In a multiply authored recap of the best and worst ideas of 2006, we find the so-called ambient walkman, designed by Noah Vawter, a graduate student at MIT.
The ambient walkman “consists of two headphones with transparent earpieces, each equipped with a microphone and a speaker”:
The microphones sample the background noise in the immediate vicinity – wind blowing through the trees, traffic, a cellphone conversation. Then, with the help of a small digital signal-processing chip, the headphones make music from these sounds. For instance, percussive sounds like footsteps and coughs are sequenced into a stuttering pattern, and all the noises are tuned so that they fuse into a coherent, slowly changing set of harmonies.
This apparently amplifies users’ interest in their surroundings by encouraging direct sonic engagement. According to the project’s own website, for instance, the walkman’s users start “to play with objects around them, sing to themselves, and wander toward tempting sound sources.”
So they start acting the Teletubbies…
Elsewhere in the same annual review, David Haskell – executive director of the Forum for Urban Design – observes that big urbanism is back. In fact, he writes, “cities are once again planning with grandiosity… with large-scale redevelopment projects sprouting nationwide.” Read the rest of his article for specific examples.
Shifting gears – though proving Haskell’s point, in some ways – the Times then zeroes in on “urban shrinkage.” In the specific instance of Youngstown, Ohio, we read, urban shrinkage is a “strategy [that] calls for razing derelict buildings, eventually cutting off the sewage and electric services to fully abandoned tracts of the city and transforming vacant lots into pocket parks.”
If one overlooks the “pocket parks,” in other words, the strategy sounds remarkably like urban warfare.
Of course, these steps will also retro-fit the city for its gradually shrinking – in the numeric sense – population: “The city and county are now turning abandoned lots over to neighboring landowners and excusing back taxes on the land, provided that they act as stewards of the open spaces. The city has also placed a moratorium on the (often haphazard) construction of new dwellings financed by low-income-housing tax credits and encouraged the rehabilitation of existing homes.”
So, by reducing the quantity of urban dead zones within the city, Youngstown will theoretically replace unused voidspace with well-planted parks and pedestrian neighborhoods. Which means that, from my perspective, it’s a good idea whether it works or not.
For equally good (and bad) ideas chosen by the NYTimes, see a few more links at Archinect; for more on Youngstown’s shrinkage, see this older post on Brand Avenue.
(Earlier: Quick list 5, et cetera).