Perspective Mapping: South Station

Tasked with returning to South Station, the following observations were made in light of an essay by urban media designer, Martijn de Waal (of The Mobile City) entitled The City as Interface: How New Media Are Changing the City.

In the essay, de Waal specifies some public space as part of the “urban public sphere,” namely any accessible place where people of various background can potentially meet. In certain aspects, successful public spaces are designed around the identities that weave though the space on a daily basis. A modern urban public are the inhabitants of this public sphere which share a common goal or action (such as transportation in a train station). American sociologist Lyn Lofland introduced a third classification of space (besides public and private): that of the “parochial” domain. A parochial sphere consists of a common group of people that share a sense of commonality despite having a publicly accessible location. Examples include a Turkish hooka bar in a Dutch neighborhood, a gay bar, a bench in a public park where teenagers commonly gather. The ubiquitous nature of personal cellular-run interfaces (phones, laptops, tablets) permits an interlocked analysis of public, parochial and private spaces. These observations try to take in consideration of these three classifications.

Patrons were observed in different zones of the South Station atrium/food court. For the course of three minutes, actions despite walking, were tallied. Included were (phone activity, talking, looking up at ads and way-finding, using the restroom, eating, etc). Actions were then classified into adding to the public domain or participating in a parochial/private domain (since often times it’s difficult to classify which one an individual is participating in).


These are the tallies/raw data from my 3 minute observations about the Atrium:


The concentric circle diagrams are the first steps in my algorithm to determine a network diagram at the perspective of an individual in South Station. My assumption: A patron of South Station will be drawn to areas in which other people are behaving similarly (headphones on, or looking for way-finding, or eating, etc.). My network diagram takes into account which zones are physically accessible to each other (clear pathways) and how much sonic or visual activity is perceivable from his/her vantage point.

The top image is the network diagram with the centers of each zone at their physical distances from each other. The circular chart on the left describes the journey of one individual through South Station in terms of talking on a mobile, looking up at way-finding, and having headphones on. The blue wedge and outlined zone #7 shows where in time and space (respetively) the individual’s perspective is currently. The size of the node represents how many people inhabit that zone on average. The saturation of the node represents how many people are conducting similar actions as the current user’s perspective. The length of the connection represents the potential of the user perceiving ambient information (sonic and visual) in his current perspective.


In this way, space is not a simple function of x-, y- and z-displacement; it is a dynamic system of goal-seeking, resource-exhausting, information-filtering agents which happen to be navigating four dimensions. And when these motivations act on a subject, it is not accurate to plot navigation of a public space in two dimensions.


Mapping Public Spaces: South Station Part 2


After two assignments considering the mapping of South Station, this capstone project is both a summary of research and critique of mapping methodology.

The first visualization observes activity of patrons of South Station in the ticketing and food court atrium. Dots are placed on a plan view of the atrium to show different activity by location. While this visual is helpful to show where different types of activity occur, it is often easily observable: food transactions happen close to food kiosks, etc.

The second iteration of our data concerned perspective mapping. This visualization takes into account a specific user, and to what degree the public sphere can add to his/her experience in Station. The traditional plan view is colored by areas of unique programming. From there a distortion map is created for a user that favors way-finding, noise, visual distractions, and other patrons doing similar actions. While the distortion method is not programmed to be dynamic or algorithmically precise, a series of these maps could help show areas that most alter or add to the urban public sphere.

The third iteration creates a network diagram out of the plan view, considering that area is irrelevant in programming. Programming zones are replaced by nodes, that vary in size by the average population that inhabit those spaces. Connections between nodes are shortened and lengthened according to the similarity of adjacent spaces and strength of their sonic and visual stimuli from the user’s perspective (outlined in blue) and detailed in the circular narrative (blue wedge).

City as Interface (2014) by M. de Waal + New Spatial Context (1971) by Albers, et al.

The City as Interface: How New Media Are Changing the City (2014)

by Martin de Waal


de Waal’s vision of cities as interfaces for private domains and publics is an interesting perspective for mapping. The idea of parochial domains is widely understood, especially in an age where digital domains allow the transformation of public spaces into more domain factions. In my experiences, I’ve had a difficult time imagining what role public domains play in my existence in public spaces. Face-to-face conversations with complete strangers is not what defines a public domain; it’s the sharing of space, the observations of one another, the mutual respect for personal space, the subtle nods, the eye contact, the complimentary movement that makes a public space.

The Urban Public Space

  • urban public space: the urban mixing chamber
  • trust can develop between residents who briefly exchange greetings, meet on the street or have an occasional superficial chat.
    • this mild socialization creates a modern public group: people who are temporarily united around a common practice.
    • the commonality can be present/physical or mediated (via technology).
  • Any group of city dwellers can for a public group by making any part of their life accessible to others.
    • These groups are not passive audiences, they are listeners and performers
  • It is norm of anonymity and the collective unique diverse backgrounds of city dwellers that drive the creation of modern publics.

Parochial and Public Domains

  • two different domains for members of a public: private and the urban public sphere
  • parochial domains exist in between private and public spheres; any public that is accessible to outsiders but would be received with suspicion
    • gay bars, locals’ pub, Turkish Coffee house in Dutch Neighborhood, etc.
  • parochial domains allow members of the public to be absorbed into collectives, while public domains require strangers to determine how they relate to each other.
  • the 19th century ideal of public domains at the center of a city surrounded by parochial domains potentially never existed
    • rather, more people’s lives reveal parochial domains wherever they go.
    • occasionally parochial domains can overlap, forming one of few modern instances of public domain of equal standing strangers

Digital Media and Urban Public Spaces

  • parochial + public domains = urban public sphere
  • historically, urban public spheres could not develop without the physical proximity of city dwellers. mobile technology now allows partially mediated, partially public public domains and parochial domains.
  • social media is still developing, and much like other historical forms of communication technology, we can influence their development though policy, regulation, design or use.
  • Uses of urban media
    • experience makers: record and share
    • territory devices: record of narrative in a space (domain with past experiences)
  • Mizuko Ito + Diasuke Okabe on phone as a “membrane”
    • mobile phones are not a portal that teleports us from a physical location to a virtual worlds but rather a membrane that enables us to admit mediated contacts to our surroundings and to regulate the here and now the presence of absent others/media files.
    • Similarly, phones can take a public domain and create a mini private domain, albeit temporarily.
  • Urban media can also regulate physical access to locations (smart card access point, etc)
  • With the development of urban media, it is important to consider more than the physical construct of a domain. Focus on aspects of the process of a domain itself: how and under what circumstances do city dwellers take notice of each other and thus form urban publics?

The City as an Interface

  • interface: the place at which independent and often unrelated systems meet and act on or communicate with each other
  • “To a large degree, everyday life revolves around attuning individual and collective identities, attuning the present to the past, and harmonizing the concerns and interests of different urban publics.”
    • communication between individual and communal identities and shared social representations
    • helps to remove the purely-physical construct of a public domains or communities

Platform, Programme, Protocols

  • defining a location or space as parochial or public domains is not of great importance; concern should be given to how city dwellers organize themselves, how they create links between other.
  • Platform: environment, space, location (can be non-physical, like software)
  • Programme: specific use of the platform (residential building, Facebook app for iOS, cookout at neighborhood centre)
  • Protocol: applicable behaviors in a context (“liking” a facebook status, who sits where on a bench, etc)
  • Agency: who has the opportunity to influence the shape of the interface? architects? law-makers? the people themselves? technology?

The New Spatial Context from The Science of Geography (1971)

by Albers, et al.


Relative space is a designers best friend. Customizable mapping is essential to displaying information in it’s most useful form. These concepts of non-euclidian mapping enforce the variance of influences that affect real-life problems and their solutions. Divorcing oneself from spatial geography is an important exercise, but exercising non-spatial geometry should be purposeful since it does require an audience with certain needs and intellect to be effective.

The Nature of Relative Space

  • Historically, geographers measured distance and space in absolute terms.
    • Space is constructed, in this way, by distances along dimensions.
  • Relative space is constructed by relative distance; relative distance could be measured due to constraints, such as obstacles, biases, cost, energy, etc.
  • isochrones are illustrative lines that denote equal travel time from a single point, much like topography lines and elevation.
  • relative mapping physically distorts geography, but the use of geography (like transportation) can be dependent on other factors.
relative distance explained in other terms (against absolute space)
relative distance explained in other terms (against absolute space)
  • “Time and cost are far more powerful determinants of perceived space than are absolute distances, and they are thus better explanatory variables of spacial behavior.”
  • It’s the goal of the user that determines which context to map distances.

Cartograms and Maps of Non-Absolute Space

areal cartogram of US by population
areal cartogram of US by population
  • Areal cartograms can mimic relative space but focus on a scale of population.
  • A logarithmic map, distance from a central point keeps decreasing (in a log proportion) which allows for more information to be displayed near the origin (useful for urban locations) and leaves less room the farther out (such as rural areas)
  • Matrix representations are useful when spatial relationships can not be mapped. Ex: cost of A>B is $7, B>C is $1, and A>C is $4. You can’t make a triangle with sides o 1,4, and 7.
    • Similarly asymmetrical distances (when to is different than from), are more easily represented in a matrix.
  • Man’s continued manipulation of relative spaces creates new spatial contexts which in turn produce new behavior patterns. Space-adjusting techniques (transportation, communication, etc) enable us to restructure space.

Traditional Geographic Questions in a New Spatial Context

Locational Questions

  • Absolute locations can change, but redefining and tracking are not necessary most of the time
    • For example, London and Edinburgh don’t change location, but could grow in size towards each other, or become more accessible by transportation technology. In the first, a redefine might be in order, but the second, the city’s geographic coordinates are secondary to time.

What is where? in Relative Space

  • humanly locations/distributions of phenomena in relative space is more difficult to collect. geographers now rely on census data, but can also conduct interview or administer surveys to assess spatial behavior.

Uniform and Nodal Regions

  • Nodal regions are produced when spacial movement stems from a centralize location.