Saturday, March 31, 2012

Bus Lane Barcelona

Bus Lane Barcelona - 2, originally uploaded by andynash.

Very nice job integrating bus lanes into the waterfront street in Barcelona. High quality materials and design.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Seattle Waterfront - 17
Morning view from Lowell's in Pike Place Market

I visited Seattle last week to make a presentation about public transport in Zurich, Vienna and online (at at the city of Seattle transport department and at the University of Washington.

It was great to visit Seattle, especially since the weather was clear (although cold) so I had the chance to really enjoy walking around the city, especially the Pike Place Public Market and the downtown. I stayed at the Inn at the Market, a splurge, but worth it simply because you can walk a half-block to the Public Market.

Seattle Pike Place Fish Market - 2
It wasn't a rock! It was a rock lobster at the Pike Place Fish Market

On Tuesday I made my presentation at the Seattle Planning Department (Improving public transport efficiency: Zurich, Vienna and Online), I rode the monorail and took the ferry to Bainbridge Island ... a full day.

Seattle Monorail - 13
Seattle Space Needle as seen through the Monorail roof window

Seattle Monorail
No trip to Seattle would be complete without a trip on the Seattle Monorail! It was built as part of the 1962 Seattle Worlds Fair so it's celebrating its 50th birthday. The idea was to connect downtown Seattle with the World's Fair site. The Space Needle was also built for the World's Fair.

The monorail is a short trip but lots of fun. At the end it goes through the Experience Music Project, a museum designed by architect Frank Gehry and paid for by Microsoft's Paul Allen. 

There was lots of construction going on to prepare the grounds for the upcoming 50th anniversary celebration so I walked around a bit and then headed back downtown by foot. My photos of the Seattle Monorail and Space Needle on Flickr.

Nice post on about monorails in Springfield (SImpsons), Sydney and Las Vegas from This Big City.

Seattle Ferry Boat - 18
Ferry boat docking in Seattle

Ferry to Bainbridge Island
There's always something special about riding a ferry boat. Not only do they give you great views of the city but the water and light always seems different making the trip interesting.

The Bainbridge Island ferry is easy, about 35-minutes and it leaves frequently throughout the day ($7.50). The last time we were in Seattle we got off the ferry and walked around Bainbridge Island a little bit, a very pleasant little town with lots of shops and restaurants. They have bike and hiking trails that look great. This time I just got off the ferry and then right back on for the trip back to Seattle.

Seattle Tilikum Place Cafe - 3
Tilikum Place Cafe

Tilikum Place Cafe
On my walk from the Seattle Center to downtown I passed a small restaurant called the Tilikum Place Cafe. It looked nice so I went in and asked to see the menu. Since an important goal for my trip was to eat as much fish as possible, I asked what the fish of the day was. The chef came over and explained the fish of the day, sturgeon on a bed of carrots and king mushrooms, and we talked a little about sturgeon. I thanked her and decided I should come back for dinner.

The Tilikim Place Cafe is an extremely pleasant space, it just feels like a living room. I was not totally convinced by the chef's description of the evening's fish special, but since the room felt so good, I returned. My server then explained the special Appetizer: grilled baby romaine, with feta cheese, grapes and a champagne Vinaigrette. At first it didn't appeal to me, but when she explained it again - and said it was "yummy," I thought, why not? and ordered it along with the sturgeon.

Wow, the salad was fantastic, one of the best things I have had in a long time. The ingredients just really worked, a perfect combination. I'm definitively going to try this at home. To drink I had a local pale ale. Next came the sturgeon, also, absolutely fantastic. It was served with a parsley salad - heavily seasoned with vinegar or maybe some lemon, on top. The parsley salad itself was really great. I put some aside to eat at the end of my meal - my mother always told me to eat parsley last: it eliminates bad breath ... but I also thought it would be an excellent palate cleanser (the same thing?).

Seattle Tilikum Place Cafe - 2
The sturgeon .. with parsley salad.

The sturgeon itself and its bed of carrots and king mushrooms was very tasty. Interestingly the dish seemed to generate its own broth as I ate it .. the individual components blended together to make a really yummy soup. By this point I had almost used all my (really excellent!) sourdough bread and so had to ask for more to sop-up all the broth. The buttery mushroom flavor matched perfectly with the sourdough.

I don't usually order dessert, but because the rest of the meal had been so good, I decided to go crazy and order something. They did not have the one I wanted a combination of chocolate and Meyer lemon, so I opted for a single scoop of Meyer lemon ice cream ... very very nice. Then, simply because the space was so nice, the people so friendly and the food so excellent, I asked if I could have a "half" beer to just relax into the atmosphere ... absolutely no problem.

So, in summary, one of the best restaurants I have eaten in, from fantastic food to wonderful service. It's one of those restaurants where you say, I want to go back to Seattle just to eat there. My photos of Tilikum Place Cafe on Flickr.

Seattle Pike Place Market - 15
Lowell's in Pike Place Market - neon signs.

Lowell's Restaurant

I also ate at Lowell's in the Pike Place Market. Unfortunately I arrived too late to have dinner the first night since they closed at 5 pm, but jet lag worked in my favor so I returned for breakfast at 7 am the next day. It was excellent.

House cured salmon with herbed cream cheese and a bagel, the perfect way to start the day. Oh, and did I mention the view? I had a nice window table looking over Elliott Bay. I stayed about an hour, just staring out the window watching the ferries with a view of the snow covered mountains in the background ... just incredible. It was so great that I decided to go back for my second day's breakfast too! Lots of my Seattle photos on Flickr were taken from the top floor dining room at Lowell's - including the one at the top of the page.

Back to Seattle?

I visited Seattle several times when I lived in the Bay Area, I always enjoyed it and this visit confirmed my impression that it's a really wonderful place. I hope to visit again soon. Here are my Seattle photos on Flickr.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Classic Jane Jacobs Article

Via Carlo Cattaneo Brescia Italy - 16
Via Carlo Cattaneo, Brescia Italy, from my flickr photos.

Just finished reading an article from Fortune Magazine's archives: Downtown is for People (Fortune Classic, 1958) by Jane Jacobs. It's from before she wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities. (HT: Project for Public Spaces (PPS) Placemaking News)

Downtown is for People is simply a wonderful article. It's shocking to read how clearly Jacobs describes what's good and bad about cities and planning. I was particularly impressed by the end of the article where she says citizens can and should play an active role in planning - how's that for contemporary thinking? Imagine how we could use today's information technology to help improve this process (for example, my project)?

She also describes how planners often think in terms of blocks (because it's easier) when they should be thinking about streets ... what a simple, but powerful idea for making better places. Her description of Rockefeller Center and its streets is eye-opening.

Jacobs tells her readers to walk, walk, walk ... observing the city as they go. This is how you learn what works and doesn't work in a city. It's very much the philosophy of Allan Jacobs, one of my teachers at UC Berkeley - he told us look and measure, that's the way to understanding.

I'll close by quoting the last line in the article:

Designing a dream city is easy; rebuilding a living one takes imagination.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Gunter Dueck at e-Day Austria

Professor Dr. Gunter Dueck gave a wonderful opening keynote at the Austrian Chamber of Commerce's annual e-Day event last Thursday. Dueck on Wikipedia German, his homepage also in German. Dueck worked for IBM and is the author of several books about information technology and society.

Dueck started by asking the question, what do we build first? Our house or the wall around it? It was meant to make you think, since the theme of the day was "security".

Slide 1: The sunrise of premium operating systems

Dueck talked about a whole series of premium operating systems that are allowing us to forget the mechanics of generation one OS (mac, pc, etc.). They include: facebook, automobile control systems, applications of all kinds, medical apps ... in short the things we are using the internet to do today.

He told many funny stories, as he said later, because it helps us deal with the speed of change. This reminded me of one of my favorite lectures at PICNIC2011 by Ben Hammersley on how we need to warn our friends about the speed of technology change, in short if you can dream it, it will be here in the next 5-10 years.

For cars, the car itself is becoming less important, more important is the operating system. Soon we will be asking sales people: "Can I drive this car with my iPad?"

In medicine many problems, diabetes for example, can be better treated via computer than with a doctor via the normal process: travel to doctor's office, wait, blood test by doctor, discuss, send test out for analysis, get analysis, discuss analysis with doctor .... a long and winding process. A simple blood test machine at home attached to an internet database could give you more personalized information in seconds. Doctors are really needed for special cases, not routine care.

Slide 2: Internet makes everything a commodity

Continuing on the theme, Dueck had a list of professions and asked us to think of how the internet could revolutionize each of them.

  • Who needs publishers when you can self publish an e-book?
  • Who needs professors when you have the Khan Academy and elite universities broadcasting lectures from their best professors (not only do you get great lectures, but you can re-wind when you miss something)?

Buying on-line: applications that let your customers compare prices means you need to offer something more or match the lower prices.

St Giulia Museo della Citta Brescia Italy - 40
No Driverless Cars Allowed!

Driverless cars: the only thing a car cannot do now is determine where you want to go (you need to tell it). When this is accepted there will be no need for us to own a car: our needs can be served by a fleet of automated taxis. This will have huge impacts on the automobile industry since we would only need about 10% of the cars we have today ... which may be one reason automated cars don't exist yet: industry won't let it happen. Consider how much better this could make the world.

Political parties are creatures of the previous age: in Europe Social Democrats (industrial workers) and Christian Democrats (farmers) ... similarly in the US, but these were formed when these groups made up large shares of the population. How many farmers are there today? How many industrial workers? How many will there be in 10-years?

Are today's political parties still relevant? (Note the Pirate Party success in Berlin.)

Slide 3: Khan Academy

Only the best can be teachers.

By the way, if you can't find the answer on google, do you really think your teacher will know it?

Slide 4: The 2nd revolution in the 3rd business sector: industrialization (I probably got this slide title wrong ... )

Everything that can be done automatically will be done automatically.

Today when you go to have your car repaired what do they do? Plug it into a computer, the computer tells them what's wrong, they replace the part. What skills are needed for this? How much would you pay for it? Master mechanics, like doctors, will only be needed for the most difficult cases.

The trend towards a small number of elite jobs for highly skilled workers and low paying rather menial jobs will continue. ... and this will affect ALL professions.

(Aside: Richard Florida believes that service workers could help build a middle class, but Dueck did not mention that.)

Slide 5: Who will care for our aging society?

It's too late for us to have enough children. We'll need to be as efficient as possible ... the internet will help.

Slide 6: Geoffrey Moore: Crossing the chasm

Moore's theory is that there is a chasm between early adaptors of technology and the next stage ... crossing the chasm is very difficult.

Dueck described the four types of people:

  • Early adopters (10%), smart phones are cool, I'm getting one.
  • Pragmatic adopters (40%), do I really need a smart phone?
  • Conservative adopters (40%), I'll get a smart phone when I have to.
  • Skeptics (10%), I'm going to start a ballot initiative against smart phones.

Dueck cautioned that things will never really be safe (a theme well covered by Bruce Schneider) and that this should not prevent us from trying new things. (Also remember that 2-3% of everything in stores is stolen!)

Given the fear of change, often the hysterical side wins.

Podium Discussion

Dueck participated in the podiums discussion, two points:

  • Social media - it's not so important to him that a company has a lot of facebook fans, but rather that the website provides the information he needs ... don't put I have xxxx facebook fans and that makes me great, but rather the information customers need: opening time, information on the strike at Frankfurt airport ....
  • Infrastructure - the biggest problem for information technology is physical infrastructure (e.g. glass fiber, etc.). It takes too long to get these physical systems in place because no one can make a decision. Neal Peirce from talks about the possibilities for cities that invest in digital infrastructure in a recent column on Kansas City.

Finally, Dueck pointed out several times that just because he was saying these things were happening, he was not necessarily in favour of them ... he was just reporting what we are doing.


An aside: I completely agree with Dueck's view of social networking, it's not an end in itself. In other words it's not important how many fans you have, it's what your fans do for you. That's part of the idea behind my  project. It's a game/social network designed to increase public participation in transport planning. The prototype is on line and now we're searching for a launch partner. Development was partly funded by ZIT: The City of Vienna's Technology Agency.

Finally, this post is from my notes, sorry for any mistakes, add corrections in the comments. Here's a link to Dueck's slides (mostly in German): Dueck E-Day 2012 Keynote Speech

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Brescia Italy

Brescia Italy Piazza del Loggia - 8
Piazza del Loggia Brescia, from Palazzo Loggia 
I recently visited Brescia Italy on a business trip. I had some extra time since I travelled by night train and so took the opportunity to explore the city. Brescia is a relatively small city in the northern part of Italy about an hour from Milan on the main railway route between Milan and Venice.

I stayed in the Hotel Vittoria, a classic hotel in the center of Brescia. It was my favorite type of hotel: old but very clean and well maintained. The breakfast was excellent with great coffee and a German style buffet (with Italian foods!).

St Giulia Museo della Citta Brescia Italy - 16
Fresco in Santa Maria in Solario Chapel, Santa Giulia Museum Brescia

I decided to visit the Santa Giulia museum (home page in Italian only, odd for a tourist destination, but all the information in the museum is provided in English and Italian). This museum is built on the site of a former abby that was founded in the 700s. Brescia was an important Roman town and getting to the museum you pass the old forum and ruins of the Forum Temple and Roman theater. The Santa Giulia museum covers the city's history from pre-historic times until the present. The city brought items found throughout the city to the museum for viewing.

The museum is quite cool because it uses the old abby buildings to show the history. You walk through several eras of history in the different chapels that are on the site. Artwork from the appropriate age is displayed in the chapels and connecting structures. In between you can look out on the classic abby courtyard. The museum has some real treasures including a precious stone embedded cross (Cross of Desiderius, late 8th Century) and unbelievable medieval frescoes in the Santa Maria in Solario chapel.

St Giulia Museo della Citta Brescia Italy - 28
Roman mosaic floor featuring Dionysus and panther, Santa Giulia Museum Brescia

Then, because the abby was built over part of the old Roman city they have a large indoor space where you an look down on several remarkably well preserved Roman houses. The frescos and mosaic floors are incredible to see. I took lots of photos, the better ones are on my Flickr photos of Santa Giulia Museum. There are also lots of examples of everyday objects from the Roman era. The transport planner in me liked the milestone markers and the sections of Roman roadways that they left intact for us to see.

I would highly recommend the museum for those interested in seeing Roman city planning history and medieval art, two things I really enjoy. My photos of the Santa Giulia Museum Brescia on flickr.

Via Carlo Cattaneo Brescia Italy - 01
Torre D'ercole, Via Carlo Cattaneo, Brescia
After several hours in the museum I went walking through the city and found myself on Via Carlo Cattaneo. One of the buildings struck me and when I read the historic plaque I learned that it was the Torre D'ercole, one of those tower structures that noble families used to build during the late middle ages as a fortress in the city. At a certain point whoever was ruler of the city required all these towers to be cut-off at a certain level to reduce the power of these other families. But the lower part of the structure still shows the tower architecture. (Also interesting, like many buildings in Brescia it was built partly out of stone from older Roman buildings, they recycled the building materials.)

Via Carlo Cattaneo Brescia Italy - 15
Outside alcove table, Torre D'ercole
In the ground floor of this old tower is a charming cafe serving simple food and great drinks. Like most all Italian cafes they offer free snacks during happy hour. They have great beer including Belgo from Belgium and I even saw a bottle of Sierra Nevada (one of my favorite US beers) on a shelf. I visited twice, the first time I had a Campari soda (very Italian of me) and the second time a very tasty draft Brat beer. They have a few tables in a little square across the street, and even have an ingenious solution for smokers, a little table and chairs placed in an alcove in the street with windows into the cafe (see photo). They had music the second night I visited, this is the kind of cafe everyone needs nearby!

Via Carlo Cattaneo Brescia Italy - 11
Tape measure display at architect's office, Via Carlo Cattaneo, Brescia
There were several very interesting shops nearby. A wonderful design and antiques store across the street, a "hat laboratory" a little way down the street, a wonderful pasta store, a garage with a marble floor, an architectural office with a neat tape measure art piece in the window. A really fun street with lots of creative people around. See all my photos of Via Carlo Cattaneo on flickr.

There are also lots of interesting buildings in the historic center including the Loggia (my photos of the Loggia on flickr), the official city hall, which was designed by several famous architects including Pladdio, and the Cathederal. Also lots of nice squares, many of which have been turned into pedestrian areas.
Brescia is part of the EU funded CIVITAS project and they are doing lots of interesting work on sustainable transport. Brescia has a very nice bicycle rental system, good public transport (they are building a tram line through the center of the city, partly underground) and a unified smart card for public transport, car sharing and bicycle rental. Very impressive for a relatively small city (about 250,000 in the city and a million in the region). All my photos of Brescia on flickr.

In summary, Brescia is a nice city to visit, especially so because it's off the main tourist path.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Stadt der Zukunft - City of the Future: Vienna

Wiener Linien Tram 49 Scenes  - Oct08 - 4
I attended a fascinating lecture and roundtable Wednesday night called Stadt der Zukunft (city of the future) organized by the city of Vienna and Erste Bank. The evening focused on urban mobility. The keynote speaker was Professor Andreas Knie from Berlin. His lecture was followed by four presentations from businesses working in the field of urban mobility, then a roundtable discussion with Knie, Vice Mayor Renate Brauner, Vice Mayor Maria Vassilakou, and Emeritus Professor Hermann Knoflacher from the TU Vienna.

Urban Mobility in the 21st Century

Professor Andreas Knie is co-managing director of INNOZ, Berlin, Innovationszentrum für Mobilität und gesellschaftlichen Wandel, (English: Centre for Innovation in Mobility and 

Societal Change) and a professor at two universities in Berlin. His lecture was titled: "Networked Mobility in Cities" slides from the lecture (German).

Knie's main focus was the need for integrating all forms of transport into easy to use networks. This means, for example, a single smart card that can be used for public transport, city bike rental, car sharing, buying things in stores, etc. Knie reviewed some of the more famous examples (Hong Kong Octopus, London Oyster, Netherlands travel card, etc.), as well as some German experiments (Berlin Mobility Card).

One of the main reasons for developing these integrated cards is to create a networked transport system that can provide a similar degree of "automobility" as automobiles provide today. It's clear that we will be using automobiles totally differently in 25-years (or sooner!). There is simply no way that the auto will be able to provide transport in rapidly growing cities (congestion). It will be necessary to use the right mode of transport for each trip, without necessarily owning the vehicle.

We are seeing the beginnings of this revolution now, and it's no secret that automobile companies see the writing on the wall, that's why companies like Daimler are sponsoring car sharing companies like Car-to-go.

So, we need to focus on developing these integrated smart card (or maybe mobile phone) systems. But, this will take time since people's transportation habits are quite ingrained (we like our routines). For example, the Berlin Mobility Card was a truly exceptional offer (full use of the city-region public transport system, free use of rental bikes, 50 Euro credit for car sharing, all for the price of 78 Euros per month, and despite a large marketing effort, they had about 135 people sign-up (of course it was only for a 3-month trial, but still ...). So change is hard.

MOMA NY - Talk to me - Sept 2011 - 6

Introducing smart cards for public transport systems only has also been hard. Early systems were introduced probably two decades ago, but they are only now becoming popular in the USA. I saw a great presentation by Renee Matthews at the US TRB Meeting this year on the introduction of smart cards at the Tri-Rail in Florida (South Florida Smart Card). She gave lost of practical information in her presentation. As an aside, I've always thought it was sad that ski areas in Austria have better 'fare collection' systems and more information on their customers than most public transport agencies.

This leads to another of Knie's points, the private sector is much better organized to introduce these improvements than public agencies. And, as evidenced by, e.g. Car-to-Go, they are doing so. His point, to me, was not that public transport needs to be privatized, but rather that public agencies need to become more entrepreneurial.

Electric Cars

Knie talked a lot about the future for electric cars. He pointed out that they were expensive to buy and operate, and furthermore they would remain expensive. Electricity will not be free and developing renewable energy sources will be a big challenge. But, these conditions mean that electric cars are ideal for using in shared systems (e.g. Paris car sharing).

Electric cars could also be used as batteries to store electricity generated using renewable sources, since these sources are dependent on wind, sun, etc. and not always available. I'd heard this argument before, but Knie's version made more sense, since he linked it to the communal idea: thinking about the cars and electric grid as a shared system, not as individually owned vehicles.

The most interesting aspect of Knie's analysis of electric cars was the idea that using shared electric cars would start to bring about a change in the 'transport-space' concept we carry around in our heads. In other words, because these electric cars will be more expensive to operate and will have limited range, we will shift from a mindset that accepts long travel distances as a tradeoff for less expensive housing (in distant suburbs), to a mindset that looks for proximity and short trips. And, naturally, short trips are ideal for more environmentally friendly modes like walking, biking and public transport.

Projections are that cities will grow significantly in the coming decades, it will clearly be impossible for everyone to have a car and live in the suburbs, so this change in mindset will be very important for future prosperity.

Vienna Austria Wahringerstrasse u6 -02

Where will sustainable transport systems be developed?

A particularly interesting point for me as an American was Knie's discussion of where these new sustainable transport systems will be developed.

Knie pointed out that the ongoing "renaissance of European cities" (for example in the sustainable transport sector), seems to be impossible in the United States because the society is politically not willing to invest in infrastructure. Many US cities seem almost to be imploding, especially when long-term maintenance of physical infrastructure is considered.

In contrast, Europe still has a tradition of building large infrastructure projects in cities. This will be helpful to the economy as it's a great opportunity for cities to become leaders in new sustainable transport technology. Cities that invest in new infrastructure and ideas will be able to sell these technologies elsewhere.

(Interesting article on Re-imagining American infrastructure on Politico via Planetizen.) 

Rote Bar Jetz Geöffnet - Vienna Volkstheater

Best Practice Examples

Following Knie's keynote lecture, four Vienna-based best practice examples were described (links to presentations, in German):

  • IBM: Smart Mobility - two examples from IBM's Smarter Cities program: Singapore's fare collection card (important not only for simplifying fare collection, but also gives planners a very important set of data for improving service) and Carbo-Traf (EU research project) designed to reduce emissions by predicting congestion and informing drivers in time to make changes in travel patterns.
  • Siemens - Described a new zero-emissions bus they have developed and are testing in Vienna.
  • KTM Bikes - Austrian bicycle manufacturer has seen huge increase in demand for electric bikes, described the design for a new electro bike that can be used for shopping (can carry 150 kg, "That's seven and a half cases of beer." ... and it looks pretty cool too).
  • Vienna Stadtwerk - This is the city of Vienna's holding company for the WienerLinien (public transport agency), power company and other services provided in the city of Vienna. Ilse Stockinger described the comprehensive e-mobility on demand project. The project idea is based on: more variety, more flexibility, more interconnectivity and more space for people. Vienna believes that the ideal coordinating agency for this type of a transport future are public transport operators and are looking at how to evolve to become this kind of agency. Neat idea.

U-6 at night Vienna
Podium Discussion

The last part of the evening was a podium discussion where Knie was joined by Vienna city government officials Vice Mayor Renate Brauner and Vice Mayor Maria Vassilakou, and emeritus professor Hermann Knoflacher (TU Vienna) to discuss how Vienna was doing in terms of sustainable mobility. Here are some of the points that made an impression on me, the Stadt der Zunkunft has an excellent summary of the discussion too (Stadt der Zunkunft German).

Vice Mayor Vassilakou started the discussion by highlighting Vienna's excellent mode share for sustainable transport and the fact that this mode share has been increasing. She told a funny story by Jaime Lerner (former mayor of Curitiba and pioneer in innovative sustainable transport), that "your relationship with your car should be like your relationship with your mother-in-law: it's OK to love her, but you can't let her dominate your life."

Vice Mayor Brauner mentioned that not only is Vienna's excellent public transport highly appreciated by residents, but, the availability of safe, convient and affordable public transport is the number 2 quality mentioned by tourists in what they like about Vienna (imagine this in your city!). She also reminded the audience that according to FastCompany, Vienna is the world's #1 smart city.

Professor Knoflacher emphasized the importance of not forgetting about pedestrians. Good places to walk are needed for all the networked transport ideas described by Knie.

Vice Mayor Vassilakou said a big problem in Vienna is that over 350,000 people drive into the city from the suburbs every day. Parking control and better regional public transport is needed (e.g. S-Bahn regional rail service).

Professor Knie at this point played the devil's advocate and suggested that while Vienna was doing very well, if the city really wanted to make a major change, then Vienna needs to completely re-invent public transport. Public transport operators must really know their customers, make their services attractive to people who don't now use PT, and change the way people think about public transport.

In response to Knie, Vice Mayor Brauner said that the WienerLinien was, through programs like the e-mobility on demand, QANDO real time mobile phone application, new lines and new tram vehicles, continually re-thinking public transport. She pointed out that the WienerLinien has over 350,000 customers who buy annual passes and they certainly know these people.

(Aside: Part of Vice Mayor Brauner's portfolio is ZIT: The City of Vienna's Technology Agency. Last year ZIT gave me a grant to help develop, my game/social network designed to increase public participation in transport planning. The prototype is on line and now we're searching for a launch partner. IMHO, I think it's another good example of Vienna's support for innovative new ideas.)

Vice Mayor Vassilakou pointed out that everyone is now allowed to take their bikes on WienerLinien U-Bahn lines for free now (previously those without a yearly pass had to pay an extra fee). This is just the type of interconnected network that Knie was advocating.

Professor Knie then suggested that Vienna could learn from other cities in the introduction of a single mobility card that could be used for all forms of transport. Another important point is that cities need to consider how they can get their residents to support the complex and controversial activities needed to create truly sustainable transport systems. It's possible that government-run public transport agencies are not up to this task, the private sector should be more involved.

Vice Mayor Brauner strongly objected to private control over services like public transport which are needed to make cities function for everyone. She pointed out that the WienerLinien is owned by Wiener Stadtwerk, a private company, but controlled by the city. This means it can be innovative (as evidenced by the innovations described above), but remains focused on providing the best for city residents. 

All four speakers were asked to describe their wish for Vienna in 20-years.

Professor Knie: Public transport is the hub of an interconnected sustainable urban transport system.

Professor Knoflacher: No more infrastructure would be built for automobiles, the only ones using cars would be disabled persons and deliveries. There would be more people living in Vienna and many fewer cars.

Vice Mayors Vassilakou and Brauner both agreed that Vienna would reach and surpass the goal of 75% sustainable transport mode share by 2020 in the city's Transport Master Plan. Vienna would also continue to develop and implement innovative new transport ideas and remain the world's most livable, and smartest city.


Sorry for any errors or misattributions in my text above. I was writing fast and the presentations were all in German. Feel free to add corrections below or to contact me. Check also the excellent website (in German) from the event.

Friday, March 2, 2012

John Friedmann in Vienna

John Friedmann TU Vienna - 2
Friedmann responding to a question.

It was a great honor to hear Professor John Friedmann speak at the Technical University of Vienna last week. The lecture was fascinating. Here are some of my notes, they are incomplete and the lecture was so full of information that I am sure I got some of it wrong. You can get a copy of the full lecture from the lecture organizer.

Friedmann's lecture was structured around nine Austrian "cultural emissaries" who left Vienna for the outside world and directly influenced his thoughts about planning.

The nine are: economists Bertram Hoselitz, Friedrich Hayek, and Joseph Schumpeter; the sociologist Karl Mannheim; Martin Buber, a philosopher and Judaic scholar; Ludwig Wittgenstein, a philosopher of language; Karl Popper, a philosopher of science; Paul Feyerabend, also a philosopher of science and a critic of Popper; and Karl Polanyi, an economic historian and social anthropologist.

Although Friedmann did not agree with all these thinkers, they all influenced his work.

Studies at the University of Chicago

Friedmann studied planning at the University of Chicago between 1949 and 1955. Four Austrians who influenced him there were:

Planning could be thought of as an intellectual pursuit, not just a profession.
Democratic planning could be a 3rd path between totalitarian fascism and soviet communism.
Planning is a condition for democratic life, the national state could and should intervene in the market for the benefit of society as a whole.
Belief in the possibilites of a constructive democratic planning by the state.

Succession Vienna - 2
Succession Vienna, walking to the lecture.
Friedrich Hayek (The Road to Serfdom)
Social state management is a recipe for disaster.
Strongly opposed to all forms of planning and state intervention.
Planning is a socialist plot.
Hayek's thinking became a model for Margaret Thatcher, his book "a bible she wielded like a battle ax".

Bertram Hoselitz (Economic historian at University of Chicago)
Initiated the multi-disciplinary study of socio-economic development in the US. Founding
editor of the Journal of Economic Development
and Cultural Change (1952).
Focused on the role of cities in economic development: growth pole, world city, urban centered regions.
His work in development studies and the role of cities strongly influenced Friedmann.

Earlier work had been on the theory of economic development.
Innovation in economic production and the idea of entrepreneurship took off from his work.

Friedmann linked this concept to Hannah Arendt's idea of "action" (handeln in German) by which she meant "setting something new into the world." For Friedmann planning is pragmatic or institutional innovation ... not regulation and control (which is simply administration).

Another of Schumpeter's famous ideas is creative destruction, where the old is destroyed to make room for the new. In this sense innovation is a form of insurgency against the status quo. Friedmann links this idea to entropy and negative entropy (dissipation and articulated growth). According to Friedmann, our nerves have, to date, been calmed by the illusion of universal progress (bought about by innovation), but he pointed out that "'development' in most of the world usually comes with a negative sign."

The idea of negative entropy comes from Erwin Schroedinger: What is life? (1944) another Viennese.

Wanderjahre and UCLA

After graduating from the University of Chicago in 1955, Friedmann worked as a development specialist in South America, South Korea and Japan (Ford Foundation, USAID, etc.). He also taught at MIT and in 1969 started teaching planning at UCLA where he remained until 1996. 

Friedmann's book "Retracking America" was published in 1973. It grew out of his experience working on development in South America, it caused him to re-think the idea of planning.
Friedmann's idea: planning is a relationship between knowledge and action, it requires dialog.
A form of utopian planning based on local citizen participation.

Karlskirche Vienna Night - 2
Karlskirche, walking to the lecture.
Martin Buber (Ich und du, 1923)
Friedmann's idea of transactive planning was influenced by the idea of dialogue and mutuality in Buber's book.
He was also influenced by Buber's idea of utopia, but Friedmann believes that utopias need to remain small.
To Friedmann, innovative planning is inconceivable without a utopia in your imagination.

Critical connection between knowledge and action.
Ultimate certainty (truth) is attainable.
To Friedmann planning = a science but also means being actively engaged in making change, so: ... What knowledge is sufficiently reliable for the practice of planning? How do we get it?

Paul Feyerabend 
Started as a student of Popper, but rejected Popper's idea of certain truth.
Anarchist theory of knowledge.
Methods cannot be prescribed, results are what ultimately matters = pragmatism.
Multiplicity of knowledges, no single objective knowledge.
Idea of social or mutual learning.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (multi-talented rebel without a cause)
Friedmann's book "The Good Society" was directly influenced in content and form by Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus book.
A foundation of thinking about a form of planning not organized by the state.
Moral basis of social practice, ethics.

Karl Polanyi (The Livelihood of Man 1977, link to review)
Friedmann had returned to the more manageable idea of development planning, particularly in the developing world. During the 1980s the idea of large government intervention in development was being replaced (partly as a result of Thatcherism) by the idea of small NGO-based programs. But NGOs cannot deal with the huge structural problems in many developing countries. It was during this period that development planning lost its scheen.

Polanyi's book described development freed from the language of classical economics, ... "Disposable labor is allocated between the production of use values in the moral economy and exchange values in the capitalist economy." Focused on the household as a social institution rather than a utility maximizing individual. Led Friedmann to the concept of social empowerment and a view of poverty defined as a lack of access to the bases of social power (Empowerment: The politics of alternative development).

Some closing thoughts

National boundaries no longer explain much.
Planning is an innovative activity following Hannah Arendt's definition ... innovation is sending something new into the world.
Planning = the relationship between knowing and acting.
Acceleration of human and social change = the acceleration of local history.
Planning is a dynamic pattern of interacting forces, but it's almost impossible to see these forces.
In China planning is more of a ritual activity rather than a guiding force, change is happening too fast for the existing planning structure to keep up.
Planning theory = part of a theory of socio-spatial change ... planning is normative, but history just goes on.

Questions and Answers

Organized civil society = Friedmann's hope for the future.
A tacit knowing is needed, but how do we get it? To Popper knowledge was 'free floating' somewhere above us, if only we could find it.
But, when we do find it, is it true? We know much knowledge today is generated with a point of view (cigarette company funded health research) ... so, what's the truth?
Our interest as planners is to change the world, not to look for the ultimate truth (where ever this ultimate truth is, we can be sure we won't find it).

Knowledge is related to where we stand, knowledge and belief are closely inter-tied.
There is more than one kind of knowledge, who can dismiss knowledge that is based on experience, or religion?
We need to embrace a plurality of knowledges (note plural) to start a conversation on how to change the world for the better.
Principle of dialog won't go by the wayside.
We need to analyze information to understand its meaning.
To gain knowledge we need to work through the differences.

In a city with many differences we can either give up on the idea of common good and everyone can be out for themselves (pure capitalism) or work through our differences (through dialog with planners acting as facilitators). Note that this is a very different role for planning than Master Planning from on high. Example of Vancouver BC waterfront planning process = extensive resident dialog, it was not a plan dropped on the city from heaven.

Planning must be communications-based - why? It's transactive particularly if you want to add other groups to the dialog beyond the state.
Civil society is key. Friedmann hopes for innovation based on ideas coming from civil society. An analysis of needs with a democratic ethos.
Hope for a better world is to learn to live with in our means (Greece is a good example when we don't live within our means) ... this will mean substantial change in the next 50 years.

Cities will always be unjust. Rapid change always generates inequality ... fighting for the ultimately just city is a losing battle. (For example, the UN Millennial goals: only relevant for a static world, but the world is changing too rapidly for these goals, however good they are today. There will always be new inequalities.)
Patsy Healy, (Newcastle University profile) The pragmatist tradition in planning thought (2009) (abstract)

We need to change the question we ask about cities ... in planning we never have enough knowledge, we are always taking risks because we don't know the future ... we need to act on assumptions and then act again after seeing the results.

We need to be practical and we need to PRACTICE

Social learning is a step by step process, taken by different actors.

And then, suddenly, two hours had gone by ... As you can see there were so many interesting ideas it was hard to record them all accurately. I did the best I could but am sure I got some of it wrong. Feel free to add corrections or thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dome of Cheese

This dome reminded me of the "Dome of Slience" on the 1970s sit-com Get Smart. Just thinking about it makes me laugh!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Night Train to Italy

Night Train Vienna to Brescia Italy 2012 - 18

Night Train Vienna to Brescia Italy 2012 - 03
Italian sleeping car (couchette)

I recently travelled to Brescia Italy on a business trip. I decided to take the night train since Brescia is right on the route between Vienna and Milan. My wife and I used to take the night train often between Zurich and Graz or Vienna, but it's been a while since my last trip.

There's lots of variation between night train services. The Italian night trains seem to be pretty spartan. On the trains between Zurich and Graz/Vienna you get breakfast and often a welcome drink, on the Italian train I just took, nothing. So be sure to bring your own snacks, water or other drinks - always good advice when traveling by train!

My trip was during the long cold spell we had at the end of January, and, unfortunately, after about an hour the sleeping car attendant realized that the heating in our car was not going to be working. So he moved us all into one of the other wagons. I had booked a single in the sleeping car and unfortunately there was only one sleeping car on the train. So I was moved into a couchette car.

Night Train Vienna to Brescia Italy 2012 - 06
Sleeping car single
There are two types of sleeping cars: a real sleeping car that has 1-3 fairly nice bunk beds and a sink in the compartment (Schlafwagen in German) or a couchette car that has 4-6 narrower bunks (with less nice bed linens: one of those sheet sacks with a blanket as opposed to a covered duvet) and no sink. There's quite a difference in cost, but not as much as you might think. Also, note that you can usually get a couchette in a 4-person compartment or a 6-person compartment, always choose the 4-person, it's only a little more expensive.

It was no fun to be in the couchette since the bed was only barely wide enough the lie flat and I hate the blankets/ sleeping sack arrangement, but at least it was warm. It was lucky that the train was fairly empty (a Monday night in January), so I still had a single.

We arrived on time in Brescia and I walked to my hotel where I had a wonderful breakfast and they let me check-in early, a real treat. An aside about breakfast, on the Zurich-Graz/Vienna night trains they used to give you a choice between having breakfast on the train or taking it with you (Austrian arrivals) or getting a voucher for breakfast in a restaurant in the Zurich train station. My recommendation: always get the breakfast to take with you or the voucher ... you will get about a half-hour more sleep.

One more thing: in Austria when you have a sleeping car ticket you can go into the "Business Lounge" which they have in many stations. You can have a glass of wine or beer before your trip begins or breakfast (real coffee and a roll) in the morning. It's another nice feature of traveling by sleeping car.

Night Train Vienna to Brescia Italy 2012 - 21
Vicenza station from my sleeping car bed.

I stayed one night in Brescia, and two days. The night train arrived at 7:30 am on Tuesday and I returned on the night train that left Brescia about 10:00 pm on Wednesday. The return train was nicer since the heating was working so I was able to have my single. Unfortunately, the train was delayed quite a bit (there was a snow storm), so we reached Vienna about 45-minutes late (9:20 am on Thursday).

I was inspired to write this by a nice article about Europe's 8 best night trains on the Lonely Planet website.

More photos of my trip on the Italian night train on Flickr.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Jordaan Amsterdam Cafes and Cheese

Amsterdam Bikes - 1
Bikes on bridge: Runstraat Amsterdam

Jordaan is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Amsterdam and I spent a recent Thursday afternoon walking around there enjoying the city. I started by walking down Runstraat.

I was looking for a simple lunch so I stopped in at De Kaaskamer, which was offering a daily baguette for 5 Euros, why not? It was a local ham and soft goat cheese served on half a dark baguette. De Kaaskamer is one of those really great cheese shops where they sell hundreds of cheeses and the staff know everything about the different cheeses so they can point you in the right direction. The sandwich was great.

De Kaaskamer Amsterdam - 2
At De Kaaskamer cheese shop Amsterdam

I returned to the shop later in the afternoon to buy cheese to bring home. Then I realized you really need their expertise to help choose. After tasting several I decided on two. Here's how they are described on their labels: 

"'Brokkel de Brokkel' so do break off a piece of this very, very old cheese - impossible to cut with a cheese slicer. Invite some friends, open a bottle full bodied wine and enjoy this strong but sweet speciality. Break-a-breaker!"
"Deurninger Speciaal van het landgoed Kaamps - Special Dutch cheese made by farmer Herbert Nijland on his farm in the village of Deurningen near Hengelo. the cheese is treated with an Austrian mountain fungus. Special flavour!"
I'm looking forward to a Dutch cheese-tasting evening at home!

Then on to the Cafe de Pels just down the street, a cafe we visited before. Very nice coffee, newspapers, darkish interior, and totally comfortable.

Bistro t'Stuivertje Amsterdam - 2
Restaurant 't Stuivertje in Jordaan District Amsterdam

More walking, I was happy to find the great restaurant called t' Stuivertje on Hazenstraat 56 that we enjoyed so much last time we visited Amsterdam. I was glad to see it was still in business. Here's my review of Bistro 't Stuivertje from last time. I also found a very nice looking pizza place called pazzi (see my review) and a cool looking cafe, but to be honest, there seem like a million cool looking cafes in Amsterdam and especially in the Jordaan (maybe that's why I like it?).

Amsterdam Canals - 2
Amsterdam canal in winter

After walking around a little more it was happy hour, as my mother likes to say, and so I stopped in at a nice cafe at the corner of Elandsgracht and Prinsengracht overlooking the canal. I had a nice Heinekein beer and enjoyed the sun setting in the windows across the canal.

Cafe in Jordaan Amsterdam
Looking out from Jordaan cafe

All my Jordaan photos on Flickr.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Social Cities of Tomorrow 2012 - Project Showcase

Amsterdam Canals - 2
Canals in winter, Jordaan District in Amsterdam from my flickr photos.

The Mobile City and Virtueel Platform organized a workshop and conference titled Social Cities of Tomorrow. The program took place during the week of February 13-17. It was a great event in every way from organization to the keynote speakers to presentations of different social media projects from throughout the world. Not only that, but it was fun and there were lots of great people doing great work to meet.

This post describes the projects described at the conference. I describe the Social Cities of Tomorrow Keynotes and Social Cities of Tomorrow Workshops on other posts.

Showcase Projects
cafe 't Smalle Amsterdam Mar08 - 7
Cafe 't Smalle from my flickr photos.
One of the very nice things about the Social Cities of Tomorrow conference was that there were three blocks of about 20-minutes each for a series of presentations on ideas for using new technology to create communities to solve complex issues (the conference theme). These blocks gave us time to see a wide variety of innovative ideas. It was hard to keep the schedule, but the organizers and presenters did a very nice job with this too. 

The projects were chosen from a large number of submissions (I wish I had known about this earlier because I would have submitted my project!). This post presents my summary of the projects presented. 

Sorry for not mentioning all the names of developers, many of these projects were developed by several groups, my goal is to simply give a quick overview (and my opinions!), all developer information is available on the Social Cities of Tomorrow Workshops page). Also feel free to send me corrections or add details in the comments. So, here goes:

    Amsterdam Aerial Mar08-3
    Amsterdam aerial from my flickr photos.
  • Apps for Amsterdam, a program similar to those organized in many cities that encourage independent application developers to create applications to help improve the city. Like Vienna (German) one of the most popular applications was designed to help people find the nearest public toilet. The program faces many of the same issues as other cities, such as how to keep these applications updated. More at appsforamsterdam.

  • Instant Master Planning, Vollsmose Denmark - A very large social housing area built during the 1950s needs to involve their community in planning for the future. The area's population is very  young and diverse (over 80 countries represented), and it seemed to be less affluent than the neighboring city. The project consisted of using GPS tracking of activities to identify activity patterns (voluntary) and using SMS to send ideas for improving the area planning. Both ideas were designed to increase participation by people not normally involved in the planning process. It's a work in progress but lots of interesting results and it seems to have succeeded in increasing social participation.
  • NDSM Wharf Crane Amsterdam - 14
    NDSM area during PICNIC 2011 in Amsterdam from my flickr photos.
  • Network Lab, a combination of several partners including TU Delft (which must have an exceptional program in social media given the number of excellent projects and staff attending the conference), ARCHIS and Smart in Public. The project they described was to help increase participation in developing ideas for the NDSM area of Amsterdam (where the 2011 PICNIC conference was held!). They have developed a system for tagging all types of objects (physical, human, environmental, etc.) to help organize information in the planning process. Another work in progress, but seems to have real potential.

  • URBANIso, a really interesting idea developed by Joshua Noble and Mac Oosthuizen that is designed to help explain what data urban sensors are collecting and where the sensors are. These are little signs that are placed on the sensors or nearby (with indication of where the sensor is in relation to the sign) that tell people what data is being collected and a barcode that takes you to a website with the sensor data feed and/or more information. This is a great idea for increasing the amount of sensor data available to developers and making the city more legible for everyone. More on URBANIso

  • Amsterdam Wastelands, there is a surprisingly large amount of vacant land in and around Amsterdam (partly delayed redevelopment due to the economic crisis) and Amsterdam Wastelands wants to encourage temporary use of this land in a very crowded city. They sponsored one of the workshop efforts (Team 1 project). One idea is to use social media applications to identify and implement temporary uses for currently vacant space. They have developed a common database of this information and geocoded it on a google map. Others can add information and ideas. Here's the website, it's in Dutch but you can get the idea.
  • Amsterdam March 2008-06
    Cafe de Pels in Amsterdam from my flickr photos.
  • Give me back my broken night, the title is from text in the Leonard Cohen song Future, this "thing" was an interactive theater performance (in London), where the audience assembled in a theater, were given a small video projector to hang around their neck and a blank piece of paper, they left the theater and then each received a phone call on their handy (cell phone) from one of the "actors" who told them where to walk giving them information as they went, and then images of the future were projected on the blank piece of paper they held in front of them. At one point audience members described their ideas for the future and an artist in the theater drew this on a tablet and this image was also displayed via the projector to the audience member. Everyone returned back to the theater and compared ideas and drawings. Really, really cool use of technology and art. My description does not do justice to it, check the video: Give me back my broken night 2010 video. Here's more information from product of circumstance.

  • HomelessSMS, another project with multiple developers including Ohyoon Kwon (TU Delft) and Will Brayne. Quite a neat idea: use SMS to try to help homeless people. It surprised me to learn that 70% of homeless people in London have cell phones (at least that's what this team found in a quick survey). The team worked with social services agencies in London and a small group of homeless people to test several ideas for using SMS to help homeless get help and information. They used twitter to broadcast information four times a day to everyone in the program and then responded to SMS posts from the homeless persons. I talked with Ohyoon after the conference and as we talked I just began to see more and more potential for the idea: perhaps a way to connect homeless people with those who would like to help, but have trouble connecting physically due to being turned-off by hygiene etc., use the system to send vouchers for services (e.g. like money transfer via SMS in Kenya), etc. There are several similar projects underway in one of them a homeless person was able to re-connect with a child they had lost contact with. I think that this idea really has potential and plan on sending it to colleagues in San Francisco where it might be really useful. (By the way Ohyoon told me he will need a visa to stay in the EU after graduating from TU Delft, he's exactly the type of innovative guy we should be encouraging to stay!) More on the HomelessSMS website.
  • Amsterdam Tulip Museum Mar08-6
    Looking out of the Amsterdam Tulip Museum from my flickr photos.
  • Urban Revitalization with Social Capital, Karli Scott, a student at Cornell University, presented results of several projects she worked on in upstate New York, a region hard hit by economic problems over the last 50-years (especially interesting for me since I grew up in another Rustbelt city Buffalo NY). Karli talked about the techniques she used to identify problem and opportunities in Utica and Rochester NY. The quite awful economic conditions in these Rustbelt cities were starkly illustrated when Karli described a natural waterfall (!!!) on a relatively large river in an underutilized area near the center of Rochester which was being considered for redevelopment: how many cities and developers in other places would jump on such an opportunity?

  • Koppelklek, Kars Alfrink from Hubbub presented this urban game. The project consisted of asking people in this economically depressed neighborhood of Utrecht to participate in a game where they needed to take photos (with their mobile phones) with another person. Points were give for the number of different people they had photos with, and extra points were given for photos in different situations (e.g. photo with a number in it). The game ran for three weeks and was designed to get people in the neighborhood to socialize with each other. Photos were shown on line and displayed in vacant shop windows. The project had an office in a vacant space in the neighborhood and held a series of real events too. It sounds like a neat way to generate some activity in a neighborhood. Kars presented some lessons learned including: (1) finish the game design before you start marketing it, and (2) they marketed the game generally, it might be better to have targeted a special group and then used them to market it more generally. More details on Koppelklek
  • Amsterdam March 2008-17
    Playing with water in Amsterdam from my flickr photos.
  • Screens in the wild, Ava Fatah from The Bartlett School (UCL) described this project which consists of working with a London neighborhood about programming for a series of large display screens which are being installed for the Olympics and will be a legacy of the games. It's a work in progress and she described the problems of working with people like shopkeepers who think the screens should just be for advertising, others who think they should be just like large iPads, and she described the various ways people passing by interact with the screens (most pay no attention!). More details on the Screens in the wild project.

  • Urbanflow and City Tickets, Mayo Nissen from Urbanscale presented these two projects via a video that made him look like big brother from 1984 ... but it really looked cool. Urbanflow is a project for using large screens in cities to provide information, again the idea is that the applications and display information is designed specifically for the large screens in the urban environment, rather than a generic large iPad experience. It's been implemented in Helsinki and Urbanscale continues to work on the idea. City Tickets is a project designed to use the infrastructure provided by on street parking ticket printers to print other types of information, e.g. information about the area, or suggestion forms for people to identify problems in the area (which they fill out in writing and mail to the city). Urbanscale is a really innovative design studio doing great work, it was really nice to learn more about these two useful projects.
Again, apologies for what I got wrong, it was a long (but fascinating) day. Add corrections in the comments and/or e-mail me.

My take on the Social CIties of Tomorrow Keynotes and Social Cities of Tomorrow Workshops are also available on this blog.