Emergent Cities Research Group

In early 2011, a group of USC faculty began to discuss a shared interest in new kinds of urbanism, in which digital and mobile informatics deliver new possibilities for the ways in which we interact with, participate in and understand cities. The networks, sensors and devices that have become part of the everyday urban fabric provide a platform for reimagining and reconfiguring cities in participatory and collaborative ways. Mobile devices not only enable the capture of data from multiple sources on the ground from people in any city or region, they also allow for a new kind of visual data—digital photographs and video—coupled with audio recordings.

Taken together as a whole, these elements generate real-time data, information and systems that profoundly alter the ways in which we conceptualize and relate to our environment, as well as gather data—through public space, architecture, artistic elements and cultural activities, social behavior, economics, politics and logistics. The current and future conditions call for collaborative research, cross-disciplinary testing, and multi-layered visualization of cities.

The group’s first project was 6 Under 60, a collaborative research endeavor resulting in interactive multi-media exhibition presented at the 2011 Shenzhen & Hong Kong Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism. This project analyzed six cities that emerged or were transformed within the last 60 years—Chandigarh, Brasilia, Gaborone, Almere, Shenzhen, and Las Vegas.

The Emergent Cities Research Group’s second design research project has explored using a digital media intervention to create the conditions for participatory urbanism. This research has linked directly to interdisciplinary topics important to faculty research across the university and serves as a lens onto Los Angeles.

The group has devised a mobile application that can be used to prompt residents of LA to submit photos videos and audio tracks of elements within the city that are meaningful to them in response to particular issues of study. Submitted materials are uploaded to a project website that can be sorted and explored through a dynamic web site, as well as on mobile devices.

This project begins a crowd sourced archive that will document the rapidly changing and emergent landscape of Los Angeles through the eyes of the people who know it best—a diverse population of Angelenos. It would be possible to re-photograph aspects of the city over time, and collect this data in order to assess this information from a comparative point of view.

This project offers scalable opportunities for a comparative urbanism with research efforts on other changing cities.