Pop!Tech Notes: Christian Nold and Emotional Mapping of Cities


Image: Christian Nold

Speaker: Christian Nold, http://biomapping.net/, Softhook.com. (My comments in parentheses.)

"London only has enough food for three days." "Cities are consensual hallucinations."

Participatory sensory mapping. Nold blindfolds and temporarily deafens people, leaving them only by touch—they are led by the hand—and smell. A map of a college area with notes like "noise like car sirens" and "the wall where I hurt my finger" and "like something died" instead of roads and conduits. Almost 50% of the experiences recorded by 30-some-odd schoolchildren were positive. "We sat on a wet bench for a minute, it felt so cold because it was raining," was an example note. The entire map is just a couple thousand meters square.

He developed a device called the "Bio-mapping device," essentially based on a lie detector, based on physiological arousal, connected to a GPS unit. They participants go around for something like an hour, creating "emotional maps." Map notes such as "argument with mom"; spikes near shabby industrial areas.

Nold ends up taking all the data in aggregate and publishing printed maps showing the "emotional landscape." A "high arousal area" around a cafe that will be demolished soon, perhaps indicating that the cafe should not be torn down.

"San Francisco emotion map." (They have emotion in San Francisco?) Sample note: "Smelled really strong pee but only a second later smelled beef. Mmm!" Nold: "Lots of people felt really strong arousal walking past their old [sexual] partners' houses." Another note: "I really like the mural with the bears." (These, as Nold alluded to, would make fantastic maps for walking tours in a new city. Emotional landmarks!)

Another map did the arousal biomapping, but also allowed them to draw little figures along with their mappings. New shopping area was low arousal; old market was high arousal.

Big issue in UK is stopping kids from "hanging around." (The whole chav thing.) Young people are being marginalized. This sort of mapping may help to bring about emotionally positive spaces for kids.

(The whole thing reminds me a lot of the conversations that occured last week in NYC at a Burning Man event organized by the AIA. A woman who spoke was a architect in London, who learned about integrating "sacred" spaces into city planning from Black Rock City, which is torn down and recreated every year. In essence, it's easier to discover what's been done wrong than it is to correct it.)

See also: Pop!Tech: Christian Nold's Emotional Maps [EthanZuckerman.com]

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