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February 22, 2008, 2:40 pm
New York and the Vanguard of Digital Design
Several works in “Design and the Elastic
Mind,” an exhibition that opens at the
Museum of Modern Art on Sunday, offer
intriguing and unexpected perspectives on
New York. A team at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology has mapped the
international phone calls and Internet traffic
that connect the city with countries around
the world, showing, for example, just how
“Globe Encounters,” one of the
visualizations in New York Talk
often Queens immigrants are on the phone
Exchange shows New York’s
back home with India. A design lab at
connections to other world cities. See
full image.
Columbia University has traced the costs of
incarceration in poor minority neighborhoods,
demonstrating that taxpayers in some cases pay $1 million a year to
imprison inmates from a single Brooklyn block.
In a review published today in The Times, Nicolai Ouroussoff writes that
the exhibition “makes the case that through the mechanism of design,
scientific advances of the last decade have at least opened the way to
unexpected visual pleasures.” Several of the works are of particular interest
to people who care about the future of cities.
New York Talks With the World
Perhaps the most striking New York-themed work in the show is the New
York Talk Exchange, a visual analysis of telecommunications traffic flowing
to and from New York City. “It is like showing how the heart of New York
pulsates in real time and how it connects with the global network of cities,”
said Carlo Ratti, director of the Senseable City Laboratory and associate
professor of the practice of urban technologies at the Massachusetts
Technology of Institute.
“This can allow us in a new way to describe connections between cities at a
global level,” Mr. Ratti said in a phone interview from Zaragosa, Spain. The
project’s director, Kristian Kloeckl, said, “We are interested in visualizing
and exploring the connections that New York entertains with the rest of
the world, how they change over the course of a day, and how the city’s
neighborhoods differ from each other by maintaining special and distinct
relationships with particular cities and countries.”
The project uses data flows from AT&T that measure the volume of
Internet protocol and voice traffic flowing in and out of New York at a
given time. The data were then projected as three large visualizations that
are on view in the exhibition.
The first visualization, called “Globe Encounters,” uses three-dimensional,
A collection of
memoirs by
famous and
obscure is on
sale from the
New York-based, online
Smith magazine.
Ballot Box Tallying
Sam Roberts explores the
discrepancies and reliability
in the counting of primary
votes in some city precincts.
In one such district in
Harlem, unofficial totals
showed Clinton topping
Obama, 141 to 0.
Read the Post »
Submit Your Memoir »
Comments of the Moment
I am particularly fond of older movies
filmed in NY because they show a city
with a vibrant street life that no longer exists.”
— sandrahn
We Love This Dirty Town (on
“Pretentious, overpriced, mediocre, and now
hazardous to your health.”
— VB
Lather Up: The Hand-Wringing
Over Hand-Washing
“This city still has plenty of grit and character
and charm--you cynics are just living in the
wrong neighborhoods.”
— Mel
A Beatle's Haunt, Cafe La
Fortuna, to Close Its Doors
real-time animations to show New York’s global connections to other world
cities. The second, called “Pulse of the Planet,” shows how those
connections change over the course of the day as time zones sweep across
the planet and demonstrates that New York truly never sleeps (or stops
making phone calls), with immigrants calling their families at all hours.
The third visualization zooms into the five boroughs and explores how
global connections vary from neighborhood to neighborhood.
Reflecting the large concentration of Indian immigrants in Queens, for
example, Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India’s most populous city, is the
11th most frequent origin of calls into Queens, but only the 24th of calls
into Manhattan. Toronto, Canada’s largest city, is one of the main
destinations for calls out of Manhattan, but accounts for only 1 percent of
calls from the Bronx.
“The striking piece of evidence coming out of this project is that global talk
happens both at the top of the economy and at its lower end,” Saskia
Sassen, a Columbia University sociologist, wrote in an essay for a book
accompanying the New York Talk Exchange Project. “The vast middle
layers of our society are far less global; the middle talks mostly nationally
and locally.” Ms. Sassen wrote:
Some of the AT&T data capture with astounding clarity
particular geographies of talk. Thus on Nov. 1, 2007, Kingston
(Jamaica) accounted for about ten percent of all calls out of
Brooklyn. Together, Kingston, Santo Domingo and Haiti (no
city specified) account for 17 percent of all calls out of Brooklyn.
In the Bronx there is a symmetry between incoming and
outgoing calls. Kingston and Santo Domingo accounted for 30
percent of all calls out of the Bronx. Santo Domingo and
Santiago (the second major city in the Dominican Republic)
accounted for almost 20 percent of the calls going into the
Bronx. But there are also notable asymmetries: Toronto
accounted for almost 5 percent of AT&T calls coming into the
Bronx but only 1 percent of calls from the Bronx.
Recent Posts
February 22
The Week in Pictures for Feb. 22
Slide show: The old American Airlines
terminal at Kennedy International Airport,
living on a houseboat in the boat basin, the
city’s Off-Track Betting parlors and more
photographs from New York and the region.
Mr. Ratti said a comparison with phone data for London showed that New
York had a more global reach into Asian, South American and Middle
Eastern cities like Beijing, Bogotá and Riyadh, while London was more
connected with Europe.
February 22
Euros Not Accepted Here
Blogtalk: Stunt journalism by Radar,
estimating the cost of Council Speaker
Christine Quinn’s proposed citywide ferry
service, more on the sign-crazy superintendent
of Bay Ridge and other New York links.
“Perhaps London’s relationship to Europe is analogous to what is
conventionally believed to be New York’s relationship to the whole of the
United States,” Mr. Ratti suggested. “The ‘continent’ may be closer to
London than the British believe.”
February 22
Ask About Nature in New York
Taking questions: Leslie Day, the author of
“Field Guide to the Natural World of New
York City,” is taking questions from readers
over the next week.
February 22
Lather Up: The Hand-Wringing Over
A hepatitis A warning from the city’s Health
Department highlights the problems with
missing soap, according to the Soap and
Detergent Association, a Washington trade
February 22
M.T.A. Puts Off Weekend Subway Work
Most subways and buses will run on their
normal weekend schedules. Typically on
weekends, subway service is limited or
rerouted to accommodate track and signal
The Price of Prisons
Another work in the exhibition, “Million Dollar Blocks,” takes a stark look
at the economic costs of imprisonment in New York City. More than
60,000 people are incarcerated in New York State prisons, down from a
high of more than 70,000 in 2000. But a partnership of Columbia
University planners and two nonprofit advocacy groups, the Justice
Mapping Center and the JFA Institute, found that the overwhelming
majority of inmates from New York City come from a few neighborhoods
and even a few city blocks.
“In many places the concentration is so dense that states are spending in
“Million Dollar Blocks” See full image.
excess of a million dollars a year to incarcerate
the residents of single city blocks,” the
project’s organizers wrote when the
Architectural League of New York displayed
the project in 2006.
The Columbia designers, from the Spatial Information Design Lab at the
Monthly Archives
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university’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation,
used rarely accessible public data for 2003, by the Justice Mapping Center,
to show the flow of inmates from city neighborhoods to upstate prisons.
They also showed a single block in Brownsville, Brooklyn, superimposing
the costs of incarceration on individual apartment buildings and homes.
“In 2003, Community Districts 10 and 11 in Manhattan had around 40
percent of prison admissions in the whole of Manhattan,” said Laura
Kurgan, the director of visual studies and the director of the Spatial
Information Design Lab at the architecture school. The two community
boards represent Harlem and East Harlem, respectively.
Other cities studied for the project — New Orleans; Wichita, Kan.;
Phoenix; and New Haven — showed similar concentrations of inmate
origins. “For me, the surprise was that city after city after city in the
United States reveals the same pattern,” Ms. Kurgan said. “That’s what the
surprise was.”
The disparities in incarceration rates across neighborhoods suggest the
strong disparities in race and class with respect to criminal justice policies,
Ms. Kurgan argued. “You could say with a broad stroke that incarceration
is in response to poverty, that it’s not a response to crime,” she said. “We
have to look very closely at what has counted as a crime over the years and
how ideas about that have changed.”
Wooden Blocks and Neighborhood Diversity
To be sure, not all the works on view in “Design and the Elastic Mind” are
about the cutting edge of technology and design. There’s nothing really
digital about “Babel Blocks,” a series of wooden figures, each about 6
inches tall, designed by Constantin Boym and Laurene Leon Boym, the
principals of Boym Partners a design firm in SoHo. The first five wooden
figures in the series are named Mary, Chen, Nafisa, Jose and Moishe;
represent the cultural and religious diversity of the Lower East Side, where
all the Boyms live; and are on sale for $70 at the MoMA Design Store. Each
figure has its own MySpace page, according to the Boyms.
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4 comments so far...
1. February
4:03 pm
Another hunk o’ junk about how diverse, vibrant, and multicultural
New York is. This from a newspaper that has special sections for
everyone who is not diverse or multicultural, but is instead
extremely wealthy, politically left-wing, and lives either in “prewar” Manhattan high-rises, Scarsdale, or Greenwich. Give me a
— Posted by Carl Rabbin
2. February
4:05 pm
From the City Room
Thanks for your comment, and have a nice day. :)
— Posted by Patrick LaForge, City Room editor
3. February
4:34 pm
I was disappointed to see that the graphics weren’t very
interactive… any chance we’ll be able to actually play with the
exhibits online?
— Posted by Dana
4. February
4:49 pm
Wow, Carl (#1) is really grouchy.
I think this exhibit sounds very interesting. I hope I can make it up
to NY to see it.
Thanks for the info.
— Posted by NK
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