Friday, February 27, 2009

Has Facebook Jumped the Shark?

Yes. Yes it has.

Today I had a "friend" request from a business in my city. Not one that I frequent, not one that should have me on its radar. It's not a nonprofit or a social justice cause. It's just a business looking to somehow tap into the power of Facebook. I suspect they did a search of some sort for local Facebookers. It's been interesting to watch this site metastasize well beyond a social networking locus and into a major marketing tool. There are more and more businesses developing profiles for advertising purposes. Just wait. The latest Coke product will be friending me next. Some tell me to just ignore these requests. But I suspect the full force of marketing is about to be unleashed. It's going to become a daily flood of junk mail.Will people in search of true social networking purge their accounts in search of the next best thing? Is there a next best thing?

The Fonze preparing to jump the shark.

UPDATE: Google the phrase "Has Facebook Jumped the Shark" and you get 232,000 hits. Some from more than three years ago. In spite of being supremely unoriginal in my headline to this post, I will assert that this time it really has jumped. the. shark.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Anatomy of a Magazine

An admission. I subscribe to a lot of magazines, but if you put a gun to my head and said, "Pick only one" I would likely say New York. It's the perfect blend of celebrity gossip, politics, fashion, food reviews, and thoughtful feature articles on urban life. It's like several magazines rolled up into one, compact weekly fix. But lately, things have changed. New York has undergone minor plastic surgery on its interior design. It's not a full face lift, nothing too drastic, but it's enough of a procedure to have altered the reading experience for me.

Magazines serve different purposes. There are some you pick up knowing it's going to be an experience. Take Cabinet. It's a quarterly publication filled with wonderfully off-the-wall speculation, research, and art. It takes focus to read an issue. It's chewy.

New York
is more like a cold beer. It's refreshing and you know what to expect. It's got a certain formula to its content. The front-of-book departments, like Intelligencer and Party Lines, flow into longer form articles, which are followed by back-of-book departments like food and art reviews, The Look Book, and the wonderful Approval Matrix. A good magazine functions a bit like a sitcom: you know the conceit, you know it will follow a certain rhythm and pattern and that's part of the beauty—you don't have to think too much about the construct, you can simply enjoy the contents.

So the first thing I noticed was a change to the Intelligencer department. Nothing too bad—it seems they are plumping up these shorter, newsy pieces and giving over more real estate to this department. But there are other design changes that are annoying. Several of the layouts in a recent issue ran the double spread on vertical and some features included inverted headlines and images, which meant that you had to turn the magazine around to read them. This was usually employed in the magazine for the Look Book department, but now its metastasizing to other layouts. The Look Book, in the meantime, has shrunk down to a quarter of a page and is included in a riotous and chock full spread of all things shopping and culture. It's too much on one page.

The latest Look Book image from New York magazine.

There is also this annoying gossip reader along the margins of one of the busier layouts. It runs along the outer edge of the magazine upside down, requiring you to literally turn the magazine 360 degrees to read its minuscule red type. It's like they tried to shoehorn the moving scroll of the Bloomberg reader onto the printed page. The result is that the wonderful cadence of this publication is gone. Instead of a steady rhythm of articles and concise design, I'm forced to reevaluate every page, to turn the magazine this way and that, to squint at text. It's jarring. It's fussy. It's very un-New York magazine-esque. So dear art department: Quit over designing. Thank you.

(And if you're as obsessed with magazines as I am, sign up for my magazine class this spring at Johns Hopkins. Details are located on the sidebar of this blog.)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Design Your Own Center

Image courtesy of Ryan Patterson. You can click on the picture for a larger version.

Since July, a group of people in Baltimore has been gathering regularly to discuss the creation of an urban design lab here. It's been an incredible transdisciplinary endeavor with lots of voices and good ideas. Out of these regular meetings—composed of a diverse group of constituents including schools, non-profits, practitioners, government leaders, and community members—a shared vision for a center is emerging. First and foremost, there is a shared belief that the city and the region would be stronger if there were a bigger emphasis on design and that any kind of a center should be a neutral entity dedicated to advancing the role of design thinking.

It is important to note that the word “center” indicates a desire to create centrality around the promotion of design and does not speak, necessarily, to one physical location. In fact, the question of what this center will physically entail is still up for debate. Two weeks ago, we invited John Bielenberg to town to help us with a creative visioning session about what, exacltly, a center might be. John led the group in his famous "Think Wrong" process and the ideas that emerged were pretty compelling. One concept that came out of the evening was the idea of a temporary space to host design activity. A few people have continued to play around with the idea and they just sent me the following text, as well as the image pictured above:

Salsa Bowl; a Temporary Design Center, Potato Print Press, and Sno-Ball Stand

"To help with the forward movement and investigation on what a design center might be it is proposed that a temporary center be enacted in the Station North Arts and Entertainment District for one month this summer. This will comprise of one box to operate out of (shipping container or other), one vacant lot, one extension cord with power, one ice grinder and assorted flavors, one printing unit (Xerox or ink jet most likely), and 30 evenings of open to the public design production.

This project should be entirely funded by the sno-ball stand and volunteer labor. Each evening different groups of designers will be asked to conduct productive work at this site. The contents of that work will be determined at a later date."

I sure hope this happens. And that they have egg custard for the snoballs.

What's been so interesting about this entire endeavor, is the level of creativity, inclusivity, and action. This is a great time for Design Thinking in cities and it's definitely happening here in Baltimore. Want to join us? There's an open meeting for the Design Center group this coming Monday at the Load of Fun Warehouse on North Avenue in Station North. You can learn more on our Facebook page.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


A screen shot of Google Maps and its street view service where you can click on a blue tab and see photos of the geography in question.

I just finished watching the HBO series Rome via Netflix. There is one scene where Caesar Octavian stands before a map of Roman territories and literally carves it apart with a sword, dividing the land with his second in command, Marc Antony (which ultimately leads to Antony's fall from grace thanks to the lovely Cleopatra).

I've been thinking a lot lately about the ways in which our personal worldview can filter our spatial experience to create individualized interpretations of cities. We have the power to formulate our own maps and visions of space like never before. We can layer stories, visions, concepts, and more onto our geographies. Mr. Beller's Neighborhood maps New York via oral histories; Baltimore Green Maps looks at the city through the lens of sustainable resources.

Screen shot of the Baltimore Green Map.

You can even see this manifest in the way official marketers of cities portray themselves to the world. The Baltimore Area Convention and Visitor's Bureau went live yesterday with a site called Visit My Baltimore. It encourages the individual user to upload and link images, videos, maps, etc., of "their" Baltimore. In fact, the very idea of "Baltimore" is open to individual definition. There is no Caesar carving out the land; rather, there are hundreds of individuals defining and mapping their own personal territory.

I just got word from Brian Rosa about a new exhibition that he is curating with L.A.-based Adam Katz. Called Photocartographies: Tattered Fragments of the Map, the show will reveal "mapping itself as a generative process of knowledge creation, a liberatory method for re-imagining and re-imaging our world, its built and natural environments, and the relationship between space and place," according to the official Web site. "Photography and cartography are entwined in similar processes of subject orientation that structure our experience of social, environmental and virtual landscapes. A map is not a representation so much as a system of propositions," the curators write.

The One Park map: a vision for coalescing public and private green space in Baltimore is illustrated through a map created by architect Steve Ziger.

Brian and Adam are looking for submissions for the exhibition. The deadline is March 31, 2009. The exhibition opens in Los Angeles on May 16. You can learn more about it by clicking here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Flexible City

The Ideal City by Fra Carnevale. Image from the Walters Art Museum.

In the course of researching an article the other day, I ran across a 2003 piece by the late Herbert Muschamp. The NY Times architecture critic was discussing a new building in Miami and he wrote the following:

"The most important events in society take place in the inner world. They're not about moving bodies around in urban space (that was the Baroque ideal) but about moving minds in and out of changing human relationships. When to connect with others, when to disconnect from them? Building the contemporary city is an art of setting flexible boundaries."

Muschamp presents an interesintg point. Our inner world has become the filter for spatial experience. That's a very clear distinction from urban space itself defining our experience. The Ideal City, pictured above, shows the ordered, civic space of Renaissance urban planning. It represents "the importance of security, religion, and recreation in a well-regulated city and the value of Roman ideals in urban design," according to the curators at the Walters Art Museum where it is held. There is defined space, and that space cues the action and movement of the inhabitant. It is symbolic, grand, and inflexible.

How do we interact with a city today? Well, for one, we are able to move beyond the context of physical space and the programmatic clues presented therein by accessing virtual connection. The city is, at times, something experienced in a digital world of our choosing. We create satellite maps and imaging, employ social networks, apply personalized layers of information to maps, twitter our coordinates. We curate and filter our information to fit our needs. We can usurp actual forays into the world at large and order our groceries online. (The UK's Stephen Graham, a researcher in human geography and cities, compiled an excellent book of essays examining urban life and technology called The Cybercities Reader.)

Does this change the way we experience space and what we need from our city? What does it mean to create those "flexible boundaries" that Muschamp discusses?

I got to thinking about a comment made by a reader to my post about privately owned public spaces . In Carnevale's ideal city, spacial definitions are clear: here is civic space, here is private space, here is ceremonial space, here is where we trade goods. The reader noted that our contemporary debate between privately owned public spaces and pure public spaces represents ambiguity—we often encounter spaces that we are not sure how to handle—and that ambiguity can be a good thing. "We tend really to passivity when we hit a necessary structural ambiguity like this [a privately owned public space], when what's called for instead is active, less-timid pushing of the public-vs.-private overlap/contradiction right to the fore, giving it more significance in what's expected of city space," he writes.

In other words, there is no master in the master plan anymore. Sometimes urban spaces are up for grabs. Their use changes over time, their intended use is trumped by the crowd, by shifting economies, by unforeseen events. As our own creative minds fuel our economies, as that inner world Muschamp mentions trumps the communal, civic one, we can become the definers of space. Our cities become more fluid, less rigid, and cry out for new systems to help us navigate them. So what does that mean for urban planning? We often hear about how uncertain economic times require us to be nimble and reactive. How do our cities manage to balance long-range planning with that necessary nimbleness?

This question was raised at a Design Conversation in Baltimore earlier this month. The answer from the group that night pointed less to design dictates and more to values. Create planning around values and develop design hierarchies that support those core values. In New York, for example, urban planner Alex Washburn says that the city uses a simple matrix to assess new developments: the pedestrian is first, the bicycle and public transit second, the car third. When that simple hierarchy of values is employed, it dictates how projects are executed and, in turn, how the city is experienced.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Privately Owned Public Spaces

A plaque in Los Angeles on the sidewalk indicating private versus publi property. Photo from Planetizen.

hose of you who follow my work, know that I have a bit of an obsession with privately owned public spaces , those oddly named quasi-public areas in cities that rarely function as true public space. On Planetizen today, L.A. editor Nate Berg (who blogged with me at the Rockefeller Conference in Philadelphia last fall) wrote a nice piece on the topic. Check it out here.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Call for Entries: Artscape 2009

Kroiz's temporary installation on the Midway in 2008.

Last summer, architect Gabriel Kroiz created a temporary installation on the Charles Street Bridge in Baltimore near Penn Station. The exhibit was for the annual Artscape Festival. Now you have an opportunity to build on this prime piece of real estate.

Artscape 2009
Midway II Façade Design Competition


Midway II is an art installation and performance project that incorporates twenty-four 8’ x 8’ Baltimore City festival booths that line both sides facing each other to create a midway on the 1600 North Charles Street. Designers, architects and artists are invited to submit proposals for the façade of this second iteration of Artscape’s ongoing alternative to the tradition of the carnival midway.

The dominant aspect of the façade is that it provide panels to fill the spaces between the booth openings and visually tie together the entire installation. The width of these spaces can be between 3’ and 8’. Height requirements are open but the panels must block access to the backs of the booths. Other aspects can be added such as connecters across the tops of the booths, entrance elements and the like.

A $4,000 stipend will be provided for the execution of this project. This will include all costs involved in fabricating and installing all of the façade elements. The city booths, modified to have open fronts, will be installed by Artscape and Artscape staff will coordinate on the installation of the façade.

Application deadline, March 6, 2009

Installation days, July 16-17, 2009

Artscape and exhibition duration:
Friday, July 17, noon-10pm
Saturday, July 18, noon-10pm
Sunday, July 19, noon-8pm
Removal of artwork, Sunday, July 19, 8-11pm

For more information contact Gary Kachadourian at 410-752-8632

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Diagonal Blog

Eye candy from the Diagonal blog.

here's a nice new voice in design and culture in Baltimore. The graphic design studio Diagonal Creative, founded by Bradley Hamblin and Alexey Ikonomou, has launched a blog. And I'm not just mentioning it because they picked up my Ignite talk for their post today. I'm telling you because of posts like this one on graphic imagery and this one about product design. Damn, I love that vodka bottle.

Baltimore Infill Survey

What would you do with this vacant lot?

In December, Gary Kachadourian hosted Baltimore's monthly Design Conversation around the topic of vacancy. People came prepared with many images of projects and ideas. It was a great discussion (read more about it here). Now Gary wants you to join in. Through the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, he has established the Baltimore Infill Survey. Here are the details from Gary...

Sections of Baltimore City (ie vacant lots and buildings) represent a huge and flexible resource for new and innovative reanimation. The Baltimore Infill Survey is a Flickr-based site that has been set up as a forum to discuss how this resource may be used. You are invited to participate in this discussion. Just download the image here and alter it with a possible vision for how these spaces can be used again. Any and all ideas from the very practical to the purely hypothetical are encouraged.

The photograph is of a middle of the block site (no longer existent as pictured) including occupied and vacant homes and vacant lots. After you have modified your image just send it with any accompanying text to:

Your image and the accompanying text will be posted.

This is an ad hoc project that is being coordinated under the auspices of the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts and the Baltimore Design Conversation.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Anti-theft lunch bags

I work in a converted mill building that houses a number of different businesses and my floor shares a common kitchen. There are often these wonderful diatribes about stolen lunches tacked to the refrigerator. My favorite in recent months was: "Keep off my Lean Pockets people!!!!"

These anti-theft lunch bags caught my eye when I saw them on a blog. File it under the "Why hasn't someone thought of this before?" category:

Fake mildewed ziplocks. Courtesy of these guys.

Tonight! Design Conversation Baltimore

Image from

There are many reasons why you should swing by the Wind Up Space in Baltimore for tonight's Design Conversation, but perhaps my favorite is the inclusion of Eric Gordon of Boston's Hub2. The organization creates virtual spaces on Second Life and asks us to populate them with potential architecture and design. In their words:

"Hub2 seeks to enable local neighborhoods to participate more meaningfully in the design and development of their own public spaces. Residents engage in a process that employs 3D tools and problem-solving techniques to articulate a common vision reflecting the participants’ values."

Image from

Community planning often falters from what I call the Hairdresser's Syndrome: You tell your stylist what you want, but her interpretation of what you've said is vastly different from what you've envisioned. (It's why they always tell you to bring photos from magazines.) Anyone who has suffered through a bad haircut knows what I mean. Which is why Hub2's approach is a great tool for supporting public conversations. There can be a language barrier between planners, architects, and citizens. Using virtual reality to put a visual voice to the task at hand is a smart idea.

Be sure to pop over to the Wind Up tonight at 6:30 and participate in what promises to be a lively discussion.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Vega Project

Poster design by San Francisco's Vega Project.

Last night during the Superbowl, my friend Brenda commented that the ads seemed to have a depression-era sensibility. Lots of slapstick, little depth, very vaudeville. Punching coffee drinking koalas -

San Francisco's Vega Project is channeling the downturn for their latest poster design. I met Danielle Gutherie, one half of Vega Project's husband-and-wife design team, on a trip this fall. She and her husband, Jeff, host a regular happy hour and this month, the theme was rationing:

We throw a mean happy hour!
This month we have been forced to get a financial bailout from the U.S. government to help fund our happy hour. We will be distributing equal rations of bread, vodka, sausage, and potassium

You can download the poster from their site. And you can keep up with their fertile design minds via their blog.