Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Cycles: Collective and Individual 1.4

Cabspotting, by The San Francisco Exploratorium and Design and Technology Studio Stamen Design, is a project in which the city of San Francisco is mapped via the trajectories of individual cabs moving through the city. These cabs are already equipped with GPS devices to orient the driver through the city but in this case they are also used to capture in real time the cycles of the city. The Cabspotting web site is a living map of the city of San Francisco which regenerates as the cab rides change, stop, pause, repeat, as passengers are dropped off, picked up and transported through the city day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. In looking at this document, in looking at the intersecting lines and markings representing cab with passenger, pause, exchange, empty cab moving and throbbing on the black screen of the website one can begin to imagine the life and activity held within, around and about the cabs of San Francisco. Like the taxi rides in director Jim Jarmush’s 1992 film Night on Earth as described by literary theorist Trui Vetters in ‘Night on Earth’: Urban Practices and the Blindness of Metatheory; these moments transmit and contain networks of relationships and each is a “paradoxically mobile point of stability”. Vetters continues, “The random encounters that take place in this confined space between places, which is usually invisible to all but its occupants, are fleeting and transitory, yet meaningful and in some cases life-changing”. (21) Is it “life-changing” like the effect that the single interaction of two ants in the colony while focused and contained is transmitted one by one to have a significant effect on the overall system? In that essay, Vetters like de Certeau and Nuti argues for a more immersed experience of place and against the all encompassing view from afar, as removed, singular and totalizing.

21 Vetters, Trui. ‘Night on Earth’: Urban Practices and the Blindness of Metatheory.

Cabspotting website


  1. This site was very interesting to me. I love the way that it reveals true "blood flow" of the city, but yet still at the individual scale of the taxi. I wish I knew more about San Francisco, because I think it would tell me even more. It would be interesting to see what these places are that have the most frequency, and what the places look like that don't. It's the blank black spaces that really already set up some predefined system of paths.

    On another note, I had to pick Dustin up at an airport over Christmas break, and I got there about an hour too early. During my time, I just sat and watched a map that the Airport had of all the current flights in the US. It was interesting to track Dustin's flight from Houston on the screen, but also all the paths of other flights around the US. Although this type of map was not done in the same way as the Cabspotting site, its interesting to compare how this case has now boundaries or I guess you could say no "blood vessels." In this case its simply connecting the dots from airport to airport. It would be interesting to track the paths and frequencies to see how much the planes deviate from a straight path.

  2. Adam, check out Flight Aware. at http://flightaware.com/

    You can link to several of their informative maps via one of my postings at A/V Mappings at http://avmapping.blogspot.com/2008/02/flight-tracking.html