Bottom-up city-wide Wi-Fi: We-Fi

June 20, 2007

I shall keep my eye closely on the future of WeFi. In their own words, here’s what they do:

“WeFi makes WiFi easy. Our software makes it easy for you to find and connect to WiFi networks. With WeFi, each user contributes to the rest of the community by using the client and discovering more networks around. All this is reported to a centralized server and shared seamlessly among all users, resulting in easy connection. With our software you can also map your favorite hotspots, find your friends, share your WiFi with other WeFi members and do many other cool things.”

Cunning stuff, and I wish them every success.

I predict lawsuits on the horizon, though, when companies offering hugely expensive WiFi in hotels, airports, and cafes start complaining that they can’t compete with free and better services…

…A cynic? Moi?

Well, they started doing just that when the city of Philadelphia considered free city-wide WiFi for its residents a few years back (Here‘s what Lessig said about it at the time.) Mind you, I think they might have a harder time complaining about a population than a city council. Here’s hoping, anyway…

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Lebbeus Woods has clearly seen my project…

June 9, 2007

Actually that’s ridiculous. Of course it’s the other way around – I’ve been a huge fan of Woods since I first saw his work in 1999 – my second year at architecture school. Nevertheless, a few snippets lifted from his recent fascinating interview with the excellent Subtopia blog don’t half resonate with my project:

“Fortunately one of the reasons I am out here today are these blogs – your blogs in particular – but, generally, the internet is a place for some other view of architecture to emerge, and therefore it becomes incredibly important. ”

“I think the role of architecture – not all of it, because we’re still going to have the monuments, the big expensive buildings, that’s just the way it’s going to be – but, if there’s going to be another movement, another direction in architecture, it has to engage people differently. Other than saying, here, look at this, isn’t this amazing? It has to interactively involve them other than as spectators, or, as a ‘society of the spectacle.’ It has to engage them as creators.”

“…I believe people have to choose to do it. I don’t think this is something that should be imposed from the top down. They have to want to do it this way. They have to want to participate. “

…And finally, if we were just to change his choice of words from slum to suburb

“…if we can do something from the outside, for them who are inside the slum, it’s going to be to empower them somehow; to transform the slum from the inside. You’ve got to figure some methods to empower people in the slum to change their own environment. It can’t be us airlifting in ready-made solutions.”

Seriously, if only these quotes were around a little earlier in my project!


localised systems – currency

June 5, 2007

I first heard of people just starting up their own currencies when I read about the Ithaca Hour in a newspaper a few years back. (official page link, Wikipedia link) Now it seems that Totnes in Devon is following similar lines, according to this article on BBC News.

A south Devon town has taken a step towards having its own currency after a month-long experiment.

Three hundred Totnes pounds were printed in March for circulation only in local outlets.

Eighteen shops joined Transition Town Totnes (TTT), a new group campaigning for a more self-sufficient community.

Marjana Kos, of TTT, said: “It’s keeping wealth here. It’s keeping local trade alive and supporting local businesses.”

Louise King, manager of the Riverford farm shop in Totnes, said: “We like our own products, so it just seems right to have our own currency.”

What I consistently find myself being surprised by is that people don’t just create bottom up systems of production and distribution for their own little crafty creations – food, art and so on – they are quite happy to take on such massively important systems as currencies and education.

20th century thinking would suggest that a tiny currency only accepted in a few stores in a single town is a bad, or at least fairly useless, idea. Evidently this is not the case, though, as many towns around the world are creating their own versions of these systems. Once again, the ease with which information about such systems can be shared between people keen on implementing them is paramount – step forward the internet. Take a bow, sir – good work.

What’s also interesting to me is that so many of these activities are not done in direct competition with the existing status quo. The Pound Sterling is still legal in Totnes, and they are doing nothing illegal in creating their own currency. The two systems work perfectly happily side by side, and any complications in configuring exchange rates are sorted out not by top-down decree from Westminster, but at the point of sale by those involved in the upkeep of the system – The administrators, directors, and end users are all the same person. And people don’t chose to use the Ithaca Hour because the US Dollar has failed; they chose to do so because the Hour has its own value quite independent of the Dollar – the warm, fuzzy, and personal value of supporting your local economy and of membership in a community. These things aren’t worth much in 20th century terms of monetary value, but it’s been shown time and time again that money really can’t buy you happiness.

It’s barely a step from bartering and exchanges of services, really, and these transactions are also very popular in the online world. I myself have designed and printed Tshirts for people in exchange for them writing me a css file or renting me an online domain. We could have worked out specific monetary values of these goods, but because the element of personal friendship already existed, it was easier to make the transition without resorting to currency – a middle man defined by a top-down institution from without.

And you know what? That kind of transaction, one which relies so much on human aspects of inter-personal relation, not only feels good, but it can actually be more efficient. And a look the music distribution industry will tell you what happens when a more efficient system comes along…

All this bartering and local systems with no hope of understaning or control from without: It’s frankly medieval, but it might well be positively medieval.


Another growth animation

March 14, 2007

…This time showing how the growth of a suburban shared space begins along the existing boundaries of the suburban property system. As these ‘fault-lines’ expand the grid of property itself breaks up and changes with the sharing space.

Link straight to the 700k mov file
…Or you can view a nasty flash video version on the Vimeo page where it is hosted, here.


Idea explained

February 22, 2007

I made an animation to try to explain this week’s idea.

Shared suburban space

Annoyingly, and after a lot of frutrated attempts, it seems I can’t embed quicktime *.mov files or vimeo flash movies on this WordPress blog.

Ahhh well, you can see it here.


Suburbia’s trying to tell me something…

February 19, 2007

I know it’s almost entirely imposed by my own subconscious, but the fact that the order in which I was tracing backyard shed layouts just happened to give me this message did at least lighten up my morning slightly. I like to think the inhabitants of this block of Brent have, with their choice of garden furniturte and buildings, been unknowingly contributing to a message just for me all these years.

Sadly there isn’t a Simpsons-esque ‘T’ on the next block to the right…


Bottom-up organisation & bottom-up control

February 9, 2007

An interesting (and admittedly paraphrased) quote from a post John Robb’s always-interesting blog:

Complexity and Globalization

…In response to globalization, many states have over centralized due to a loss of local control. These centralized efforts haven’t resulted in a single hierarchy, but rather a plethora of overlapping and often conflicting efforts that routinely trump local authority (an example of how complexification in response to environmental stimulus is now providing negative returns on investment). The remoteness, obscurity and opacity of these parallel “authorities” add to the equation…

Organic Security

Once the legal monopoly of armed force, long claimed by the state, is wrested out of its hands, existing distinctions between war and crime will break down much as is already the case today in . . . Lebanon, Sri Lanka, El Salvador, Peru, or Colombia.” Martin van Creveld.

States may not have an option. The catch is that if the national government doesn’t/can’t step in to rectify a decline in local control, forms of organic security… will replace them.

Is he talking about how local societies and built-up groups can inherently have more affect on their neighbourhood than over-beurocratic imposed orders from a national government? Nope – he’s talking about insurgencies and guerrilla warfare. Read his blog (and book when it comes out!) – it’s fascinating stuff.
In all these explorations of how I want neighbourhoods to restore control to themselves and foster bottom-up organisational methods, it’s important to remember that things might not necessarily go smoothly. In fact I’d say they almost certainly won’t. I’m hoping that the starting point (middle class British suburbia) already contains enough respect for order and peace that things wouldn’t shift too badly towards anarchy, but power vacuums are always risky – no matter how small.