My colleague Adam White from GroupShot just shared an interesting location analysis study of the recent London riots. The study was carried out by the group Space Syntax and is available here (PDF). The purpose of the study was to test whether the overly complex spatial layout of large post-war housing estates has “an effect on social patterns, often leading to social malaise and anti-social behavior.” While the study’s methods are interesting, I’m concerned about some of the underlying socio-economic assumptions that buttress the analysis.
According to the study, 84% of verified incidents in north London and 96% in south London took place within a five minute walk—400 meters—of both: 1) An established town centre, and 2) a large post-war housing estate. Meanwhile, local centres without large post-war estates nearby were unaffected.
The study makes some interesting assumptions, e.g., “most post-war housing estates have been designed in such a way that they create over-complex, and as a result, under-used spaces. These spaces are populated by large groups of unsupervised children and teenagers, where peer socialisation can occur between them without the influence of adults. This pattern of activity, and the segregation of user groups, is not found in non-estate street networks. Our analysis of court records shows that the majority of convicted rioters in the study areas live on large post-war housing estates.”
The reason I’m uncomfortable with the above has to do with the implied solution, i.e., simplify the complex spaces and bring more social traffic to under-utilized areas. This will ensure that children and teenagers are more supervised and prevent peer socialization from taking place without the influence of adults. In other words, simply replace the “hardware” so the “social software” won’t have any more bugs. Snap, if only Mubarak could have hacked Tahrir Square before the revolution. Sarcasm aside, there were some real and legitimate grievances that motivated some of the protestors in England (and Egypt), which this study doesn’t address.
The next version of the analysis is supposed to include socio-economic data to understand the relationship between deprivation and rioting, which in my mind should have come first. But better late than never. In the meantime, here is a post on the tactical use of technology for nonviolent protests with a reference to London: “Maps, Activism and Technology: Check-In’s with a Purpose.”
I came across some interesting finds at the National Air and Space Museum this weekend. The World War One (WWI) exhibit had this large, back-lit crisis map:
Now, war maps are nothing new. In this previous blog post, I noted that, “In 1668, Louis XIV of France commissioned three-dimensional scale models of eastern border towns, so that his generals in Paris and Versailles could plan realistic maneuvers. […] As late as World War II, the French government guarded them as military secrets with the highest security classification” (see picture). What struck me about the crisis map of WWI was the text above the title:
“To satisfy the public’s desire for information about the war, newspapers published war maps that provided the locations and military capabilities of the warring nations. This map, published at the outbreak of hostilities illustrates the British view of the war’s global scope.” I’m intrigued by this find and wonder how often these maps were updated and what sources were used. Would public opinion at the time have differed had live crowdsourced crisis maps existed?
Towards the end of the WWI exhibit, I came across this sign, originally posted near the entrances of the London Underground. The warning relates to hostile German aircraft that had begun to bomb London in early 1915. On September 8, a Zepellin raid on the city cause more than half a million pounds of damage.
What stuck me about this warning were the following instructions: “In the event of a hostile aircraft being seen in country districts, the nearest Naval, Military or Police Authorities should, if possible, be advised immediately by Telephone of the time of appearance, the direction of flight, and whether the aircraft is an Airship or an Aeroplane.” Crowdsourcing early warnings of WWI attacks.
Know of other interesting examples of crowsourcing during the first (or second) world war? If so, please feel free to share in the comments section below, I’d love to compile more examples.
The map depicts the tactics employed by the students:
The limits of using Google Maps
As I looked closer at the map, it occurred to me how much this resembles a computer game with moving characters. The strategy employed by the police can be discerned by the pattern below.
But I doubt that students were able to update their Google map in real-time directly from their mobile phones, let alone via SMS, Twitter, Smartphone App, camera phone or Facebook. Nor can they subscribe to alerts and receive them directly via an automated email or SMS. Indeed, it appears they were using Google Forms to “crowdsource” information and this Twitter account to disseminate important updates.
This is why I got in touch with the group and recommended that they think of using Crowdmap (free and open source):
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