CONTACTTRAFFICABOUT TOM VANDERBILTOTHER WRITING CONTACT ABOUT THE BOOK

Transmobility: The City as a Networked Resource

Photo by Stanza/Flickr

Over at Gerry Gaffney’s User Experience podcast, there’s an interesting conversation with Adam Greenfield (among other things, a user experience designer at Nokia) that takes a brief turn towards transportation:

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about something that I’ve been calling transmobility. And I go into this to some degree in the new book, “The city is here for you to use”, the notion that once you take a vehicle, or any other object, and you make of it a networked resource, it’s no longer an object anymore, it becomes something with the nature of a service, it becomes something that you can schedule, something that you can share, something that has a presence on the network and is capable of locating itself, and you can book it or swap it or any of the other operations that you can perform on a networked piece of data you can now perform on that physical vehicle.

It turns out to change the nature of urban mobility entirely, at least potentially. It opens onto something that I think of as transmobility, where again you’re really taking the network seriously, and you’re understanding what it can do to vehicular mobility. And I think a really, really crucial and important aspect of that is shared bicycle systems.

The bicycle is an incredibly supple and finely-grained way of using urban space. To be kind of wonky about it I don’t think that there is any finer tool in the psychogeographer’s toolkit than the bicycle. It allows you to traverse comparatively large stretches of ground in short order, and yet you still have something of the pedestrian’s ability to make instantaneous decisions about: I’m going to stop here, I’m going to turn down this corner. And yet as opposed to walking it lowers the opportunity cost of having made a bad decision.

So if you turn down a street and you find out that it’s really not that interesting, you really haven’t made that great [an] investment in time whereas on foot, obviously, if you make a wrong turn and you walk to the end of a block, there’s a significant investment of time involved in doing that.

The bicycle is just… It is hard for me to imagine a technology that has less downside and more upsides than the bicycle. It’s just an incredible thing, and the degree to which we could turn bicycles into network resources and ensure that everybody in the city can use them, and allow them to sort of insufflate the street network and the street grid, it’s tremendous.

So yes, absolutely one of the things Urbanscale is interested in doing is the next generation of network shared bicycle systems.

Lovely word, that: Insufflate. But I was intrigued by Greenfield’s concepts (and thought they’d be suitable for the Nimble Cities project), which, I should say, are somewhat in spirit with the “mobility internet” as envisioned by Bill Mitchell and the other authors of Reinventing the Automobile (and please turn here or here for remembrances of Mitchell, by two friends of his, and mine; I didn’t know Mitchell but had engaged with his work on various occasions).

And I wonder if there’s some useful metaphor here vis a vis cloud computing; instead of just having one’s application (e.g. music library) running native on one’s own device (limited in memory, etc.), one can gain access to a shared music library as one needs, where one needs, through the cloud, for an arguably richer experience in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

I hereby trademark the phrase: “Cloud commuting.”

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 16th, 2010 at 10:00 am and is filed under Cities, Commuting, Congestion, Cyclists, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

7 Responses to “Transmobility: The City as a Networked Resource”

  1. AG Says:

    Hey Tom -

    Glad you dug the piece! I thought you might be interested to know that I actually explored issues around transmobility at a fair degree of length here, here and here.

    Do bear in mind that I’m coming at these questions from a not-particularly-grounded place — which is to say that I’m aware that my “contribution” might be little better than noise. I do, however, think there are the nubs of some good ideas in there.

    FWIW, as well, my thoughts about Bill Mitchell can be found here.

  2. Brent Says:

    Bicycles are wonderful. But the glory of cycling is not the bicycle. The glory of cycling is the infrastructure on which the bicycle can be used.

  3. SteveL Says:

    Computing networks are very different from city streets. A key one: you can drop network packets to deal with congestion, something that isn’t legal in most of the world. You can’t pull over surplus vehicles and make them wait a bit, except on freeway on-ramps. The other difference is that real-world vehicles are sentient but non-rational entities (people) who make decisions for their own good (run lights etc) or due to mistaken beliefs (choose to drive), whereas “dumb” packets go where they are told.

    What computer networks do really well is propagate congestion (look up Border Gateway Protocol) and other routing information, so the routers make the decisions as to where packets go. The higher level of management tools tend to sample a subset of packets and use that -including their origin and destination data- to understand where things really are coming from and going to. Out there in the city, we don’t have that info.

  4. AG Says:

    You’re being a little over-literal, Steve. ; . )

  5. Peter Smith Says:

    So if you turn down a street and you find out that it’s really not that interesting, you really haven’t made that great [an] investment in time

    this is true when you are not stuck on a one-way street, or a street with a raised median.

    Zipcar founder, Robin Chase, often talks about the networking of cars and car infrastructure.

    And the Natural Capitalism folks contributed to the idea that we’ll be buying/renting services more than products in the future.

  6. Brent Says:

    Looks like you may have to do a little trademark infringement enforcement:

    http://www.ecovelo.info/2010/06/17/cloud-commuting/

  7. Jason Says:

    Steve I reckon your points are sound and illuminating…

    I’d say that surplus vehicles are pulled over and made to wait all the time. Ever been at a red light?

    And there are some macro-manipulators: London employs people to watch intersection on closed-circuit TV and manually change the lights. It can’t be long before they are replaced by something much cheaper and infintely more effective.

    And my iphone can tell me where the traffic is so I choose alternate routes.

    This information metaphor is intriguing. I’m going to go and read those links…

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