Friday, February 6, 2009

Cycles: From Accumulation to Accuracy 1.1

Amsterdam RealTime and Cabspotting demonstrate the possibility of understanding the city from the accumulation of individual acts. Through the multiplicity of itineraries, the collective order of the city begins to emerge, a map defined not from above but from below, from the interactions of individual inhabitants of the city. Geographer and graphic designer Rebecca Ross in Perils of Precision posits the question; is such a collective map in its accumulative “fuzziness” and x-ray quality even more precise than the maps “presented behind a façade of precision and expertise”. She argues that master builder Robert Moses’s Panorama project, a detailed 3-dimensional model of New York City while being “the most detailed physical map ever made” and while attempting to be used as a “tool for the future of social planning… by being kept up-to-date over time and referred by city leaders as they thought through changes to the city’s master plan”, is not only static, inflexible, quickly irrelevant, but also inaccurate. (22)

“This paradox of representation—in which summary is valued more highly than the experience to which it refers—enables official maps to become information-spaces within which power is accumulated and maintained. Highly detailed maps are presented to culture as if they were flawless reflections of space. In fact, they are more typically accumulations of the maker’s own experience from a single point of view, subject to the limits of space and time.” Ross, Rebecca. Perils of Precision. In Else/where: Mapping New cartographies of Networks and Territories by Janet Abrams and Peter Hall, 184-199. University of Minnesota Press 2006 P. 185

Amsterdam RealTime and Cabspotting instead of becoming quickly irrelevant and of the past, regenerate and are constantly up-to-date. They present the potential of a different kind of accuracy, where the map is made accurate out of the accumulation of their users activities in the space of their city in time, they are made accurate and real out of the accumulation of the real life of the cit. Likewise, ants will adjust their behaviors based on their local ground level interaction and its repetition over time as a way of achieving accuracy. Johnson states that “because the decision-making process is spread out over thousands of individuals, the margin of error is vanishingly small… for every ant that happens to overestimate the number of foragers on duty, there is one that underestimates.” (23)

The accurateness in the “fussiness” that Ross speaks about in the Amsterdam RealTime project is what emerges out of accumulation. It is like the blurry yet definite triangle revealed by the routine of the young’s girl in Paris over a year. However in this case the “fussiness” is the collective accumulation of the numerous users of the city and not the accumulation of one single user. More importantly it is the accumulation of ground level reality and not the abstract reflection of an authoritative single mapmaker. The authoritative map in its stillness and inflexibility is stagnant and irrelevant. The authoritative map does not breathe, change or adjust. Is the authoritative map more akin to a dead body?

Ironically, Ross notes that this fussy quality is x-ray looking. (24) It is important to note that it is x-ray acting also as it reveals to us the true inner-workings of the city as a body under analysis. This interiority is visualized through the markings of activity that accumulate as GPS lines that emerge, move and flow like the life of the city and like the systems of a living body under analysis. But are they x-ray acting in that it provides us with a view inside? Are they really sectional views into the interiority of the city and are they analytical?

The Cabspotting project is experimenting with the analytical potential. The site is open for proposals and several artists have already begun analysis of the material in an attempt to understand the social, economical and cultural tendencies that are revealed by such a drawing. (25) While the studies featured on the site gives us a fore view into the possibilities, are these two projects, Amterdam RealTime and Cabspotting really looking inside?

While these two innovative projects are incredibly interesting by attaining the multiplicity of the city and of the multitude of trajectories happening daily and in being temporal and changing as the city does, these documents are still views from afar, they are planometric and flat, and from above and do not possess the picturesque “evoking of lifelike images” aspect of the city. Is it possible to return to the balance between the “intellectual and mathematical” and the “pictorial and sensual knowledge” of the early maps that Lucia Nuti describes?

GPS undoubtedly has the mathematical accuracy and as demonstrated by these two projects, GPS also has the potential of revealing a kind of sensuality of the city through the emerging temporal lines that are suggestive of body movement and activity. However the documents remain mostly abstract and distant and the balance is not yet achieved.

22 Ross, Rebecca. Perils of Precision. In Else/where: Mapping New cartographies of Networks and Territories by Janet Abrams and Peter Hall, 184-199. University of Minnesota Press 2006 p. 184
23 Johnson, Steven. Emergence, The connected lives of ants, brains, cities and software Scribner, New York 2001 p. 77
24 Ross, Rebecca. Perils of Precision. In Else/where: Mapping New cartographies of Networks and Territories by Janet Abrams and Peter Hall, 184-199. University of Minnesota Press 2006 p. 186
25 Cabspotting website

Amsterdam RealTime website
Cabspotting website

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