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Local Code | Mapping No Man’s Land

February 16, 2010

Together with his students, assistant professor of architecture and urban design at the University of California, Berkeley, Nicholas de Monchaux has developed the project Local Code, which utilizes G.I.S. (geographic information systems) to map out unused pavement spaces within big cities. By harnessing the power of data visualization, de Monchaux is able to quickly aggregate these ‘spaces between places’ into a dense network that facilitates the practice of urban acupuncture.

Local Code takes G.I.S. data on buildings, sewer location, topography, etc. and then recommends an optimum design for each site (instead of a general design strategy). Above: Analysis by Local Code of vacant city-owned parcels in San Francisco, that highlights physical and ecological problems (storm-water remediation, heat-island effects) and social and medical problems.

Seeing a city as an ecological infrastructure rather than just a mass of individual buildings, Local Code takes initiatives like Krax, City Mine(d), or Guerrilla Gardening a step further.

Local Code
Above: Web interface that could be used to transform the site(s) identified by Local Code. Designers, community member and other users would be able to select from a palette of options (from benches, say, to plants). The online/social media component moves toward building digital democracy in community design and activism.
In an interview with the NY Times, de Monchaux says:
“Now, with the ability to model dynamic systems, we can show a much more decentralized collection of resources could provide greater benefit… The best way to provide infrastructure is to not go in with a meat ax but to practice urban acupuncture, finding thousands of different spots to go into.”

“When we examined all the leftover spaces in San Francisco, New York, New Orleans, Minneapolis — we found the same thing to be true in every city,” de Monchaux says. “You had a whole archipelago of city-owned lots lying fallow. In New York they add up to the size of Central Park and Prospect Park together. It’s a massive untapped resource that’s impossible to visualize without these contemporary tools.”

Local Code Physical Spaces
Aggregation of abandoned developed areas identified by Local Code

With the growing number of vacant lots, foreclosed homes, empty streets and leftover pockets in the cities we live today, Local Code proposes the kind of networked vision that can open new avenues of intervention to repurpose and transform unexploited urban spaces to their fullest social, ecological and economic potential.

Photos and captions courtesy Nicholas de Monchaux Visualization and NY Times

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