Doppelgänger and digital twins, urban glimpses and drawing data
Data versus stories, abstract models versus everyday complex
Ed. This is the quite different, original version of the foreword written for After the Flood’s ‘Cities Squared: Making Urban Data Legible’ publication, about their data viz tool for London, London Squared. I was fortunate enough to be able to commisson the original work from After the Flood, as explained here, as well as to collaborate with them on it a bit, though it’s really all their work—as is this book. ‘Cities Squared’ extends the work well beyond London’s footprint, into other cities and other ideas. The book is predictably solid, useful, and desirable, as well as insightful, and it’s particularly rewarding to be able to ‘close the loop’ by writing for their publication about the broader context of data about cities, models of cities, and understanding and visualising cities.
The statistician George Box famously said “All models are wrong, but some are useful”. It’s a less-than-useful statement, no matter how accurate, recalling nineteenth century Philadelphia retailer John Wanamaker’s, when he said that half of the money he spent on advertising was useless — he just didn’t know which half. But Box’s adage does capture the maddening pull of modelling and mapping and visualising: a beguiling sense that we can capture the complexity of the world around us and reduce it down to some essential meaning, to be understood, calibrated, controlled.
And in an age increasingly defined by three interweaving patterns which apparently lend themselves to modelling and mapping — the dominance of the city, the technologies of the Internet, and the climate crisis — it is hardly surprising that modelling, mapping and visualisation seem so vital. The ongoing fall and fall of the smart cities movement notwithstanding, the idea that we can visualise comprehensive urban data dominates technical conversations in city halls across the world.
It’s a fundamental analytical shift from the station to the taxi, from the fixed dimensions of the street to the fluid interactions of the sidewalk. The form of data changes, and the tools and…