Good morning everyone. I’m glad to be here. My name is Elizabeth Goodman. Despite the picture, this is not a talk about bicycles. Rather, it’s about what the bicycles are resting upon. The grass.
But first, a little about me – I am a phd student at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley – that building on the left. My background is in interaction design, specifically in what’s been called “urban computing” – computing designed specifically for urban life. I investigate people’s dreams, pleasures, chores, and habits can inform the design of future products and services. I have spent the past year researching technologies of urban stewardship – how we can care better for cities. Some photos of my year are on the right. This talk is drawn from that time in urban parks and gardens, and the people who care for them.
So this talk may come as a surprise at LIFT. People don’t usually think of green space as a site for product or service design. Often, green space only shows up for technologists as a backdrop for a pretty picture – like this ad for laptops that shows a guy working in a park instead of a cubicle. Instead, I want to use this talk to do two things. First, I hope I can convince you to take green space seriously as an opportunity for design. Second, I want to share some concepts that have been helpful to me in thinking about the relationship of digital technologies to the care of urban green space.
I want to begin with a thought that may seem counter-intuitive. Green space in cities is not natural. It survives in cities because humans either make room for it, or actively cultivate it. This photo, for example, was taken in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, which is now known for its beautiful green lawns. Without decades of active investment from the city government, it would still be sand dunes – or turned into city streets.
Because green space in cities is dependent upon humans, it often is constituted through political, economic, emotional, social tensions. Public park activities, in particular, often stage issues of leisure, labor, citizenship, and inclusion. For example, this picture of young girls suggests a lot about early 20th century New York. The “public” in this photograph is not supposed to be drunk, rowdy, or rioting. The park is imagined as a place for education, where children – probably immigrant -- could be socialized into an America of maypoles, pretty dresses, and polite dancing. And so the design of technology for parks and other shared green spaces also involves the co-imagination, the co-design of their visitors. What kind of hopes and fears do you have for your neighborhood? Your city? Your region?
So urban green spaces both produce and are produced by the conditions of urban life. Their forms change, as cities change, over time. What we need them to do changes. Parks are sometimes pleasure grounds, sometimes political arenas, sometimes places to harvest food, etc. This is a picture of a new style of urban green space to do an old job. It is a planned installation in a housing development near Madrid. While waiting decades for “real trees” to grow in, architects planned gathering places for inhabitants that would serve some of the same purposes as shaded parks or plazas. The circular structure is filled with rings of plants. The plants provide shade, while the circular arrangement works like a chimney, drawing hot air up and leaving the shaded area many degrees cooler – like natural air conditioning. Solar cells on top make it energy neutral. When the trees grow in, the Air Trees will be removed. Their absence will create open areas among the new trees. I’m not recommending that everyone install something like this. What I’m suggesting is that we should see greenery as a kind of technology -- a skillful art of living, a craft of decades, and a tool to accomplish certain ends (even if in practice the designers often don’t predict how the tool is used.)
There’s a long list of benefits of urban green space – from the largest city parks to the smallest house plants and roof gardens -- which I have no time to detail here. Please read them for yourself while I talk! But I think this list helps see both why green space is important to sustaining human life in cities – and also to suggest some goals to motivates the design of services and products. We should also remember that one program can affect multiple groups and have multiple benefits. That’s the point of an ecosystem, after all. For example, work training programs might build social cohesion, but also produce healthy food for local schools. It could also add habitats for birds and butterflies. Note that none of this appears to be technological. So where are the technology design opportunities?
Glad I asked! In this section, I’ll be discussing three ways to think about designing for and with what people want from green space – moving from lesser to greater organizational complexity and scope. Each opportunity will be illustrated by working products or services. Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of time to discuss them individually. Please ask me for more information after the session if you are interested in hearing more about any of them.
One problem that has prompted some recent innovative design work is that of education. Helping people reap the personal benefits of growing things can mean helping them to do it. Many people in cities have never been taught how to care for plants, so MAINTENANCE becomes difficult. They do not know where to start, or they forget to care for their garden. Another problem is the localness of planting. A general gardening book or website might not address the unique soil and weather conditions of my region, my city, or even my hillside. The commercialization of relatively cheap, robust, soil sensors – as with Easy Bloom -- means that we can start augmenting beginner’s starting points – as with Botanicalls -- with some more expert knowledge – and then enabling accumulation online – as with the gardening community website myfolia.com ----------------------------------- 1) EasyBloom - Using a sensor to link your soil to a database of advice 2) Botanicalls senses moisture and can Twitter to let you know that your plant needs water. What is most interesting is the way in which projects like this suggest how we could start distributing the responsibility for caring for plants Not just keep the damn things alive But developing trust relationships with other people through the shared attachment to a living thing 3) Folia One of the best things that we can do is stop thinking of gardens as somehow a-technological. With the mass move to cities and suburbs, a lot of people don’t know how to garden. They learn from books. One of the ways in which we can begin to see gardening websites such as folia are as collectors of local knowledge that might otherwise be unavailable to new gardeners -- and engines of biodiversity for swapping seeds. Conclusion: We can reap the benefits from urban plant stewardship from” DIY” to “DIO”– from “do it yourself” to “do it ourselves.” www.Plantsense.com http://www.flickr.com/photos/blackbeltjones/3155923557/
But as others have said, we need to move from Do It Yourself to Do it Ourselves. Other projects rethink notions of stewardship and ownership. We tend to draw strong lines between public and private space, between what we can and cannot physically access, or can and cannot care for. In fact, unlike our current problems with intellectual property and copyright online, this is what the law was originally made to do. Deal with land. A few recent projects use the Internet to rethink who provides food to whom, and what kinds of relationships we have to property and plant cultivation. These projects broker relationships between people and places. They network the production and consumption of food – and of less tangible goods, like a guerilla gardening project (pictured in the middle) in which an ad-hoc group of gardeners self-organized to replant an abandoned roundabout center neglected by the city. Or Landshare, which allows individuals to find private land to garden on. ------------------------- 1) Fallen Fruit: Fallen Fruit: allowing the public to take fruit from privately owned trees. Very simple, non-dynamic maps online. The landowner cultivates the fruit tree and allows strangers to harvest where publicly accessible. Guerilla gardening: individuals care for abandoned publicly accessible spaces. We tend to draw strong lines between public and private space, between what we can and cannot access, or can and cannot care for. We can rethink of urban green space as a spectrum of places with varying types of ownership and management. 3) Landshare.net. Making unused land available. Creating connections between neighbors. This screenshot is pretty self-explanatory. But I think it’s amazing, in terms of doing urban food politics through the clever use of existing web technology. Notice how it deals with the issue of complexity, by enlisting many different types of people -- growers, landowners, etc.
But what about larger, longer processes and ecosystems? Collecting and visualizing information about very local events and conditions can be used to tell stories about bigger trenfs. Then, how those stories are told and distributed can help form new coalitions. Coalitions that can work towards political action and commitment. In particular, mapping and satellite imagery can help us take not just a LONG view, but the BIG view of regional interconnectedness. This is also a use of urban green space – in promoting political accountability, as with ParkScan’s citizen reporting system for park maintenance violations, which allows a non-profit to track government responsiveness to citizen complaints. In the middle are two satellite photos of Washington DC. Taken together, they document the disappearance of trees in the metropolitan area. They may look boring, but in conjunction with a newspaper photo they prompted a 50 Million Dollar commitment to reforesting DC. On the continental and global scale. This is a map of reports of the first blooms of tulips in gardens as reported by individual gardeners to the educational project Journey North, a website that maps how climate change is affecting animal migration and plant cycles. Over time, this project will contribute to a “citizen science” project - non professional volunteers tracking subtle, wide-spread, otherwise hard to monitor changes. This is local mapping scaled up to visualize changes that have more force in the aggregate. All of these projects are about urban green spaces. But they take green spaces not just as separate, distinct places but as parts of larger systems– whether the systems is a municipal government, a regional habitat, or global weather patterns. We’ve talked elsewhere at this conference about visualization, often of personal patterns. Photographs and other visualizations of these patterns are important to collective action. They become charismatic images – images that can prompt belief, and action.
So I said that green space is a technology. We’ve talked about what it might be FOR. Facilitating the cultivation of one’s own garden. Connecting individuals and groups in new relationships of property ownership, the labor of cultivation, and consumption. And then narrativizing information about green spaces to promote wider ecological monitoring and action. But what kind of a technology is it? I want to suggest that green spaces should be seen not as individual sites but as components of networks – both as node and as a link. It’s probably literally more accurate to say “ecosystem,” but I think the word “network” helps illustrate my point better. What I’ve sketched here are two different ways of seeing green space, digital technologies, and the relationships between individuals, organizations, and environmental actors. In the circle, we see how green spaces can themselves be drawn together by introducing technologies for collecting and sharing data, like Botanicalls or Myfolia. But that data is meaningless (see the right side) without some notion of how the green spaces themselves are links between different human and non-human ecological actors at a neighborhood, urban, or regional scale. What kind of meaningful networks are being created right now with green space?
This proposal by the architecture studio Front Studio imagines Philadelphia’s empty lots as a distributed food production network. Urban agriculture activists in Detroit, Chicago, and New York are using small urban farms to combat a shortage of fresh vegetables in their neighborhoods – and make a living too. Another San Francisco business, MyFarm, charges homeowners a fee to use their land for food farming. Each week, every home owner who participates gets a share of vegetables and fruit. MyFarm make a profit, but they also use urban land more efficiently.
Cities also exist by grace of their relationship to regional ecosystemic actors, such as the watershed. As we saw in the US, during Hurricane Katrina, the pathways available to a drop of water after it hits ground can be a matter of life and death. In a more everyday way, every drop of water we can filter back into the water table is a relief to a city sewer system that can be overwhelmed in a storm. Reducing the amount of ground covered by asphalt reduces the amount of water that drains into the sewage system. PlantSF is an organization that works with non-profits, individuals, and municipal government to replace concrete sidewalks with drainable green space.
Urban green space can also serve to bridge institutions. Community gardens in Seattle will often set aside plots for donation to homeless shelters, creating a virtuous cycle of production and consumption that helps to assure food security for struggling charities. Finally, I want to propose that seeing green spaces as acting to link groups of people helps us see sustainability not just as ecological systems or business success, but as the creation and maintenance of interdependencies between complex, diverse sets of urban interests– groups of people who may not have much else in common. As ways to share ever more densely inhabited spaces humanely. As ways to live well, together.
Thanks for listening.
Designing for Urban Green Space Elizabeth Goodman University of California, Berkeley School of Information
Growing expertise Personal soil sensor linked to plant knowledge database EasyBloom Soil sensor sends wireless watering reminders Botanicalls.com Community website turns seasonal, local, personal experiences into advice Myfolia.com Easybloom Botanicalls folia Photo: Matt Jones
Cultivating networks of production Mapping free fruit on private property to advertise availability Fallenfruit.org Brokering agreements online to share urban land cultivation Landshare.net Coordinating action to taking over street sights Guerillagardening.org
Fertilizing action Tracking continental climate change by volunteer “citizen scientists” JourneyNorth.org Charismatic images for changing regional planning priorities “ The 50 Million Dollar Photos” Promoting accountable urban management ParkScan.org
Framework: Networking green spaces shared garden green roof yard public park database sensing charity city regional watershed food growing Road side gardening citizen group Park lands sidewalk conversion Work training open API interface
Of distributed urban farming Farmadelphia - Front Studio