June 30, 2011

links for 2011-06-30

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June 22, 2011

links for 2011-06-22

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June 21, 2011

Is "Regeneration" Always About Big?

An interesting blog post from Tim Williams discussing some of his his thoughts after reading Edward Glaeser's The Triumph of the City.

I don't like the way that it splits the "how do you solve a problem like regeneration" into two options: the build it and they will come approach that we seem to have been trying in the UK for most of my lifetime; or the help people to escape from these failed cities and towns to a shiny new life somewhere else (which in the UK means within the draw of the M25).

What annoys me about it is that those options are presented as the only choices, and that they label certain towns and cities as "failed". I don't think that's a useful endeavour, as it assumes that (a) everyone should, and will, make decisions based solely on economics; and (b) that moving most of the population into the South-East would be a desirable aim.

I'm proof that the first option isn't true, otherwise I'd still be living in Cambridge rather than having moved back to Liverpool. And choosing Cambridge again, just because I've lived there and so have an understanding of some of the issues it faces, it's already facing problems with the number of people who want to live there now, never mind trying to fit more in. It would be good for the value of my house though...

Where I do agree with Tim and Edward is in the argument that grand building projects aren't going to fix things. I think edifice error is a nice term for it:

Glaeser ‘s view that much regeneration effort has been misdirected and funding wasted can be summed up in his notion of the ‘edifice error’. This is ’the tendency to think that abundant new building leads to urban success’. By contrast, ’building is the result not the cause of success’. Thus, ‘overbuilding a declining city that already has more structures than it needs is nothing but folly’.

I suppose what confuses me is that I don't see what's gained by arguing that we need to help people flee the failed areas. Maybe it's a belief that big companies are the only way that we solve unemployment and poverty? "We have to build big fancy office blocks for our 'inward investment' strategy to work and attract big companies here" played off against "big companies don't want to open offices in poor areas, so we need to move the workforce to them".

That's where my view differs markedly. I agree that we should be investing in the people, rather than infrastructure, but we should expect and encourage them to build new companies and not be surprised if they stay where they are to do that.

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June 16, 2011

links for 2011-06-16

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June 14, 2011

links for 2011-06-14

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June 13, 2011

Four Things I'm Thinking About

Ben Hammersley is on fine form at the moment. Go read his latest blog post about society and thinking about what government should be doing. And then watch the video of his talk in Derry for the British Council:

British Council Annual Lecture 2011: The Internet of People from British Council on Vimeo.

This is all feeding into the maelstrom that is my thoughts on society and cities and the future. It's proving hard to pin down into any sort of narrative, so I figured I'd stick some of it in my blog as a work-in-progress, helping think things through sort of thing. Showing my working as it were, and hopefully at some point in the future I'll blog about it more coherently.


What should society look like? What would a good society feel like, sound like, look like, taste like? Pulling in bits of Julian Dobson's recent post about separating ourselves from poverty, and wondering how we persuade people (myself included) that it's a good thing to encounter some dodgy characters in your neighbourhood; that the alternative is creating no-go ghettoes and then having to live with policing and trying to help people escape from them.


Mostly using Liverpool as a lens through which to view and try to shape what the city should be. Lots of this from the discussions I had while walking round the Baltic Triangle, waterfront and Liverpool One with Owen Hatherley.

Whole sets of contradictions: we should encourage a more mixed occupancy of the city centre - families and old people as well as "young professionals", but the 1980s suburban housing estates of bungalows with their backs turned to the surrounding streets don't feel like the right solution; the problems with the private land and big-chain commercialism that is Liverpool One - summed up perfectly by Hatherley as "a bad idea done well", compared to the revitalisation of that part of the city and a better linkage to the Albert Dock; the need to get around the city easily contrasted with the damage done to the walkability of the city with the six lanes of traffic that cut the Pier Head and Albert Dock, and the northern docks and Everton off from the city centre...

"Smart" Cities

This is my professional interest, given that I run a company which, in part, builds some of this stuff. So thinking about what is useful, bella, life-affirming about the possibilites... from a citizen's perspective rather than that of the state or big business. None of which is to say that it can't, or shouldn't, be of value and benefit to business or the council, but that there needs to be more than just that narrow group who benefit.

And thoughts of who benefits from a city that's easier and more enjoyable to inhabit reach into thoughts about how to implement systems so that everyone benefits - not just the iPhone-wielding "city is my battlesuit" types.

Adam Greenfield is the go-to man for this sort of topic. There's very little I disagree with in his take on the issues, and I particularly agree with his opening sentences in this video about "smart cities" being an abhorrent term for the subject...

The Future of Work

So once we've worked out how society should function, what the city should look like, and what technology will be in it, we'll need to build that...

I'm (half) kidding - I don't think the big top-down vision works, it's more a case of choosing a general direction and heading off that way, correcting as we go. However, I think we need more making things and less selling services and fancy financial confections; and we need to tip the balance back towards the North some more to stop the South East from becoming a paved-over, gridlocked hell of offices.

And while we do so, we'll hopefully get beyond the tired arguments of us versus them and realise that we are the ragged trousered philanthropists, particularly with the capital required with the latest digital manufacturing possibilities.

The Sum of the Parts

This is already too long and too dis-jointed, but I'd be interested in other people's take on the subject, or further input for me to mull over. It feels like there's some sort of commonality to all of this, and it remains to be seen if I can tease it out.
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June 08, 2011

Learn How to Connect Your Arduino to the Internet

Want to get to grips with the Internet of Things? In collaboration with Madlab's excellent Omniversity I'll be running another Arduino Ethernet course on Saturday 2nd July.

There's a bit of theory first, to give you an idea of how all the things connected to the Internet talk to each other, and then the majority of the day is spent hands-on - getting temperature sensors to publish data to Pachube; controlling lights with Twitter; sending tweets from an Arduino and making a simple web server.

All the components you'll need are provided, except for an Arduino and a laptop (so the £132 price includes an Ethernet shield), along with code for all of the examples. Plus I'll be on hand to help you work through any problems.

It's a pretty packed day, and we're running it on a Saturday so that people who couldn't get time off for the last one can come along. For an attendee's perspective on what the course was like, have a read through Paul Plowman's review of the last course.

To book your place head over to the Omniversity signup page.


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June 07, 2011

Going Back to Uni...

In a couple of weeks I'll be heading back to where I did my degree, but this time just for a weekend and I'll be one of the "experts" in attendance.

After bumping into my old first-year Computer Science tutor back at Howduino NCL, we've now arranged to take Howduino to Lancaster. On the weekend of the 25th/26th June 2011 we'll be taking over part of the new LICA building and running two days of playing around with electronics, hardware and software. Both experts and newcomers are welcome, we'll have some Arduino ARDX beginners kits on hand for people who just want to see what it's all about, and space (and help brainstorming problem-solving) for people who want to work on an existing project alongside some like-minded individuals.

Tickets are free and we'll be releasing them soon. Sign up on the mailing list to be first to find out when they're available.

(Dates updated to the actual weekend, after newly appointed fellow organiser Cefn Hoile pointed out that I'd got them wrong... doh!)


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June 06, 2011

Good to See The Council Have Started to Pay Attention to Me...

Back in October last year, artistic projectionists The Macula released this video of one of their works:

The 600 Years from the macula on Vimeo.

I shared a link to the video in this tweet...

I love the projections these guys do - [link to video]  I also note that it's the centenary of the Liver Building next year...

Fast forward to now, and the details of the celebrations for the Liver Building's centenary have just been announced. The centrepiece of which is a projection from The Macula...


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June 05, 2011

links for 2011-06-05

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