Mapping Urban Adventures

Emerging maps and apps are catalyzing new social behavior for city dwellers.

Traveling is as much about observing the environment as it is about navigating the streets. Lately it seems new technologies and tools are popping up to unstick our faces from our iPhones, break out of our routines, and discover the urban space around us.

Unlike traditional maps, these tools help one navigate the city with deeper purpose, even if that quest is guided by serendipity and storytelling. For instance, Pinwheel, the new app from Flickr and Hunch co-founder Caterina Fake (still in Beta) asks you to photograph your favorite locals and write an anecdotal story to accompany them. It is like building a memory map of your experiences and helping enrich your environment with digital cues for others to see. Pinwheel gives a nod to analog correspondence by likening their system to “finding and leaving notes around the world.” It is almost like bringing Rebecca Solnit's Infinite City atlas to life through your mobile phone, with possible tips being “Best Butterfly Hunting spots” or “All the places we went on dates during the summer of 2008.” Curious to see how Pinwheel will catch on, as a new generation is eager to preserve their own identity and culture through new digital means, including the mapped experience.

But what about those who want to chart new territory? Or, better yet, what about a map that helps you rediscover the territory you traverse on a daily basis in a completely new way by being a very proactive traveler?

The Drift Deck (pictured above), a concept produced by Julian Bleecker and Dawn Lozzi is "an algorithmic puzzle game used to navigate city streets," offering "instructions that guide you as you drift about the city."

This alternative city guide takes you off the beaten path and away from crowded tourist spots. With cues, clues, actions, and provocations acting as your compass, wandering around the city becomes a deeply immersive experience.

How it works:

Each card contains an object or situation, followed by a simple action. For example, a situation might be-you see a fire hydrant, or you come across a pigeon lady. The action is meant to be performed when the object is seen, or when you come across the described situation. For example-take a photograph, or make the next right turn.

Like Pinwheel, Drift Deck helps you capture your adventures and document your new discoveries to share with other city rompers. But the real delight isn't found in the documentation, but rather in the live-action absurdity that one will add to their urban landscape. Drift Deck was motivated and inspired by the Situationist International, “a small, international group of political and artistic agitators” formed in 1957 and active through the 1960's aiming to influence major social and political transformations.

A leading figure in this group was Guy Debord who developed the “Theory of the Dérive” which involved “playful-constructive behavior and awareness of psychogeographical effects, and are thus quite different from the classic notions of journey or stroll.” The Dérive is meant to redefine a citizen's relationship with their urban landscape by shifting their social behavior.

Right now the Drift Deck is still in beta and in the form of physical playing cards. But as BLDGBLOG states, this could easily link up with any geolocation mobile apps and extend to a larger community quest with your networks.

Either way, the city street is no longer underfoot, but part of our behaviors and quickly shaping the ways we conceptualize our own personal narratives and paths.

The Future of The City


The adoption of ubiquitous computing, mobile devices, and rich sources of data are changing how we live, work, and play in urban environments. Increasingly, a digital landscape overlays our physical world and is expanding to offer ever-richer experiences that augment—and in some cases, replace—the physical experience: “The city is the platform, the network, the sensors, and the interface,” as frog creative director Rob McIntosh put it in a recent talk. To celebrate the New Cities Summit where frog hosted a workshop on the Meta-City, design mind presents a special digital issue exclusively on the future of the city and live coverage from the event.

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