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“... following the conversation ...” Investigation on Methods for the Enhancement of Participatory Design


Enol Vallina

content introduction /0 a viewpoint on urban analysis models /1 case studies /2 learning from other fields street art propaganda maps implementation /3 toolkit /4 mood state analysis Political Input Community Participation Self-Expression Conclusion /5 Biliography

abstract ‘Following the Conversation’ explores the impact of social networks, as current opinion generators, in the perception of the urban environment. As an initial concept, the project humbly ambitions to merge two concepts related with the actual data that we can generate and the effective impact that street art can have within the urban environment. On one hand, recent data visualization projects have increased the awareness about ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘where’ or ‘how’ users use technology to participate or initiate a discussion. On the other hand, certain pieces of street art have the ability to participate in the discussion using a language that resembles more to advertisement by the use of ‘punchy’ slogans or memorable images. This project finds that both models have the potential to change the perception of the physical environment; however, they are not normally recognized by the current methods of urban analysis, thus urban design processes. Framing the output of this reflections on the relation between urban analysis and social media in the content of ‘Models, Prototypes and Projections” has allowed to create a piece of software that analyses the impact of the tweets that higher education institutions have created through their official accounts in a local area in Cambridge. The final result of this exploration has led to a set of tools that allow to interfere in the analysis and provide other view modes.

River Basin McHarg

Mapping Agency James Corner


urban analysis models This exploration recognizes two major types

conclusions in “The Agency of Mapping”,

of Urban Analysis; on the one hand, there

James Corner defends the subjective nature

is an approach that tries to represent a

of this type of approach as it may create

complete series of facts with the aim of

clearer responses to the issues that concern

having the most accurate representation of

a project:

reality as possible. On the other hand, the model gathers specific facts as a way of

“ If maps are essentially subjective,

representing the existing reality relevant to

interpretative and fictional constructs that

a project and, at the same time, addressing

influence decisions, actions and cultural

the personal agenda of the designer himself.

values generally, then why not embrace the

One of the most representative examples of

profound efficacy in exploring and shaping

the first model can be interpreted from the

new realities? Why not embrace the fact that

study done by Mc Harg about the Potomac River

the potentially infinite capacity of mapping

Basin*. Through an arduous analysis that

to find and found new conditions might enable

covered the most important environmental

more socially engaging modes of exchange

elements of the area, Mc Harg and his team

within larger ‘milieux’?”

were able to create a series of layers overlaid on the river basin map covering

To conclude, this comparison of models has

all sort of systems from natural resources

helped to define the appropriate approach to

to the urban footprint. Once all the data

be undertaken by this project exploration.

was gathered, the team created a series of

Due to the uncontrollable subjectivity of

relational diagrams that will inform the

the content got from the tweets that were

decision-making process by assessing the

analyzed, it seems more honest to state

level of compatibility between the systems.

from the beginning that this urban analysis

In the case of the second model, the

model won’t be able to be an accurate

intentions behind the represented models

representation of the reality but a common

are willing to go in line with a pre-made

interpretation of reality by the community

conclusion that asserts the agenda behind

that lives in an area.

the person that drives the project.


this case, facts are filtered to support the intention of the designer to a certain degree; therefore, they represent the reality seen from a subjective lens. In his

Senseable City Lab MIT Media Lab.2014

The Birth of a Word Deb Roy.2014

case studies In parallel to the process of developing the software tools of the project, the content and purpose of them have been shaped by the analysis of three topics: current data analysis representations, lessons learned from street art and a brief review of propaganda maps.

learning from other fields: data analysis There is an overwhelming amount of research

task becomes harder if the subject is a

addressing and predicting individual

neighbourhood. For this reason, the project

behaviours by the analysis of the social

had would to figure out how to differentiate

networks data. In this case, there are two

the tweets with geolocation and the ones

main lessons to be learned in this brief

that none to show both information in the

familiarization with the field of data


analysis. Firstly, one of the most common concerns that comes along with this type of

Secondly, by going through some of the many

analysis is about the difficulties involved

examples of data visualization regarding

in geo-locate the data, thus to drive

twitter usage, it can also be found that,

conclusions based on location. According

in many cases, the factor that encodes the

to studies that have analysed this issue

visualization is based on the number of

at the University of Southern California*,

tweets rather than the content. Therefore, it

there is an approximation of 20% tweets that

becomes a challenge to find out other ways

are geotagged. While this percentage may be

to represent this type of data by content

enough when looking at a national scale or

instead of by number.

even at a metropolitan scale, the studies

Lessons in Avertising vol.2 MOBSTR.2002

Women are Heroes JR, 2008

case studies

street art There has been a proliferation of street art that lives within the community where they that has evolved its content to address, in

are displayed. One of his most celebrated

many cases, social issues. Consequently,

works took place at the Favela Morro da

it has become an additional way of social

Providencia, in Rio de Janeiro, where he

activism within a community. In this case,

pasted photos of its inhabitants on the walks

what can be relevant for the project is the

of their houses. Besides the improvement of

fact that this art pieces have the potential the urban landscape, this action served as to change the perception of a public space.

tool increase awareness, a sense of pride and engagement among the community.

For instance, looking to the work of MOBSTR and more specifically to his series of

By covering these examples, the project

pieces called ‘Words’. The artist reclaims

will try to get their influence into the

billboards throughout the city to wipe

methodology and the physical impact that it

out their content out and print other

can make within the urban scene.

messages on them. By maintaining the type of advertisement language with the replaced messages, the artist creates an effective way of communication that, in this case, criticises consumer society. Aligned with this type of content, other artist that has gathered massive international recognition is Banksy, among his very diverse work, what could be interesting for the project is the use of the public space itself, thus how his works gain in meaning by understanding the location where they are displayed as well as ‘playing’ with the existing elements to create new meanings. Lastly, another appropriate example would be the work of JR. The French artist also reclaims the open space to print photographs of the people

Angling in Troubled Waters MIT Media Lab.2014

The Awakining Hy Mayer, 1905

case studies

propaganda maps Looking to historical maps, and especially to the ones produced during the ‘Great War’ and the “WWII” maps and served to encode politically driven information. Besides the funny connotations and enhancement of country stereotypes, the brief study of some of its most famous examples warns the project to always emphasize the subjective character of the information that it contains.

As a way to apply the lessons learned from

discoveries. About the location of this

the analysis of the case studies as well

analysis, even if it would not be necessary,

as the predisposition to create a model

an area of East Cambridge was chosen having

that would reflect an interpretation of

in mind that there would be a greater

the current situation of a local area, the

percentage of twitter users belonging to the

project has focused on a specific area and a

actual institutions.

topic to assess the twitter conversations. This exercise has looked to topics generated

The first part of the project was to create

by the official twitter accounts of the

a method for analyzing the tweet feeds of

higher education institutions around the area

the institutions, accounts that for the sake

of Cambridge (Harvard University, MIT, Boston

of clarity where named ‘mother’ accounts.

University, Lesley and Tuffs). The reason

The result is, for this exercise, a generic

of choosing this accounts was made for two

analysis that will later be interacted in

reasons; first, because of their high tweet-

the second part of the implementation.

posting activity, and secondly because of

The program generated a three-dimensional

the content of the tweets cover a wide range

model based on a geo-location input that

of topics from current affairs to scientific

was used to provide sense of orientation

implementation when data would be displayed. The method to

points displayed, spheres are created to

analyze the impact of the tweets consisted

visualize the impact. The radius of them is

on filtering the words through a definition

depending on two parameters: by proximity

that was able to detect the unnecessary words

to other spheres and by number of users of

such as articles, conjunctions or other

the ‘mother’ tweet account. As some of the

illegible characters. Once the phrases are

spheres were overlapping by proximity the

filtered, another definition will look for

definition transformed them into metaballs as

tweets containing these key words within

a way to emphasize areas of influence. Each

the area of analysis, so automatically

institution was analyzed separately with the

removing messages that out of the stablished

intention of differentiate by color the areas

boundaries. Following the analogy of family

of influence covered by each of them.

relationship, these tweets were called ‘son tweets’.

Then, as only a portion of these

tweets had geolocation information, the ones that have it where transformed into points of the tridimensional model space, in addition to their text content. Finally, with all the

Workflow of the Generic Analysis

Cambridge Boundary

Harvard University

Boston University

Defining the Base Model

local area for analysis


Generic Analysis Visualization

Generic Analysis Visualization

Generic Analysis Visualization

the ‘toolkit’ Given the parameters described above, the analysis also covered the evolution of the tweets through time. Consequently, there was an effort to track by day all the ‘mother’ and consequent ‘son’ tweets for a period of a week. Once the standard analysis is set, it allows to visualize the evolution and level of impact of each institution. However, this study has tried to go further in the exploration by proposing four ways to interact, participate or see the results from a different perspective. For that reason, a set of tools was created to address different types of use or to just ‘curate’ the actions taken to disrupt the conversations: ‘Mood State Analysis’, ‘Political Input’, ‘Community Participation’ and ‘SelfExpression’.

Workflow Disruption of the Generic Analysis


mood state analysis Each tweet content has certain degree of

the polarity analysis. Once every sphere

subjectivity or positivity that could

representing a tweet had its sentiment

determine the type of conversations the

analysis scores associated with it, a color

standard analysis is generating. For that

gradient is used to encode the score in it.

reason, this tool runs a ‘Sentiment Analysis’ of the conversation feed. The results

This analysis ambitions to contextualize the

provided by the analysis allows to map the

content of the conversations. However, it

areas of influence based on the ratios of

should be stated that the reliability of this

subjectivity or polarity analyzed for each

type of analysis may always be questionable.

displayed tweet.

The algorithms behind this automated process are using probabilistic word associations to

The analysis is automated using basic tools

determine a score; however, as Amit Moran*

of Natural Language Processing (NLP). The

infers in his presentation on ‘Sentiment

library used in this case is the text

Analysis Ranking using twitter data’ the task

processing library ‘TextBlob’, among the

becomes even more difficult in situations

features that it provides, this exercise

when the phrase concatenates a positive and

used the sentiment analysis tool for giving

negative message at the same time.

a score from 0.0 to 1.0 in the subjective analysis (where 1.0 the maximum level if subjectivity) and from -1.0 to 1.0 in


mood state analysis Interface Visualization


mood state analysis Interface Visualization

Workflow Disruption of the Generic Analysis


political input Based on an identified conversation within

In this case, the resultant visualization of

an area, this tool aims to disrupt the

the tool is to show the current influence

conversation by interfering within the

areas (all of them being placed with z=0

generic analysis process. First, the

coordinates) and incorporate the new spheres

interface shows both a geolocated and a non-

representing the ‘disruptive tweets’

geolocated feeds of a conversation. Then, it

(encoded with different color and positioned

allows to create an input by adding into the

at a higher ‘z’ coordinate) but directly

conversation geolocated opinions that would

interfering in the formation of the influence

modify/enrich the conversation.


The tool uses a twitter account created

Ultimately, the user would be able to have

especially for this exercise: @iua_mpp.

an overview of the evolution of these

Throughout the period of time when all the

conversations with and without the disruptive

tweets where gathered, this account was used

tweets, or even decide to participate in the

in different places around Cambridge with


the intention of participate in real time in the conversations that were created by the analysis.



political input Interface Visualization

the red spheres are the representation of the disruptive tweets


political input Interface Visualization

the red spheres are the representation of the disruptive tweets

Workflow Disruption of the Generic Analysis


community participation By using certain words or provided keys, this

In this case, the tool does not analyze or

tool generates a new conversation that would

disrupt the tweet analysis, but generates

reflect the concerns and suggestions of the

new geotagged conversations that are

community that will make use of it.

classified by the relevant topics (#traffic, #education, #leisure, #open_space, etc.). The

This tool tries to challenge the process

participants would have to use their twitter

of community participation meetings that

accounts during a pre-stablished ‘feedback

are being part of urban design process. One

period’; then, they will comment on their

of the rising concerns about these type

thoughts and include in their post a pre-

of meetings is that the audience, hence

determined hashtag that would help to link

the feedback from them, may not reflect

their comment to the relevant topics. After

the social structure of the community. For

the ‘feedback period’, the result of this

this reason, the use of modern channels of

exercise will create a map where to discover

communication such as social networks may

the recurring areas with suggestions based in

help to create a feedback that would come

the topic.

from a more consistent extract of the people that conform the community.


community participation Interface Visualization


community participation Interface Visualization

Workflow Disruption of the Generic Analysis


selfexpression The final tool is the most open one.


fact of geotagging comments or other type of content into the model interface created in this exercise may allow to use it as a model that could manage/curate an initiative that is spread in different places in the city. For example, an art piece, a poem, music, performances will not only be part of the physical space in a specific period, but being accessed from the actual prototype. At the same time, this platform may allow to ‘discover’ new places around the area of analysis. Corners, alleys, parts of a park, abandoned sites that by posting, mapping and including an activity can become new destinations to maximize the capabilities of the open urban space that is surrounding us.

This project has permitted to explore a type of information that is not commonly used in the process of urban analysis: social media streams. Therefore, it has opened an opportunity to begin to investigate how social media can influence the design process. This exercise particularly focused on the field of urban design; consequently, the interest of this study has been around the impact that can be assessed from a social media stream like twitter in the urban environment. The software implementation created for this analysis gave a series of results that would be difficult to use them as reliable sources that could inform weather or not an impact has been made in the urban environment. However, it seems plausible that through a longer process of evolving and updating the implementation part, it would arrive to a level of sophistication that could provide more reliable results. In addition, one of the most effective elements of the analysis has been to visualize the evolution through time; therefore, the study would need of the analysis of longer periods of time to, then,

conclusion begin to understand changes of the content

Examining other non-design-related fields,

depending on the season or the effects of

the assessment of the information that can

external events.

be gathered from social networks has, for example, helped to detect certain social

The combination of the tools ideated for this

groups that have in the virtual space their

project can be seen as a first prototype

differentiation characteristics. This had led

iteration of a platform that could support

to a range of solutions that, besides being

new narratives to inform the design process.

scaled appropriately to their target, have

The combination of results from tools like

the potential to be more meaningful for an

the ‘mood analysis’ with, for example, the

individual. Consequently, the incorporation

‘political input’ could help to assess the

of this type of analysis into the traditional

actual impact of the disruptive messages

urban analysis efforts for a project has the

generated by the last tool. Another example

potential to led designers and decision-

would be the combination of the ‘Community

makers to a better understanding of a

Participation’ tool with the ‘Political

community, hence their needs.

Input’ tool, in this combination it could help to contrast the feedback of the community with the political agenda of the authorities on the same geolocated issue. To conclude, this project has helped to just ‘scratch the surface’ of what could be learned, or not, by using the social media content as a tool to inform the design process. Nevertheless, it is a fact that these platforms have switched the way that opinions or general ideas are generated.

bibliography A systems analysis model of urbanization and change; an experiment in interdisciplinary education Steinitz, Carl. Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press, 1970. The Agency of Mapping James Corner. Mappings, London, Reaktion, 1999. Managerial Surface John May. Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press, 1970. Society of the Spectacle Guy Debord. Detroit, Black & Red, 1983. Envisioning Information Edward Tufte. Cheshire, Connecticut, Graphics Press, 1990. Radical Praxis: Activism Within and Beyond Architecture Keefer Dunn. Chicago, ,2016 Symbiotic Postures of Commercial Advertising and Street Art.� Borghini, Stefania, Luca Massimiliano Visconti, Laurel Anderson, and Johnf. Sherry, Jr. Journal of Advertising 39, no. 3 (2010): 113-26. Mapping the Twittervers, Michelle Salzman Boston, 2013. Text Classification and Sentiment Analysis, Ahmet Taspinar, 2016. Amit Moran, Movie Sentiment Ranking Using Twitter Data, April 12, 2011. https:// Introduction to Cybernetics and the Design of Systems 2010. Hugh Dubberly & Paul Pangaro

acknowledgments The technical and conceptual development of this project would not have been possible without the extra input and help from: + Susannah Drake, Landscape Architect & Co-Instructor of the MP&P course. + Shota Vashakmadze, Landscape Architect & Co-Instructor of the MP&P course. + Martin Saveski, Research Assistant at MIT Media Lab.



tweety API

textBlob (NTLK) (‘mother’ tweets) .txt

Python Script (‘son’ tweets) .txt


technical implementation The analysis technical workflow has two main parts: Data Gathering and Data Visualization The first part has been implemented through a python script that has allowed to collect, parse and organize all the data regarding the tweets during the period of analysis.

The Second part, implemented with a Grasshopper definition, has gathered the tweet information as well as other open data used to build the basic model of the city and


the location of the institutions analyzed. ‘Meerkat’> GIS Info. Handler

‘Gowl’> GEO Coordinates Handler

‘Mosquito’ > Twitter Info.

Grasshopper Definition

Rhino Interface



technical implementation Grashopper Overall Definition


technical implementation Interaction & Controls


technical implementation Toolkit Definitions


Enol Vallina

'...following the conversation...'