Deep city

I was fortunate enough to attend the Microsoft Research Social Computing Symposium on “The City as a Platform” in fabulous NYC last week and thought i’d share my Ignite-style talk. This event and talk was an opportunity for me to do 4 things:

– talk about something that’s related to my design interests

– break the Ignite format (as I did with Interesting)

– Reflect on the current discourse around cities (more on that below)

– see friends and meet people I’d not had the opportunity to have a proper chat with before (nod to Christian, Aaron and Adam and Jennifer )

So I had a long hard think about the theme and decided that instead of doing what a lot of internet-types are doing which is to see the city from above (maps and all) or from below (infrastructure and all) or even the surface of it (advertising and LED walls), I was going to focus on what makes my experience of cities (having lived in large ones like Amsterdam, Paris, London, Milan, Montreal) unique and enjoyable. A user’s experience. I quickly realised that most of it had _nothing_ to do with anything technology related. You might argue that by not owning an iPhone (gasp!) I’m missing out. Perhaps, but I’m happy with what I found.

Wanting to highlight these aspects of cities, I did something I hadn’t done in a while: I wrote. I used to love writing fiction in school as a girl and this was a lot of fun. So it kindof ended up as a photo montage of sorts with a piece of text, probably because I’ve been watching La Jetée.

If you manage to guess the order of all the cities pictured, comment below and you win a plate.

Airports. Everything starts with an airport when you start with a city. Bergamo, Heathrow, Gatwick Schipol, JFK, Trudeau. All the same in some ways, all offering the same entry point to a city: a view from above. Sometimes you can see it as clearly as a google map, but often its at night, and it only reveals its glowing downtown, like woven by a moth with luminescent silk.

The sounds. Police sirens, shouting in a market, ambulances, arguing, honking, pigeons, church bells, the sound of a kiss, a pair of high hells on the pavement, the muffled sound of boots through snow or leaves.

Time. The time it takes to have a shower, order coffee, take the underground, metropolitana, subway, train, bus. Waiting there, with some music in your ears perhaps to kill the time, the boredom, chop it off in 3 mn slices. The time to walk your daughter to school, check your email, see a movie, eat a meal with a friend, walk the dog in the park.

The hip place to be, the right café, the right exhibition, the right pub, apperitivo, the right time to get there, 8pm, 10pm, 1am, 3am. The way to order a cocktail, stampot, koffie verkiert, flat white, the right clothes, the right skinny jeans, the right look. Feeling hip, seeing others recognise it.

Fall in love in the subway, in a gallery, in a bar. So much lust and dreams clashing, bumping into each other. The parties, friends gossiping, people jogging at 5am, on Christmas day even, making everyone jealous, old couples ignoring each other at a restaurant.

Sitting in the same café, or maybe a different one. Eavesdropping people talking about their mother, their latest vacation, their aspirations, complaints, gossip, criticism.

Layers of sounds, stories, histories that melt, meet, separate again, never quite belonging to each other.

All the people that make up a city. If no one lived here, would it still earn that title?

Manhattan, Un Americano a Roma, Paris je t’aime, Love Actually, Gotham City, Blade Runner, you’re in a city because you want to be in love. You’re in love with it, with what it could be, with what it isn’t quite. It loves you, rejects you, elevates you, helps you, pushes you forward or away, supports you, allows you to live, to work, to survive, to thrive, to go places, to move on elsewhere, to stay there forever.

The city and its ins and outs. In it, under a roof, in a museum, a factory, an apartment building, a council estate. People stacked on top of each other, never more than 3m apart.The patina of the out, the graffiti, the architecture, the heights of it.

The city where everyone is from everywhere else. It’s constantly trying to be what those people want from a home, made up of foreign words, made up of nostalgia of where they came from and where they are now. Could be anywhere but its here, a patchwork that makes no sense, that doesn’t belong to one time, but every year and every decade is written in brick, in cement, in iron, in wires.

The view. Always the view. You own the city and it owns you. The birds constantly watching over you.

Lights, signage, flickering.I am in a city that I don’t know but recognise. Yellow, blues, greens, black, white, movement, music playing next door. Posters, ads, all telling me what I should care about right now. I glance away, ignoring the glow of information, I’m too busy crossing the street.

Walking. Sense of scale, sense of how long it takes me to get to the end of the block, the end of the line, the end of town. When does the city stop exactly? When there is less? How much less? How much more? I’m going everywhere, and nowhere. Slow things down by walking. Let the scale hit me, look up. Look at how tall it all feels.

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iotwatch

Founder of designswarm & the Good Night Lamp. Ex CEO of Tinker London.

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