Week 257: moving office, Kotti, to Amsterdam again, Open Coop kicking it off, Social Cities of Tomorrow and explorations in theory and practice

Writing these notes on a Sunday afternoon wit a mug of steaming coffee within reach as they are meant to be written.

This Monday I finally made it out to the Finanzamt with a fully filled in form for Steuerliche Erfassung (or something). After that I went to the Agora Collective to get my stuff. It is a great place, but I don’t want to be fixed in a coworking space. There are a myriad reasons why that is not a great fit, but being able to shape and own your own workplace is built-in in most offices and is purposefully left out of coworking.

Then I moved into the contur & konsorten office on Adalbertstraße with my stuff. A Burogemeinschaft with 10 people where everybody has their own independent desk, with its own walls and bookshelves, a place to put my professional library and hang my posters. In short: a place to call my own. In a total coincidence I am now a staircase neighbour of my friends at the Maker’s Loft which could lead to more serendipity in the future.

The office is smack on Kotti, the most important urban maelstrom in Berlin. It is a place where many large streams of traffic and people meet with the U-bahn transport hub (connecting U1 and U8) and the roundabout connecting the main thoroughfare of Skalitzer Straße with the Kottbusser Damm. Betahaus, co-up, the Maker’s Loft and many other creative places are within throwing distance and the area sports equal amounts of hipster cafés and Turkish eateries with the addicts holding their own on the main square. They can be a hassle, but their presence is inseparable from the conditions that made that part of Kreuzberg exactly what it is: a free-haven for people looking for cheap housing be they immigrants or artists —or both.

Tuesday was spent at the new office in presentation prep with the evening closed off by meeting with the local Open Knowledge Foundation chapter. It was a fruitful discussion exchanging various ideas on how to boost the openness movement in Berlin.

OKFN meetup

On Wednesday, I took a leisurely train ride to Amsterdam which seems to feel shorter and shorter the more I get in the rhythm. That day the long awaited Code 4 video launched. I’m immensely proud of the work we did and I don’t think there’s anybody who has pulled off a game like that anywhere in the world, so it might be well worth a look:

A more detailed write-up on that project is forthcoming.

Thursday I continued working on my presentation at the Open Coop. I also ripped the video of minister of economic affairs Maxime Verhagen endorsing open data from the NOS site, because their site sucks.

Friday was the big day of Social Cities of Tomorrow where I got the honor to be the first to present our case of ‘Apps for Amsterdam’ to the assembled audience. It was a wonderful event put together by our esteemed friends and colleagues of the Mobile City: Michiel de Lange and Martijn de Waal who have been leaders in this field for the better part of the past ten years. The keynotes by Usman Haque, Natalie Jeremijenko and Dan Hill were superb and they remain a source of inspiration for our creative work.

Getting our aeropress on with a new device that does tenth of a centigrade precise temperature with built-in scales.

I feel like I have to remark on two things that I thought of during the conference:

The entire day was infused with a critical stance against open data and transparency within government. Usman Haque served the opening volley with a criticism of indiscriminate data transparency and an approach to further civic engagement by giving people the tools to collect data themselves. After that Dan Hill also added some criticism against traditional methods of social change.

I agree with their points and criticisms and I would have liked to address them but that was impossible in the time given to me to present our case. I would like to say that if anybody in the Netherlands has been deeply involved on all levels in the government transparency movement and is acutely aware of the problems, issues and realities of data transparency, it is probably us1. Besides that we have employed most of the techniques Dan Hill presented during the last couple of years: shaping decision making processes, deploying long lasting interventions and using the sleights of hand required to realign large organizations and work with far too many people.

We have been and will be hard liners for the cause of government transparency out of necessity and conviction. I will always defend that data that has already been collected by government and carries no issues of privacy or national security with it, belongs to the public and should be accessible by the public.

The other issue is that the conference should was probably most valuable to the people in the Netherlands who are not as current on design and technology as I have come to take for granted. The lack of reflection was painfully clear in some of the questions asked by the audience. This is a common issue, but I have seen it often in the past during Mobile Mondays or the lecture Manuel DeLanda gave in Amsterdam.

Dan Hill talked about going from the matter to the meta level and back again and all three keynoters showed that they are very capable of doing that. In the Netherlands I have found that many practitioners struggle a lot with the matter and they don’t have the time or the interest to ascend to the meta level, even though that would feed back positively into their material undertakings.

I have been looking for collaborators in the Netherlands who look beyond their narrow field and manage to recombine multiple theoretical and practical strands back into their work but there are very few. I hosted the UX Book Club Amsterdam a while, but found that most attendees there took their field of design too narrowly and the field of UX too seriously. Similarly the Berlage Institute is doing a postdoctoral course ‘to explore the forces that shape the built environment in the contemporary world’ which is limited to architects. I don’t know anybody who believes that the problems that will plague our cities in the next fifty years will be solved drawing from the monoculture of architecture school.

It is as if most people in the Netherlands are trapped within the operational closure of their own practice.

I don’t know where I would fall, but I struggle every day with striking a balance between theory and practice and I think if you do not feel that struggle you should take a long hard look at what it is you are doing.

After Social Cities of Tomorrow we had a party at our offices in the Open Coop because they officially incorporated as a cooperation and are set to do great things. The party was rather tremendous and good parties are key to getting things done in Amsterdam.

And then there was this band playing in the office. #nofilter

And now it is Sunday while I am typing these notes and because of a lack of gourmet coffee, it is off to the Hubbub studio in Utrecht to be the murder board for Kars’s LIFT presentation.

  1. For a primer on the issue, read danah boyd’s “Six Provocations for Big Data”.

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