Archive for the 'cities' Category

my afternoon at occupy wall street

I went down to Zuccotti Park yesterday. Certainly out of a political and intellectual interest, but also because we were talking about networks, organization and then capitalism and the economy, and the protests came up in my Intro class. I don’t know if I learned enough to say something meaningful, or dramatic, or particularly enlightened. But if this is coming up in your class, maybe you’ll find what I saw slightly interesting.

map of zuccotti park

I was as interested in the people who were there, as I was about the people who were there who wanted to come down to see what was going on. There were taped off walkways, so that people–protesters and gawkers–could mill about the encampment. There was a lot of protest voyeurism. Police were polite and respectful. I saw a lot of people chatting with the cops, long-term encampers and passersby alike. There was a lot of what I expected: disaffected kids with tattoos on their faces, with homeless men mixed in; dozens and dozens of signs scrawled on pizza boxes; drum circles. Quite a few dogs which, along with the decision to put a tattoo on your face–is a marker of some sort of longer term commitment against mainstream society (I’d have to look that sort of thing up). But there was a lot that I was surprised at as well. There was a good amount of organization too.

As I walked around, I kept bumping into people with trash bags who were constantly monitoring the granite floor for debris, talking to people who were lying on the dozens of sleeping bags to see if they needed any water. There was a medical facility, whose workers had red taped crosses on their shoulders. There was an elaborate kitchen area, with volunteers furiously washing dishes in makeshift tubs with clean gloves. There was a media tent with a large TV and internet hookup. Whenever somebody wanted to talk, they had a forum to do so. Walking around the Western edge of the park, a man next to me yelled out “Mic Check!” and three people responded: “Mic Check!” He said it a second time, and ten people responded, and then he had gained the size audience he wanted, and began talking about how he wanted everyone to continue respecting the conditions of the park. I spoke with a young man who had traveled from Florida, wanting to be at the encampment to give voice to the people in his hometown.

I walked back north to an area that was called the General Assembly (I’m sure you’ve read about it in the news), and charismatic philosopher Slovoj Zizek was conducting a teach in. Because the protesters cannot use amplification system, the GA has an echoing format for discourse: The speaker will say something in short bursts, so that his/her words can be repeated out to people outside of the initial speaker’s earshot, twice. Zizek talked about capitalism, as you would expect: “They say that you are dreamers (They say that you are dreamers… They say that you are dreamers), The true dreamers are those who think (The true dreamers are those who think… The true dreamers are those who think), things can go on indefinitely the way that they are (things can go on indefinitely the way that they are)…” But he also issued a warning to the audience: “Don’t fall in love with yourselves… Carnivals come cheap.” See some of it here. There was a clear divide between the more rough-looking youth in the western part of the park who were camping out on cardboard and playing in the drum circle, and the lefty grad student crowd who had gathered to hear Zizek. I asked one kid what he thought of a world renowned philosopher coming to speak at the park, and if he was interested. He told me, he had “zero interest.” “People come, people go. Cameras come and go. I’ve never heard of him anyways.” You can perhaps notice the different crowd by my cellphone pictures…

I walked back north to an area that was called the General Assembly (I’m sure you’ve read about it in the news), and charismatic philosopher Slovoj Zizek was conducting a teach in. Because the protesters cannot use amplification system, the GA has an echoing format for discourse: The speaker will say something in short bursts, so that his/her words can be repeated out to people outside of the initial speaker’s earshot, twice. Zizek talked about capitalism, as you would expect: “They say that you are dreamers (They say that you are dreamers… They say that you are dreamers), The true dreamers are those who think (The true dreamers are those who think… The true dreamers are those who think), things can go on indefinitely the way that they are (things can go on indefinitely the way that they are)…” But he also issued a warning to the audience: “Don’t fall in love with yourselves… Carnivals come cheap.” See some of it here. There was a clear divide between the more rough-looking youth in the western part of the park who were camping out on cardboard and playing in the drum circle, and the lefty grad student crowd who had gathered to hear Zizek. I asked one kid what he thought of a world renowned philosopher coming to speak at the park, and if he was interested. He told me, he had “zero interest.” “People come, people go. Cameras come and go. I’ve never heard of him anyways.” You can perhaps notice the different crowd by my cellphone pictures…

Oh, and it’s an amazing media circus. If you look at a person with a cameraman in tow, you’ll be asked for an interview. Across the street, a couple of sociology friends and I were talking about not wanting to speak to anyone, for fear of being edited into incoherence, being balanced by the responsibility to say something positive about the protests… Linking to something in Bourdieu’s On Television, wherein the strict anti-public intellectual wrote of the mistake of believing you know something about everything yet feeling compelled to say something. During the conversation a man from the BBC approached our group and asked for an interview to compare the OWS protest and the Tea Party. Zizek talked about that connection too.

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your brain on cities

As a kind of modern update on Simmel, researchers have found that people get pretty negative side effects to living in cities. Simmel had some good news, I suppose. But scientists have found that the amygdala kinda freaks out, and increases the chances of stimulating the anxiety and danger-alertness of city dwellers. The diversity of the results, however, are perhaps the most interesting:

In an accompanying commentary in Nature, Dr Daniel Kennedy and Prof Ralph Adolphs, both at the California Institute of Technology, said that there are wide variations in a people’s preferences for, and ability to cope with, city life.

“Some thrive in New York city; others would happily swap it for a desert island. Psychologists have found that a substantial factor accounting for this variability is the perceived degree of control that people have over their daily lives. Social threat, lack of control and subordination are all likely candidates for mediating the stressful effects of city life, and probably account for much of the individual differences.”

 

biking through urban chile

mapping interactions

 

Do regional boundaries defined by governments respect the more natural ways that people interact across space? This paper proposes a novel, fine-grained approach to regional delineation, based on analyzing networks of billions of individual human transactions. Given a geographical area and some measure of the strength of links between its inhabitants, we show how to partition the area into smaller, non-overlapping regions while minimizing the disruption to each person’s links. We tested our method on the largest non-Internet human network, inferred from a large telecommunications database in Great Britain. Our partitioning algorithm yields geographically cohesive regions that correspond remarkably well with administrative regions, while unveiling unexpected spatial structures that had previously only been hypothesized in the literature. We also quantify the effects of partitioning, showing for instance that the effects of a possible secession of Wales from Great Britain would be twice as disruptive for the human network than that of Scotland.
Carlo Ratti, Stanislav Sobolevsky, Francesco Calabrese, Clio Andris, Jonathan Reades, Mauro Martino, Rob Claxton, Steven H Strogatz – PLoS ONE, 2010

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Also:

http://www.pnas.org/content/107/52/22436

We investigate the extent to which social ties between people can be inferred from co-occurrence in time and space: Given that two people have been in approximately the same geographic locale at approximately the same time, on multiple occasions, how likely are they to know each other? Furthermore, how does this likelihood depend on the spatial and temporal proximity of the co-occurrences? Such issues arise in data originating in both online and offline domains as well as settings that capture interfaces between online and offline behavior. Here we develop a framework for quantifying the answers to such questions, and we apply this framework to publicly available data from a social media site, finding that even a very small number of co-occurrences can result in a high empirical likelihood of a social tie. Our analysis uses data in which individuals engage in activities at known places and times. There are many potential sources of such data, including transaction records from cell phones, public transit systems, and credit-card providers. We use a source where analogous activities are recorded publicly and online: a large-scale dataset from the popular photo-sharing site Flickr. Most photos uploaded to Flickr include the time at which the photo was taken, as reported by a clock in the digital camera, and many photos are also geo-tagged with a latitude–longitude coordinate indicating where on Earth the photograph was taken. These geo-tags either are specified by the photographer by clicking on a map in the Flickr web site, or (increasingly) are produced by a global positioning system (GPS) receiver in the camera or cell phone. Flickr also contains a public social network, in which users specify social ties to other users.

brooklyn by cuisine

'What They Eat where,' by Very Small Array

the false dichotomy between ‘locals’ and ‘tourists’

Visitors vs. Locals

One of the themes in my research is that locals can easily be tourists, and that it’s a pervasive false dichotomy. Still, there are some interesting and evocative images that come out of this binary. The following maps use the open source map (‘OpenStreetMap‘), and use the geotagging data on Flickr uploads. Great stuff (Thanks Andy!).

Geotagged Flickr Photos of NYC

Geotagged Flickr Photos of NYC

Geotagged Flickr Photos of London

Geotagged Flickr Photos of London

the sociology of the wire

Omar, from The Wire

I’m not going to lie, I’m intensely jealous of anyone who gets to do a ‘Sociology of The Wire’ course and CMG and I have thought about co-teaching a class for years. It is a favorite amongst my colleagues, especially PI. Slate has a nice write-up about the phenomenon. There’s an on-line journal with a special issue on the show. A class at Middlebury has a blog about watching the show. When asked why he’s holding a class on the show, pairing episodes with readings from Elijah Anderson’s Code of the Street, Sandra Susan Smith’s Lone Pursuit, Bruce Western’s Punishment and Inequality in America, and Sudhir Venkatesh’s Off the Books, he told the writer: “Although The Wire is fiction, not a documentary, its depiction of [the] systemic urban inequality that constrains the lives of the urban poor is more poignant and compelling [than] that of any published study, including my own.” David Simon, the co-creator of the show, states that the value of The Wire comes from it’s ability to straddle ‘two myths’ (thanks PI):

To state our case, The Wire began as a story wedged between two American myths. The first tells us that in this country, if you are smarter than the next man, if you are shrewd or frugal or visionary, if you build a better mousetrap, if you get there first with the best idea, you will succeed beyond your wildest imaginations. And by virtue of free-market processes, it is entirely fair to say that this myth, more than ever, happens to be true. Not only is this accurate in America, but throughout the West and in many emerging nations as well. Every day, a new millionaire or three is surely christened. Or ten. Or twenty.

But a supporting myth has also presided, and it serves as ballast against the unencumbered capitalism that has emerged triumphant, asserting as it does for individual achievement to the exclusion of all societal responsibility, and declaring for the amassed fortune of the wise and fortunate among us. In America, we once liked to tell ourselves, those who are not clever or visionary, who do not build better mousetraps, have a place held for them nonetheless. The myth holds that those who are neither slick nor cunning, yet willing to get up every day and work their asses off and be citizens and come home and stay committed to their families, their communities and every other institution they are asked to serve – these people have a portion for them as well. They might not drive a Lexus, or eat out every weekend; their children might not be candidates for early admission at Harvard or Brown; and come Sunday, they might not see the game on a wide-screen. But they will have a place, and they will not be betrayed.

In Baltimore, as in so many cities, it is no longer possible to describe this as myth. It is no longer possible even to remain polite on the subject. It is, in a word, a lie.


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