urban research art, technology and urban life

POPS and Participatory Urbanism

Contemporary urban space poses new challenges and opportunities for urban life as traditional lines between public and private become increasingly entangled in both liberatory and contested ways. How these spaces are planned and occupied, who regulates the actions and events that transpire there, and what constitutes the terms by which civic participation in these processes is negotiated are critical questions for anyone interested in the city today.

To initiate its current research cycle, the Urban Research Group hosted talks and a discussion surrounding open culture and urban research by two visiting researchers. Levente Polyak, an urbanist, researcher and critic from Budapest who is currently a visiting scholar at Columbia University’s Spatial Information Design Lab, presented current work that focuses on participatory cartography and Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS) in NYC.


Levente began by introducing questions of visibility in relation to citizen control and understanding of urban space and its dynamism. Noting that cartography plays a central role in shaping how we perceive the city, he asked: how does our understanding of the city change when maps are based not on a single dataset but become crowdsourced? He went on to discuss the 1961 Zoning Resolution that paved the way for the creation of Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS) in New York such as Zuccotti Park, and the role of text (as code or regulation) in influencing the qualities of these spaces and the activities they support (or hinder).

Continuing the thread of civic participation in urban development, Bas Kalmayer spoke about parametric evolutionary urbanism and informal development models of contemporary cities in Asia.

Bas works at the Why Factory – the think tank and research-masters program at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, directed by Winy Maas of MVRDV. He presented their project Vertical Village and software they’ve developed for exploring the parametric evolution of urban settlements. As a result of demographic and economic forces, cities in Asia are undergoing rapid change. Traditional urban villages, which formed the core of these cities for centuries, are being replaced at a rapid pace by uniform tower blocks. In tracking the development of nine very distinct Asian cities, The Vertical Village provides insight into the evolution, current situation and future of these ‘vertical urban villages’.

The “Village Maker” is a software platform that enables individuals to develop a dwelling within a cubic volume populated by others. Each person can set parameters for spatial conditions such as views, sunlight, orientation, and proximity to shared resources, for example. The resultant home can then be positioned within the larger cube, with the software calculating sight lines, view cones and programmatic adjacencies in relation to  existing buildings. The resultant Vertical Village illustrates an adaptive planning process resulting in an aggregative, evolutionary development model.



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