Updates: Fall 2017

Summer is finally subsiding, and classes are in full swing. So, here are a few updates and notes on things upcoming.

Approaching Las Vegas.

Approaching Las Vegas.

Ground-Truthing GIS in America
Much of the summer was spent either traveling or preparing to travel: on-the-ground verification of recent research and in-the-field sense-making of new visualizations of several mid-sized American cities. About half of the case study cities have been covered (and I've re-learned how to drive), with the other half scheduled for this fall. All this is generously supported by a junior faculty grant from Columbia's Provost office, for the project DISTANCED: Intersectionality and Gendered Experiences of American Urban SpaceA few new papers are in the works, and earlier this month I had the pleasure of presenting some of the methodological process to students in a talk "Critical Distance: Notes on GIS from the Ground" within the school's Lectures in Planning Series. For now, here's an intentionally vague image of what's been on my screen lately.

What's been on my screen: The aformentioned intentionally vague map of San Diego.

What's been on my screen: The aformentioned intentionally vague map of San Diego.

One of those cities was Houston, where I spent several days covering its neighborhoods and those of the surrounding suburbs, about a week before Hurricane Harvey altered the social and physical landscape. A few months of analysis and 2,500 photographs later, I'm grateful to have seen the city; and as we continue to wrestle with its effects—as well as the aftermath of Irma and Maria—I am considering what the pre-hurricane representations of the city offer us in recovery.

Density & Connectivity: Land Use in Mid-Nineteenth-Century New York at the McCagg Gallery, Barnard College. (image: Tola Oniyangi)

Density & Connectivity: Land Use in Mid-Nineteenth-Century New York at the McCagg Gallery, Barnard College. (image: Tola Oniyangi)

Urban Humanities + GIS
"Density and Connectivity: Land Use in Mid-Nineteenth-Century New York" a collection of works with Gergely Baics—four cartographic panels, each featuring several maps at different scales—was exhibited at Barnard College in February and March. The work is currently on view at the Metropolitan New York Library Council through the fall. Since then, we've also had the opportunity to speak on our ongoing collaboration, including the greater-than-the-sum-of-our-parts nature of Humanities GIS research: keynoting "Humanizing Data: Data, Humanities, and the City" at NYU in April and leading an open biohistory group seminar at the University of Copenhagen in June. 

Continuing to reap from the fertile ground of Urban History GIS (it's the gift that keeps giving), Baics and I will be presenting two papers at the Social Science History Association conference in Montreal this November. One comparatively tests some of the metrics developed for 19th-C New York during the period in Montreal; the other, coauthored with Mikkel Thelle, investigates residential mobility and (in)stability in Copenhagen at the turn of the 20th century. 

I was delighted to, once again, teach with the Center for Spatial Research at Columbia this summer. Their Mapping for the Urban Humanities faculty bootcamp in GIS in humanities research is among the highlights of my year—even beyond my taking any chance for critical GIS evangelism, I delight in meeting new colleagues as they make that all-important spatial turn.

from Introduction to GIS, Spring 2017. (Tola Oniyangi & Joan Zhang)

from Introduction to GIS, Spring 2017.
(Tola Oniyangi & Joan Zhang)


Back to School
Having finished up the first year in my new role at Columbia, the summer also afforded a chance to assess some of the teaching changes and consider my courses moving forward. Last year's GIS course, as well as my Digital Restructuring of Urban Space seminar and thesis advising, was an absolute blast. Long-awaited additions to some of the teaching archive (for example here), have finally come to pass. 

I have also returned to Rikers Island with the Rikers Education Program at Columbia's Center for Justice. The newly renamed Building Justice Studio is gearing up for the fall class, and I'm looking forward to presenting some of the work at the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning conference next month in Denver during a special session on urban planning and mass incarceration. 

Goodbye 2016; Hello 2017

Because the Internet doesn't have enough end-of-year posts, I figured I should wrap up 2016 in a tidy little updates package secured with a note on things-to-come-in-2017 ribbon bow. Here goes.

Once again, you'll find me on the third floor of Buell Hall.

Once again, you'll find me on the third floor of Buell Hall.

By far, the most substantial change and opportunity this past year was the start of a new position at Columbia's GSAPP when I joined the faculty in July as Assistant Professor in the Urban Planning Program. The fall was mostly getting settled, curriculum development for the program's Urban Analytics concentration, and beginning to scope out new research and courses. This new role, of course, comes at the end of three wonderful years with the Barnard and Columbia Colleges Architecture Department—three years for which I will always be grateful. At Barnard I learned more about teaching than I could've anticipated, while also developing research collaborations and gaining experience I'll carry into the long-term foreseeable future.

With Gergely Baics, 2016 saw a handful of new research developments and milestones for our ongoing work with historical GIS on land use patterns and urban morphology in midnineteenth-century New York. "Zoning before Zoning" was published in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers and later covered by Richard Florida in the Atlantic's CityLab. We presented new research at the Urban History Association conference, and another paper is in review. Additionally, we began a new body of HGIS work, with Mikkel Thelle at Aarhus University, on urban mobility and class in turn-of-the-century Copenhagen. Lastly (while not an update of my own), I'm very happy to celebrate and recommend Baics's new book Feeding Gotham which was released this year and named one of the years best books in history by Fortune

Beyond HGIS research, 2016 was certainly my year in Copenhagen. Cher (with C Blanchfield, G Cummings, J Kolb, and F Lofti-Jam) was selected and commissioned in January by the Oslo Architecture Triennale as a year-long intervention and investigation into the nature of the platform economy generally and home-sharing specifically. Through a research and engagement process of visits, meetings, workshops, an alpha test with focus groups, talks, and events, the "platform-as-provocation" launched in September alongside an installation at the Triennale in Norway at the National Museum of Architecture. 

This year also brought with it two expanding pedagogy opportunities—that is, two chances to consider teaching what I teach beyond my typical students. (1) With the Center for Justice, I developed and launched the Rikers Studio in Architecture and Urban Planning, a repeated four-week workshop for teenagers at Rikers Island as well as Columbia students. (2) With the Center for Spatial Research, I codeveloped and taught Mapping for the Urban Humanities, a boot camp of sorts for Columbia faculty looking to broaden their research methods and approaches with spatial technologies.

I was also privileged to speak and participate in some absolutely phenomenal discussions on a variety of topics this year. A small sampling includes talking about Datascapes and pluralistic approaches to urban mapping at the London School of Economics and the AIA Center for Architecture, about modes of spatial practice at Storefront for Art & Architecture and the Venice Biennale, about the sharing economy at the Met Breuer, about constructed social landscapes with Leslie Hewitt at the SculptureCenter, and about leadership in research and practice at the Columbia Women's Leadership Forum.

Upcoming in 2017: I've received a grant from Columbia's Provost office to begin exploratory research on GIS-based methods for describing differential experiences of space in pluralistic cities. The project DISTANCED: Intersectionality and Gendered Experiences of American Urban Space will begin this spring and continue through the year. I'll return to full-load teaching this semester with a brand new take on the planners' required Introduction to GIS (#IntroGIS) course and a revamping of my Digital Restructuring of Urban Space (#DigitalRestructuring) seminar. (Seriously, follow the hashtags on twitter this semester!) And, of course, much of what I've done this past year is groundwork laid for ongoing projects, ongoing teaching, and ongoing research.

Much more to come. Happy New Year.

follow up: In Conversation with Leslie Hewitt

Last week, I was lucky to sit down at the SculptureCenter with Leslie Hewitt for a conversation about...well, we didn't decide ahead of time what our conversation would cover.



Instead, we chose a series of images—each responding to images chosen by the other—and spoke through these of diptychs which contained their own conversation. What emerged was uncanny, thought-provoking, touching, and a great deal of fun. 

I believe the video of our conversation will be available at some near point in the future, and so I'll leave reflection on the actual content of the evening for another time. Instead—while there were many specific (and interesting in their own right) topics covered, comparisons made, and questions raised—one observation in particular keeps resonating. Leslie has noted before that generational similarities are instrumental and important in her collaborations—with Bradford Young, for example, with whom many of the works in in her show Collective Stance were created. And while the images we chose were very different (in content and in format), they spoke to (and allowed us to speak to) the same concerns, the same contexts in which we've developed our thinking, and the same collection of received ideas, received cultural memories and legacies, received understandings of representation, received structural conditions, and received experience of space(s).

post-conversation (photo: Leslie Hewitt)

post-conversation (photo: Leslie Hewitt)

I suppose this is more than a matter of age, but rather a product of age. The earlier decades of Becoming Ourselves need to focus our attention on the processes of identity-construction that distinguish us from our peers. Of course, during that time we simply aren't equipped to see how Becoming Ourselves at the same time forges similarities and generational peer-ings. This is all perhaps a long-winded way of pointing out one truly great, humbling, and fascinating part of getting just a bit older: that another community emerges—one that was created for me by chronology, one that allows me to delight in remembering that we're not so special after all, and one ties us to a world of people who see the world similarly because of the nontrivial distinction between what was given to us and what we participated in making. Specific cultural contexts and individual identity-based experiences will never cease to inform our place (perceived, imposed, or otherwise) in the world. That said, I imagine that as globalization increases and "global culture" continues to proliferate, this generational identification might only become more applicable to future generations and might become a bridge across those contexts and identities.

follow-up: The Sharing Movement at the Met Breuer

I had the distinct pleasure of discussing and debating the scope, scale, and effects of the so-called "Sharing Movement" at the Met Breuer last week, hosted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Storefront for Art & Architecture. The presenters included Daniel Davis, Jeff Maki, Anna Puigjaner, and Rafi Segal, with introduction and moderation by Eva Franch i Gilabert and Beatrice Galilee.

The lobby-simulcast: wrapping up the presentation with Cher (photo: Glen Cumming's phone)

The lobby-simulcast: wrapping up the presentation with Cher (photo: Glen Cumming's phone)

My takeaways (many not directly discussed, but inferred here from the range of topics covered) from the various presentations and follow-up Q&A included

  • the relative likelihood (based on a collection of case studies) of equitable outcomes from projects that include in situ sharing between people who know one another and those that facilitate digitally enabled sharing between strangers,
  • the still-lingering question of whether architecture has a role to play in the latter form of sharing,
  • the sustainability and scalability of sharing-based relationships when digital technologies allow them to grow beyond exchanges of time, effort, and space between neighbors to the scale of the city,
  • the economic and social implications of private-versus-public-sector regulation of transactions between "sharers," and
  • [no surprise] the implications of data analysis (machine learning and pattern recognition, in particular) on inclusion, participation, and fair representation in urban decision making.

The presentations will be cleaned up and soon published as a small book in Storefront's Manifesto series. Also, if you're around NYC next month, I would absolutely recommend heading to Storefront for Part II of the series on Tuesday, 19 July

Upcoming: The Sharing Movement at the Met Breuer

I'll be participating on Wednesday, 8 June in the first of a two-part symposium on the Sharing Movement organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Storefront for Art and Architecture. The event is part of the Met's In Our Time series and part of Storefront's Manifesto series. As such, there's sure to be much discussion of the much-to-discuss topics swirling around the developing sharing economy.

From the event's coordinators:

Manifesto Series: In Our Time – The Sharing Movement, is a two-part series presented by Storefront for Art and Architecture and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. How will today’s sharing movement affect the way we work, move, build, and produce new ideas and knowledge?
Participants will discuss this contemporary and ubiquitous movement, one that is increasingly influencing the exchange of goods, data, images, services, and spaces of residence and work. The series brings together leading practitioners and scholars embedded within the movement to explore its spatial, social, public, and private consequences, many of which are changing the future of urban life.
Events will take place on June 8th at the Met Breuer, and on July 19th at Storefront for Art and Architecture. Storefront will also publish a related book as part of its Manifesto Series that draws upon the issues presented during the event.

The plan right now (+/- 48 hours before the event) is to present some work from my recent research and thinking on the urban spatiosocial implications of digital sharing platforms as well as the current Cher project (in collaboration with Caitlin Blanchfield, Glen Cummings, Jaffer Kolb, and Farzin Lofti-Jam) for the 2016 Oslo Architecture Triennale.

upcoming: with Leslie Hewitt at the Sculpture Center

Leslie Hewitt in collaboration with Bradford Young, Untitled (Structures), 2012, installation view, Collective Stance, SculptureCenter, 2016. Photo: Kyle Knodell

Leslie Hewitt in collaboration with Bradford Young, Untitled (Structures), 2012, installation view, Collective Stance, SculptureCenter, 2016. Photo: Kyle Knodell

In/On Construction: Leslie Hewitt and Leah Meisterlin in Conversation. At the SculptureCenter in Long Island City, NYC. Wednesday, 15 June 2016 at 7PM. 

From the event description:

Artist Leslie Hewitt and urbanist Leah Meisterlin will engage in an intimate conversation on space, site, and images on the occasion of Collective Stance, Hewitt's solo exhibition at SculptureCenter. Subtly echoing a process of image construction and selection that has informed parts of Hewitt's work, Hewitt and Meisterlin will respond together to an array of images drawn from a variety of sources, including art and film history, cartographic archives, and footage from Untitled (Structures) (2012), Hewitt's collaboration with cinematographer Bradford Young (currently on view). Hewitt and Meisterlin's distinct yet parallel discussion will reflect a range of formal and methodological approaches to understanding representations of landscape and architectural or geographical space, as well as the political implications of these image-making strategies.

The event is free but space is strictly limited so please reserve your seat by clicking here.

Definitely check out Leslie's Collective Stance on view at the SculptureCenter until 1 August. 

upcoming: talking about the labor of architecture in Venice

Book Launch for The Architecture Lobby's Asymmetric Labors: The Economy of Architecture in Theory and Practice. At the Venice Biennale, New Zealand Exhibition. Friday, 27 May 2016 at 3PM. 

From the press release (Full Press Release [PDF]): 

The Architecture Lobby will debut its edited booklet, Asymmetric Labors: The Economy of Architecture in Theory and Practice at the 2016 Venice Biennale. With contributions from over fifty architectural historians, theorists, students, writers, and practitioners from across the globe, the texts provide a slice through the uneven terrain of values and unequal labor practices of historical and theoretical architectural work. The booklet is intended to spark a conversation about what the value of such labor is, both within the discipline and profession of architecture, and how it impacts and is impacted by the discursive and material production of the built environment.

Editors Aaron Cayer, Peggy Deamer, Sben Korsh, Eric Peterson, and Manuel Shvartzberg in conversation with Jessica Barter (Bureaux), Leah Meisterlin (GSAPP, Columbia University), Bill Menking (The Architect’s Newspaper), Tony van Raat (AUT, Commissioner of New Zealand Exhibition), and Peg Rawes (The Bartlett, UCL). Hosted by New Zealand Institute of Architects. 



updates: Spring 2016

As the semester draws to a close and with any changes on the horizon, the updates are numerous.

My time at Barnard deserves more attention and reflection than what can be given here, and so suffice it to say that these past three years have been enormously instrumental in my development. Alas, all good things must come to an end: at the close of this academic year, I will be saying good bye to the Barnard + Columbia Colleges Architecture Department. (News on Next Steps forthcoming).


The Cher project team completed its first research trip to Copenhagen as we develop our intervention as part of the Oslo Architecture Triennale 2016: After Belonging. Having met a number of Copenhageners—from urban planners to interaction designers, housing specialists to community advocates—we have returned to New York armed with their insights to guide us further in the design and development of the Cher app.

We'll be returning in June to host workshops and focus groups as the next step in our community-based design process. The Triennale opens in Norway in September. Follow the project with regular updates on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram


Rikers Studio
In March and April, I cotaught and completed a first-run (pilot) of the Rikers Studio in Architecture and Urban Design with Columbia's Center for Justice, as part of their ongoing Rikers Education Program. The studio brought together students from Columbia and Rikers to explore personal and collective agency in place-making, ask questions regarding both the effects of where we live and our own effects in return, and develop skills in collaboration and model-making.


Talking about Datascapes
I was delighted last month to join (and meet) an incredible group of educators and thinkers at the London School of Economics to discuss multilingualism and pluralism in cities at Reading the City 2, a follow-up event to last year's hosted by Columbia's Language Resource Center and launch of The Multilingual City: Vitality, Conflict, and Change.

I presented the work produced and questions asked in my trilogy of seminars, Datascapes and the Informal City (2013-2015) in a talk on "Alternative & Pluralistic Mappings of the City." Next month, I'll be reflecting once again on the educational and pedagogical techniques used in the three classes at Barnard's Teaching through Technology: Faculty Reflections event.


Lastly, I was recently lucky to join in on final reviews at Georgia Tech's College of Architecture, where I saw great work and exciting thinking on topics as wide-ranging as producing spaces conducive to new, collaborative modes of working; using buildings as public, didactic tools to inform on energy consumption and ecological processes; and (of course!) the future of the public library.

While there, we took an hour or so to explore John Portman's Marriott Marquis—truly one of the most unrelenting interiors one will ever see.

"Cher" Will Launch at the 2016 Oslo Architecture Triennale

Delighted to announce that Cher will launch this September at the 2016 Oslo Architecture Triennale. The project prototype—a new digital platform for the sharing of public and private objects within cities—will be developed for Copenhagen as its pilot city. The Cher team includes Caitlin BlanchfieldGlen CummingsJaffer Kolb, and Farzin Lofti-Jam


“For those who seek a couch for cuddling, for those with a homesick thirst to quench, for those who need an overhang for huddling, for those who’d like to share a bench...There’s Cher.”

Cher is a digital platform—a prototype-as-provocation, allowing visitors and users to reserve or rent objects by the minute—produced through community-driven methods of research, focused on identifying untapped opportunities and existing controversies within sharing-economy social platforms for changing urban environments.

Responding to home-sharing and short-term rental apps, Cher foregrounds their broader social and economic consequences: the marketed reinterpretation of one’s personal belongings, incrementalized subdivisions of time, and the delicate but unearned trust between strangers. Following these trends,Cher exploits their logics: a frictional platform unapologetically connecting individuals through things and the scripted language of exchange. Just as private owners advertise their objects for rent on the platform, a city’s public objects are advertised for “reservation” to others by its citizens. Weaving interior and exterior space through the isolation of objects, this platform is a mechanism to advocate for local public space, learn about a city and its constituencies, and retool interior architecture for social encounters at a humble scale.