Self initiated Master thesis / design project. This project started from an interest in intuition and a love for the city of Rotterdam. Slowly, through phenomenological and critical theory literature, it drifted towards a more techno-philosophical oriented project. One centred on the Smart City.
It focusses on a tension between particular in modernism rooted values and views of the world (such as behaviourism and solutionism), which reside in the current attitude towards and implementation of the Smart City (data sourcing and implementation), and which seek a certain order and control of the lifeworld of the city, and a ‘phenomenological’ view of the world, one that emphasises human experiences, the good-life, the free and the non-abstracted.
The type of datafication generally associated with the Smart City (or data sourcing in general when it comes to the lifeworld) captures that which is easy to capture, that which can be externally sensed, quantified, or that which comes as a by product of our digital footprint. It neglects or is unable to sense the complex (human) experiences that reside somewhere at the seems of that which is (can be) measured, and favours and emphasises that which can be measured. All potentially poured into algorithms that are supposed to say something meaningful about city life. This project focussed on highlighting these tensions / discrepancies, and its underlying ideologies, and plays with concepts such as ‘technological mediation’, ‘servitude and system’, ’an objective good for all’, ‘value neutrality’, ’a perfect distribution of resources’, ‘efficiency thinking’, ‘human progress’, and that which is consider to be of ‘value’, in relation to regulating data systems, political decision making, and life within the city.
The design was given form through a book, a research report directed at the municipality of Rotterdam, a would-be software suite called PigeonPredictions, and a spatial data sourcing device called the Smart Pigeon Ring.
The research report could be read independently but was incorporated in the book and thus part of the overarching design; the book. It could be seen as the expression of me connecting the underlying theory and constructed framework to Critical Design. The PigeonPredictions software and the Smart Pigeon Ring could be seen as the materialisation of the ‘idea’ and the props supporting the critical design; the research report.
The book itself exists out of three parts. Subdivided into chapters. Every chapter starts and is summarised with a graphical depiction. The first part guides the reader through the underlying phenomenological and critical theory, gives a definition of the (Smart) City, and touches upon the ideologies embedded in datascience and city managent. All is concluded in a framework where experiential city life is plotted against the ideologies and system embedded in the current attitude of Smart City implementation. A framework to design with and for. The second part describes how to convey and design for this framework, and links it to Critical Design. The design direction is chosen and the second part is concluded with an ethnography of the city pigeon. The third part encompasses the critical design, the research report, in which I assess a city management tool called PigeonPredictions. A tool which enables more efficient city management through sourced and correlated (spatial) pigeon data.
I chose to convey the underlying ideologies and abstractions caused by datafiction and algorithmic management, in a metaphorical manner. Taking something virtually (blatantly) opposite of Smart, and free from system; the city pigeon, and datafied it. To accomplish this, pigeon behaviour, the pigeon just living its normal everyday life: eating roosting, mating etc., got quantised into bits of spatial data. Spatial data to be sourced with the Smart Pigeon Ring. Pigeon behaviour, when datafied and correlated with city processes with which the pigeon interacts, enables the making of predictions and assumptions on that what is happening in the city, and potentially make managerial decisions upon that. Correlating mating behaviour with cadastral data, for instance, to make predictions on whether a building is empty or is being squatted, or adjusting garbage collection routing realtime, based on flocking formation and pecking order data. Entirely absorbing the pigeon into the city’s underlying paradigm. One where every act, be it spontaneous, romantic, or in any other way, is abstracted and put subservient to the underlying rationale of the Smart City.