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The Meso Scale Panel Discussion

Published onDec 24, 2019
The Meso Scale Panel Discussion
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Discussion Summary

As David Peters introduced apathetic communities, the first exchange discussed whether these were recognizable as a scale phenomenon. With cities are getting bigger there is less community engagement and much is left to government⁠— it is good for the government to work well. The data had been averaged for all counties in a nine-state area. The larger counties were more diverse and did not have more poverty, representing more cities. That indicates that there are different norms for rural or non-metropolitan compared to metropolitan areas. All big metropolitan areas were identifies as being in the apathetic category.

This panel started off by discussing the cluster developments in terms of their impact on the characteristics of resilience. For example, why does a cluster development lead to less apathy and more perseverance and resilience? In other words, how does the proximity in which people live affect their resilience, which seems an understudied area and a great collaboration project between urban design and sociology. A major challenge for this type of analysis is the availability of data. There are easily accessible data at the county level at to the Census Research Data Center. Economic and IRS data are available down to zip code level or block group level. However, urban form studies require finer, granular details at the sub county level. These data will allow to identify changes over time and get some probabilities. Research questions include: Are the areas becoming more resilient, more engaged? In large suburbs with homes on 1-acre lots, do the commutes make them more isolated from each other? These studies will help determine how the structure might enhance or detract from social interaction.

These questions led to the discussion of city typologies that are challenging for studies of urban areas, specifically when we consider them as systems-of-systems to integrate measures of social aspects. Currently, we are thinking about the discussed typology of different characterizations of urban-rural locations in terms of levels of responsiveness of those communities to certain stimuli. How do we integrate measures of social and biophysical resilience in order to develop typologies that consider both landscapes in terms of their biophysical performance (as Goecmen defines them) and designed landscapes? How can we combine this with measuring social ramifications and results as well?

Shanai Matteson referred to the difference between social and cultural resilience which often determines whether certain cultures are resilient. An obvious example is the fact that indigenous people are erased almost completely from our conversation here and in many other places. They have been fighting for cultural resilience as a way to ecological resilience and other kinds of resilience and sustainability. Thus, it is important to be more specific than just focusing on “social resilience” and talk about what we really mean. David Peters brought his work with indigenous peoples in southwest Colombia into the conversation. These indigenous people adapted to high elevation climates to farm with the local knowledge based on time and place in a certain context. However, our research shows that the context is changing, making local knowledge increasingly irrelevant as the climate changes. Therefore, we have to build new local knowledge bases as the climate changes, and being aware of the challenge of doing it without imposing an outside set of ideas. Current approaches to technical solutions have served well for 500 some odd years; however, even with the best of intentions, groups may come in and try to import models but this will still not include local knowledge as it was developed over a long period of time.

Anirban Adhya reiterated the classification of cities along with social and cultural resilience and the associated variables. Referring to Goecmen’s discussion of open space and conservation in both quantity and quality, it would be beneficial to look at spatial typologies through the frame of urban network analysis .With such a frame we could look into street patterns and connections to integrate accessibility issues. These connection could become true correlation studies that can identify patterns as classification categories for cities. For example, the street space is very different in Delhi compared to Boone or Detroit or St. Louis. Therefore, the space and the associated category could become a connecting facto, correlating with social or cultural variables and the access to open spaces.

Xinyue Ye commented further on spatial decision support systems commonly used by stakeholders and different academic disciplines. thus he suggestedeste an common ontology between disciplines because they all currently use different terms. It is comparable to the way we translate Chinese to English to allow participants to engage.

Kimberly Zarecor provided thoughts on how to include cultural richness in the discussion and to reflect on how data interface. This represents the difficult task to capture what we might call an interdisciplinary look at what a place is in contrast to the way sidewalk poems provided a detailed understanding of Place. The beauty of what Aaron showed us with the kids in the street as an experiential understanding of the city could be muted in an interface with its graphs and numbers. Even though there is the intention to capture more of the richness, the disciplines pull in opposite directions. In Aaron’s example, driving a video system around in the neighborhoods would not show the same place.

Aaron Dysart argued that the term diversity should be expanded beyond race, in particular because diversity is also important in practice. Considering the world of biology, the reason we have a diverse way of looking at things is to make sure we see everything. It should not be considered as an “OR” proposition but rather as an “AND” proposition. The one issue we have not talked about here is that it matters how much people care about where they live. We found time and time again, with various diverse portfolio practices in St. Paul, that if you care about where you live, you will take care of the place. For example, projects that aimed at putting chairs out in a park were ridiculed by the city because city representatives assumed the chairs would be stolen in a night. In reality, they did not lose a single one. So, in this notion of data collection in the terminology of accountability and being able to put data into a spreadsheet (which I actually think is really important as I work with spreadsheets and I love data in my own personal practice), I want to make sure we are thinking about how people actually are and why some do not care about where they live and others do. If we lose track of the concept of place-making and belonging, we will create another subdivision with the same food court you can get in any town. Strong cultures that recognize themselves as important will fight to stay in place. They will persevere or at least try to persevere. So in that regard, I really think it is an ‘AND’ proposition⁠—the diverse practice of seeing your city through a specific lense. If we all have a flashlight shining on one object, the more flashlights we have, the better we will see it.

Xinyue Ye referred to a project undertaken some years ago about how children can walk safely back to their home. The idea was to let different participants (police, parents, visitors) travel through the same streets and to survey whether they feel safe. Safety levels can be mapped and when these maps show a major discrepancy in safety perception between parents and others, the underlying issue needs to be addressed to ensure safety of all.

Using videos will add another dimension to our data: we archive a narrative of different people in the same space or of the same person at different times in the same location. Recently, we also developed new technologies to gauge the participants’ emotional state: Are they excited about it or depressed. This allows us to review another type of information. Even background noise can be analyzed: it provides information on whether there is a lot of traffic or other noisy events during certain times. The more advanced technology is able to identify abnormal sound. All these different data provide a vividness of the neighborhood. I showed this technology to the Transportation Department in New Jersey and they were excited to implement it and integrate remote sensing and a Google view image. The New Jersey project will highlight why we need sidewalks and how they promote healthy walking habits in the neighborhood. It will also be used to mitigate traffic accidents because it will help place sidewalks strategically to promote community resilience.


This event is supported by the National Science Foundation, Award #1929601. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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