As part of the Systems & Layers: Urban Experience in the Network age I'm carrying out a series of close observations of an intersection in Brooklyn. Over the next few weeks I'll be looking at different layers of human activity - documenting what I find in advance of making some sort of intervention in this space. This week I'm looking at networked devices, and devices that communicate information to the street in some way.
Choosing the Survey Location
For this series of observations I've chosen the block at the intersection of Flatbush Avenue and 7th Avenue (my Northern boundary), South to Flatbush avenue and Park Place - a diamond of three intersecting streets.
I chose this area (which you can see on this map) because it's a busy commercial hub at the center of a densely populated area. The 7th Avenue subway stop sits underneath the intersection, drawing a rush of commuters in the morning and evening times. Many of the area's local buses pass down Flatbush Avenue. While it's a busy intersection, there is still some green space; where Park Place and Flatbush Avenue diverge there's a small area of trees and plants.
So, it's a really complex little space with lots of different layers of experience to pull apart and analyse. I took a lot of photographs while doing the survey, which are available over on Flickr and also on a (rough) Yahoo map (to be replaced by something in Arcgis or Google Earth later in the week).
Survey Location - North to Southeast
I started at the Northern boundary of the survey location, and walked Southeast down Flatbush Avenue to Park Place.
On this side of the block there were few (obvious) networked devices at street level (I cover the traffic system separately); some residential intercom systems, a satellite dish and some antennae.
I noticed some small devices labelled DEP attached to each building on this side of the street, but I wasn't sure what they were - I photographed them anyway. They are electricity monitoring devices manufactured by the company Aclara, and installed by the Department of Electricity and Power. I want to read up on these some more, but the patent documents seem to indicate that they send information about power consumption back to a central computer; networked meters.
I observed a row of parking meters that didn't appear to be using a solar panel; I assume they are drawing power from the grid, or using such small amounts of power that they are powered from a battery of some kind. I'm not sure if they communicate information to or from a network. They do qualify as objects that communicate information back to a person on the street.
Southeast to Northwest
The traffic in the area is quite heavy - Flatbush Avenue is one of the main routes through Brooklyn. As such, there are a lot of traffic control devices.
There were three large traffic control boxes - each one had a similar antenna mounted on top of a vertical post. I can only assume that the traffic control boxes are communicating wirelessly with each other and with the traffic lights, co-ordinating their actions - as well as connecting back to a central traffic control system.
I was really surprised that I saw no working cameras anywhere in the survey area. One bar did have an infrared camera mounted above its door, but it was clearly broken and was pointed at an angle where it couldn't see the street.
Similarly, there were practically no display devices anywhere in the survey area - just the traffic signals, some small LED displays on parking meters, and the displays integrated into the MTA ticket vending machine in the subway station.
I also observed that each pillar and post has a unique identifier, usually accompanied by a barcode; presumably this information is recorded somwhere along with information about the location of the pillar/post - and is then used by maintenance crews. It's interesting to think that there is (probably) a database somwhere noting every single piece of street furniture/infrastructure in some way.
The exercise of cataloging physical items in a space was revealing; I had never really paid any close attention to the items I saw today. So much of the city just washes over me; slowing down my pace and spending time just to observe was really interesting.
I was surprised that many of the networked objects to be found in the survey area were practically invisible (traffic control network, power grid network, roof-mounted antennae) - and that they communicate through (presumably) private networks built for a single purpose.
This week I'll be visiting the survey area again observing human activity. I have begun to transfer my observations from today into a KML or Arcgis file, which I'll make available here.