twitter Inc. decides to screw up replies (the #fixreplies mess has *not* been resolved yet, by the way), or makes other changes to functionality that degrades our experience.

It may seem that we have no grounds for any sort of complaint. After all, it can be argued that we aren’t paying anything, just freeloading on their largess, and they have borne all the costs.

On the other hand, their astronomical valuations — what they are using to pull in hefty amounts of paid-in capital from investors — is directly related to our participation. Without us using Twitter, by the millions, Twitter would just be a bunch of software cogs in a cardboard box. It is our animation that makes Twitter worth a billion dollars, not just the cleverness of the developers and the openess of their APIs.

To a great extent, Twitter is ours, like the air we breathe.

So, how will Twitter be governed? As a tool owned by a company that is owned by the inventors and some wealthy investors? Or as a world in which we live, and in which we have inalienable rights?

The entertainment business tried to say they owned all art, all music, all movies. We know they are artifacts produced by our culture, which we share with the artists, and the controls that the entertainment business thought they had — copyright and DRM — have failed with the digital and web revolution.


So, here we have the same revolution, come home again. Twitter’s world — its conventions, meaning and use — is our artifact: we have built it, 140 characters at a time, just as the Twitter developers have been building the platform underneath our feet. But it is our dancing that makes the house rock, not the planks and pipes. It is us that makes Twitter alive, and not the code.

***

I hope I can persuade Umair to think of this in new spatialist terms, not just looking at it through economics. It is the extra-market aspects that are the most interesting, and ‘quiet enjoyment’ of a city is not just about what it costs to live there.

If we want social tools to be more humane, to help us to be more human, we should talk about it in the broadest possible terms, and for me that’s anthropology, not economics.

Enhanced by Zemanta

New Spatialism: Reclaiming Social Space In Web Media

I am going to be leading a Social Media Masterclass at the Thinking Digital conference on Wednesday, as just one element of a two week trip in Europe. Last week I was in Hamburg for the Next09 conference, and Andreas Vascellari got a video of my presentation on the Open Enterprise 2009 study, and interviewed me, as well. This week, it’s Thinking Digital, Futuresonic, and Somesso, in Newcastle, Manchester, and London. Yikes.

But having a whirlwind tour with four very different presentations is an interesting experience, particularly since I get a chance to stare out the window and try to get down what I really believe on various topics.

For Thinking Digital I will be leading a two hour masterclass on social media. I opted to go with a ‘late night TV’ approach, where I am the host and I have various guests that join me one by one: Dan Lyons, JP Rangaswami, and Paul Smith. Each has the option to do some schtick for a few minutes — although most are opting to just sit down for an interview — and I am starting off with a monologue. I just wish we could have a band. After the first hour of the show we will switch to an interactive mode, where I will wander the floor with a mike, involving the attendees very directly in a give-and-take with my guests.

So I had a chance to think about what I wanted to say in my monologue to set the context for a masterclass in social media. Perhaps those attending want me to focus on the nuts-and-bolts of being a successful blogger or driving more revenue or branding your blog. I will make sure my guests and I touch on those topics later in the show, but I wanted to use my starting spot for a different purpose.

Looking back on ten years of blogging, I think we have arrived at a turning point, where we have to reclaim the social space in web media.


Sprawl, originally uploaded by Stowe Boyd.

Ten years ago, when I started blogging, it wasn’t called blogging yet. I thought I was writing an ‘e-zine’ although it had all the characteristics of a blog: reverse chronological entries, categories, and so on.

We were like pioneers, fooling around out in the wilderness, cutting crude roads, building villages.

Relatively soon, however, this personal publishing by the fringe lunatics became big business and old media arrived. Now the leading ‘blogs’ are either run by old media giants, or bloggers who have become new media giants. Social media has been strip-malled. The funky soulfulness of the early days has been replaced by SEO, ad networks, and ersatz earnestness.

The reality is that so-called social media — even in its earlier, Birkenstock and granola days — wasn’t very social. We didn’t call it that until much later, anyway. We thought of it as personal publishing, and it adopted the basic dynamics of publishing. Most notably, there was a publisher or author and then there were readers. It seemed more egalitarian since anyone could be a publisher, but still there was a broadcast media dynamic despite the fact that anyone could argue or agree with someone else’s posts on their own blog. Then for a few years, we just called it blogging. Rhymes with slogging, because, in the final analysis, most people didn’t blog: too hard, too much work, not rewarding enough.

But the format is perfect for publishing companies, which is why the largest ‘blogs’ now are generally corporate media machinery. And as the blogosphere has become an increasingly corporate neighborhood, people are moving out.

I noticed a few years ago that comments seemed to be moving from blogs into faster paced social tools, like Facebook and then streaming apps like Twitter. (Twitter has become so popular that most of the competitors have closed shop). People are moving to where things are more social, where the author/audience divide is less sharp, and where the scale of interaction is human-sized. This is the new loft district: social networks.

Social networks are truly social, where web media isn’t, very.

Social networks are really about individuals and their personal relationships with others. So, if web media is to really become social — which it isn’t at present — we need to take what we have learned from other, more social tools, and take another run at social media.


New Urbanism, originally uploaded by Stowe Boyd.

Using an analogy from city planning and architecture, we need a rethinking of the basics: something like the New Urbanism movement, that tried to reclaim shared urban space in a way that matches human needs, and moved away from gigantic and dehumanizing cityscapes of the mid and late twentieth century, where garbage trucks seemed more at home than a teenage girl walking a dog.

So, we need a New Spatialism movement, to rethink web media and reclaim the social space that is supposed to be central to so-called social media. Some web media may just remain what it is, like an industrial district at the edge of town. But at least some parts of web media should be reconceptualized, and reconstructed to get back to human scale. Just as New Urbanism is about organizing streets, sidewalks, and plazas to support the growth of social capital, New Spatialism would help us channel interactions on line to increase sociality, and thereby increase the growth of social capital.

New Spatialism is based on the idea that our primary motivations for being online are extra-market drivers: we are not online for money, principally. We have created the web to happen to ourselves: to shape a new culture and build a better, more resilient world. And we need better media tools than we have at present, to make that a reality.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...