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A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

Posts from the Property & Architecture Category

The link between connectivity of various sorts and social change is something that’s almost bound to interest me, given that I’ve spent over a decade of my life thinking about how the internet changes the way we communicate with each other. And so I took myself off to the RSA House in London to hear Parag Kahnna speak on the idea that connectivity is destiny – our layers of connection with one another are more important to the future than traditional political boundaries. Here’s what I took away from the talk:

Charlotte Alldritt introduces Parag Khanna at the RSA

The trigger for Parag’s talk is – perhaps inevitably – a new book. Connectography is a “new approach to cartography” – maps as art, sure, but also mapping global connectivity.

Liveblog

Maps, the world’s oldest infographics are misleading – they are political, and depict how we divide ourselves legally, not how e connect as people. We’re familiar with maps of geography, and political maps. What we don’t have is maps of functional geography.

There are, broadly, three main categories of connectivity:

  • Transport
  • Energy
  • Communications

In human body terms, these are equivalent to the:

  • Skeleton
  • Vascular system
  • Nervous system

The book is, by its nature, static, so there’s an online data set you can explore. It’s a map of how we are reshaping the world.

Our ratios of infrastructure spending to military spending is growing rapidly in infrastructure’s favour – especially in Asia. The city is our most fundamental and long-standing human unit, and then connectivity is next. Our mega-inforstructures will outlive many countries, especially in Africa and the Middle East. We know how long countries last – and railroads and other forms of connectivity often outlive them.

This means we’re moving towards a supply chain world. (more…)

Why really bad decisions get made about open plan offices

It’s because the people making the decision don’t have to use the space:

Let’s start with the fact that the folks often making the space decision are managers who already don’t spend much time at their desk because they are, by necessity, in meetings all day. They’re already in a quiet and private conference room where they can focus on the task at hand. They (we) don’t intimately understand the daily tax of constantly being interrupted because they (we) are not living it on a daily basis.

Under construction in Madrid

Sometime around a decade ago, I was starting my journey from full time journalist (features editor on Estates Gazette) to the specialist in digital media transformation and development I’ve become over the last decade.

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned over that decade it’s this:

Trust your instincts. Act on them. But test and refine them.

A decade ago, I didn’t have that confidence. I let myself get talked into doing things I knew were a mistake by more senior voices that knew less about emergent media than I did – but were “experts” (whatever that means in a constantly shifting media landscape). One major example of that has, thankfully, faded from the internet.

My big blogging failure

For a brief while in 2005, I tried to write a blog for Estates Gazette – and it was godawful. The crappy platform – Community Server, which was never good at blogging – didn’t help, but the core problem was the central idea was wrong. I was pushed into doing a newsy blog, but I wasn’t working on the news team, who were unconvinced by the whole blogging thing anyway, so were unlikely to be feeding me material.

Ironically, I’d been writing successfully about real estate here on this blog for years at this point. But that editorial definition imposed on me meant that I actually ended up producing something that, despite the name and backing of a big media brand, attracted less traffic than my personal blog. And that was one of my earliest lessons on how fragile brand value can be in the digital transition – if the digital product isn’t top notch. And believe me, it wasn’t. I was briefly the world’s worst property blogger, baffling the people who had been reading me on the topic on my own blog.

The poor EG Blog starved to death, and its digital corpse was swept away by the junking of that platform a couple of years later.

What I should have done – what all my instincts screamed at me to do – was do intelligent aggregation. Find, filter and link to the most interesting stuff out there, that would bring new information and thoughts to the industry. Rather than reporting on the property industry – after all, EG already had a whole team of people doing that – I should have been bringing the most interesting writing about property-related issues from the wider internet to the attention of the industry.

Serve your readers in a different way, rather than doing the same thing using a different technology. Core difference.

Property’s role in London’s downfall

I was reminded of this by a piece by Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing this morning, where he explains why he’s moving back to the US:

The short version is, we want to live in a city whose priorities are around making a livable place to work, raise our family, and run our respective small businesses. But London is a city whose two priorities are turning itself into a playground for the most corrupt global elites who are turning neighbourhoods into soulless collections of empty, high-rise safe-deposit boxes in the sky; and continuing to encourage the feckless, reckless criminality of the finance industry (these two facts are not unrelated).

It would have been an interesting piece to point the property industry to because, while they might not have agreed with the thesis, at least it’s something outside their regular reading for them to consider.

A decade on, that’s still what blogging does well – pushing people towards interesting writing that algorithmic sorting and friend-mediated sharing never will.

Once, long ago, when the world was dark, and I was stuck living in Lewisham, I was features editor of a magazine called Estates Gazette. We wrote about the world of commercial property, and one of the things I did was commission expert comment, including some features about property marketing and branding from one Kim Tasso.

She recently took Hazel and I to lunch (a brave thing to do with a toddler), and interviewed me in the brief gaps when my daughter was distracted by other things.

The result? Some thoughts on community development, content strategy and the commercial real estate business.

Worth a read, if you’re interested in the intersection of publishing, online community and B2B publishing amongst the professions…

Antony Slumbers:

It’s the smartphone that will determine how ‘a sense of place’ is experienced. Think about the questions above; they cover the variables that determine how successful a place is. At the human level, they are what all of us want to know. The place that helps us answer these questions will be successful. The place that informs, inspires and excites us will prosper.

Socially productive places will embrace this digital layer. And if they don’t then they will not be fit for purpose.

The consistent message of the last year seems to be that we need to spread our aspirations for the digital economy beyond apps, and into more interesting interfaces with the real world. We’re not making nearly enough use of the fact that our phones are location-aware just yet.

st-pauls-040214.jpeg

What happens if you mix the geo-data embedded in photos with some data about where our listed buildings are in London?

This:

Higher graded buildings were more likely to have photographs taken near them: 88% of Grade Is had at least one photograph falling within 25m of their centre (as defined by the coordinates given in their list description) as opposed to 76% of Grade II*s and 61% of Grade IIs).

The average number of photographs for those that had photographs within this distance was also highest for Grade Is (168 photographs on average), followed by Grade II*s (58) and Grade IIs (42).

Some interesting work from John Davies at Nesta, using the Flickr API. Just proving what’s intuiting, perhaps, but a nice illustration of how you can use a big public dataset like Flickr to test assumptions.

Lisa Gansky

Is sharing a product of the urban environment? That was the message emerging from pre-lunch session at LeWeb London today. Lisa Gansky took to the stage to argue that the city is a platform we can build upon.

75% of people will live in cities by 2050, she suggested, and that’s equivalent to the whole population of the world right now. That density of people makes sharing sexier. The result? Cities are platforms.

The Urban Platform

Like platforms, cities are open. To make the most of this, identify the excess capacity of the city around you. Things we thought were too small to be interesting are now an opportunity. 3Space in the UK opens up space that is available temporarily. It’s a charity that works with property owners to offer space to organisations working for the public good for free – but for short periods. 3Space Blackfriars is a great example, Gansky suggests. 3 months in a space here, 6 months in another property there can create things in the cracks which are valuable. 

She presented various facts to back this up – increasing numbers of people looking to use more shared services or borrowed objects suggests that disownership is becoming the new norm. And, of course, the internet is facilitating this. The mobile is a remote control for a new city when you arrive, she suggests – and also for finding shared services in the city where you dwell. 

Unused value is waste, she argued. Idle objects are a form of waste. Equally, unused capacity is a form of waste. For example: manufacturing capacity. Can that be freed up to facilitate building prototypes of new products? And there’s power in physical waste – a ton of mobile phones will yield more gold than a ton of gold ore. 

The Urban Privacy Problem

Julien breather

Julien Smith followed Gansky onto the stage to launch a product which illustrates the positive and negative aspects of urban density. One of the problems, he suggested, is that we lack private space. We’re not used to sharing. Many urban homes are tight for space. If you’re a visitor, you choices are your hotel room or a grabbed table in Starbucks. But there’s plenty of under-utilised space in a city. Could an app on your phone unlock space in the city for you?

He thinks so – and he’s launched it. It’s called Breather. And it’s funded to the tune of $1.5m.

  

When urban density, inefficient use and the internet meet, there’s an opportunity to make every more efficient – and life more pleasant. Intruiging. 

Zachary Neal

Liveblogged notes of Zachary Neal‘s talk on community integration and cohesion at the RSA.

In this talk he’s going to focus on micro networks. Are diverse communities possible? Tha answer’s grim: no. But there is a bright side…

He’s been thinking about community policy in the US; it’s fragmented and piecemeal. It’s more clearly articulated in the UK. In 2001 the Home Office came out with a report on community cohesion, which lead to the Commission on Integration & Cohesion. In 2010, the Cabinet Office made it clear it was important as part of the Big Society rubric. 

This is the right direction – but there’s a hidden problem, a policy paradox. It’s not clear how integration and cohesion interlock. Are more integrated communities more cohesive? Or are more integrated communities less cohesive?

Neighbourhoods

In segregated communities, similar people live near one another.  In integrated communities, different sorts of people are more evenly mixed through the neighbourhood. 

Social networks

In fragmented communities, people have disconnected social networks. In cohesive communities, people have dense special networks. 

Making Friends

How do people develop social networks; how do they come together?

Homophily – birds of a feather flock together. This is a nearly universal characteristic – it applies to animals, cities and protein interactions. It can be stinger or weaker. But it’s not about aversion. It’s more about opportunities to meet.

Proximity – near things are more related than far things. Works for all sorts of things, but people especially. 

They create hypothetical communities, and think about what the social networks might look like, assuming moderate homophile and proximity. Moderately segregated communities are moderately cohesive. Highly segregated communities are more cohesive. They see this time after time. And on the other end of the spectrum, highly integrated communities are much less cohesive. 

Conclusion: homophily and proximity means that making communities more integrated makes them less cohesive.

The Policy Problem

Are we stuck with this? Or can we shift to a world of integrated, cohesive communities? At any strength, homophily and proximity push against this. So, can we get rid of homophily? Can you imagine a world where you only became friends with people unlike you? Unlikely.

The other possibility is getting rid of proximity – making people more likely to become friends with people a long way away. Again, seems unlikely.

To create a integrated, cohesive world people need to avoid their neighbours, or avoid “birds of a feather”. But is that a world we want to live in? It seems to him that it’s not a world he wants to live in, or is it clear it’s even possible.

Is our policy initiative aiming for an unobtainable goal? Should we be striving for a balance instead? Could some communities benefit from more integration, some from more cohesion? 

Q&A

Zachar Neal Q&A

Is there a Goldilocks point where you have sufficient cohesion, without becoming a monoculture?

It’s hard to identify that. Maximising cohesion is not necessarily our goal. Cohesivie communities tend to be very stagnant. Ideas stay within them, they don’t innovate. More fragmented networks mean you receive lots of different information, opening the way to innovation. 

How possible is it to change the tradeoff through skilled network interventions?

The easiest work – under the name the contact hypothesis – worked poorly. The way way to break down boundaries is through friends of friends, not forcing unlike people to live next to each other. It’s difficult to create an intervention to create this friends of friends, though. We understand what’s need, but not how to do it.

Is a better understanding of social networks relevant to policy?

For centuries governments have been collecting census data and using it to set policy. The problem is that census data treats each individual separately – we need to look at how people relate to one another. That move sue beyond the simplistic individual analysis. Social networks are providing us with those tools. Pretty much everything we do is driven by the people we know. 

In the states, we see naturally occurring retirement communities. They’re not moving, just finding each other and supporting each other.

The internet and faster transport are eroding the proximity effect. Now it’s possible to carry on long-distance friendships without meeting, or to form retirement community snot based on spacial proximity. 

We’re seeing two types of relationships emerge online. There are those relationships that become offline relationships, and then we’re seeing the low level “Facebook” relationship, formed with just a click. Use of the internet to form real world relationships is one way of reversing these trends.

Who funds you?

This is unfunded work. 

Is computer analysis of networks is incredibly naive – possibly even wrong? 

This is an early version of a much larger model that will include many other characteristics. This models will never capture what’s going on in people’s heads. It’s a purely structural models – that gives us some idea of the boundaries within which policy can be set. There’s nothing random in networks – just things that are hard to predict and things are very hard to predict. 

Is the term “proximity” a problem? Facilities can bring people together, but not at the same scale you’re talking about. Is the very idea of neighbourhood a problem in this?

In this model proximity just means the things immediately around your house. Your point is that proximity can mean proximity to facilities. Public schools can allow parents to form relationship and networks around that school. Charter schools create more fragmented networks. The way we design these public facities can effect the social networks in the area. 

What about Universities? Or social media?

Universities are one of those nuclei that networks form around. But there’s still an element of homophily, around university education, around subject matter. Online social networks don’t seem to be translating into offline relationships. They could be used to reduce the effect of proximity, though, through maintaining relationships established face to face over greater distance. 

My thoughts

I really want to read his book. The model he’s presenting sounds like a good, but simplistic start on understanding the variables underlying community – that can’t quite stand up the claims being made, because there are more factors in play that the model accounts for. His approach to the effects of online networking on relationships seemed simplistic and on the borderline of wrong – but it feels like he’s doing good work challenging some of the assumptions around community policy. 

A bound volume of GRID magazineVery, very long term readers of this blog – those who have been tolerating my words for nearly a decade – might remember that I was once more print-centric than I am now. For the best part of a year in the 2003 to 2004 period, I editied a magazine called GRID. It was designed to sit at the intersection of property development, architecture and construction, and it was my pride and joy. 

It had a stunning design by Balwant Ahira:

Some pages from GRID magazineIt’s the print project that I was most proud of, which I devoted every ounce of my skill as a journalist to – and it was killed off by an incoming publisher, whose approach to profit growth involved slashing investment and costs. It was strangled before it had the chance to get going. At the time I was deeply upset, and really quite bitter. Nearly 10 years on, I see how it shaped the rest of my future. My dreams of being a print editor died with GRID, and I began to focus on my blog, blogging and the digital future. Within 18 months of the death of GRID, my transition into being a professional digital journalism expert began.

Why am I bringing this up now? Well, I finally got around to having one set of issues bound up into a beautiful hardback book at Wyvery Bindery.

Wyvern letterheadI collected it last Monday on my way to City University, and I couldn’t be more happy with it. I’m not sure how much else survives of the magazine. RBI no longer has any copies kicking around – they were all disposed of years ago. I believe some – but not all – of the content is on estatesgazette.com, but I no longer have access to the paid part to check. Apart from a box in my garage, this might be all that remains of the magazine. 

This bound volume makes it slightly more likely that the work we did makes it into the future, somehow. And it certainly gives me something to enjoy on those days when I get nostalgic for print:

A feature from GRID magazine