As a follow-up to my recent thoughts here about routes to-from-within New St. station, walking to BIAD, and public art in the city, I was thinking that — what with the billions about to be spent on the city centre — it might be useful to place on the table the idea of placing wired-up ’empty niches’ at strategic walking points, and along contours of valency, for future inhabitation by as-yet-unknown useful manifestations of new locative technologies, playful city-wide games, and the hypernet-of-things. It would be a shame if we made ‘a city centre for now’, and then had to cram in these sorts of interfaces as ‘stick-on’ afterthoughts.

Be those… 3D light-sculptures that morph their shape according to the number and personality-profile of nearby location-aware phones, and are colour-shaded according to feeds from real-time noise-maps of the centre.

Or… twelve small-child -friendly/sized Joseph Cornell-esque ‘fairy doors’ around the city centre, perhaps combined with “sound pumps” that pump sound from one “fairy door” to another elsewhere, and/or pump in combined sound feeds from microphones in local aviaries and the babble of local rivers.

Or simple communicative ‘dreaming walls’ such as this one, an existing tested idea that seems far more people-friendly and non-intrusive in the daytime than the Orwellian “giant TV news screen” idea we’ve seen in the past…

… whatever they look like, they’ll all need ‘room to wiggle’, and the power cables embedded.

Maybe we’ll just end up with simplistic slap-button ‘interactive’ billboards, touchscreen map-stands, and “call this number at 50p a minute for tourist info” signage. But below are some reasonably tested notions about mapping and ways that walkers interface with location-aware city centres, which might generate some more creative ideas about how the data flows produced by location-aware mobile devices might be ‘located’ in interactive city-centre artworks and/or on pocket devices…

Urban Tapestries investigated how…

“by combining mobile and internet technologies with geographic information systems, people could ‘author’ the environment around them; a kind of Mass Observation for the 21st Century”


They’ve just released source code and documentation.

Pedestrian Yellow Sticker annotation of urban environments, leading to mobile phone info. Similar to the idea I had in June 2005



“Cabspotting traces San Francisco’s taxi cabs as they travel throughout the Bay Area. The patterns traced by each cab create a living and always-changing map of city life. This map hints at economic, social, and cultural trends that are otherwise invisible.”


Amsterdam RealTime

“Every inhabitant of Amsterdam has an invisible map of the city in his head. The way he moves about the city and the choices made in this process are determined by this mental map. Amsterdam RealTime attempts to visualize these mental maps through examining the mobile behaviour of the city’s users.”


Tactical Sound Garden

“…an open source software platform for cultivating public “sound gardens” within contemporary cities.”


Also: remember that we don’t read maps well, and many can’t even read at all.

More: Future Cities Project + Invisible Cities project + Living City + London Pedestrian Routemap + Pedestrian Emotion Mapping + emotion mapping of blogs + Mscape + Birmingham mapping party (next meet: 12th-13th April 08) + Noise maps.