On Monday morning I flew to Moscow to participate in a panel at the Moscow Urban Forum. A gathering of experts on the subject of the city and policy who would shed some light on the development of a megacity such as Moscow. On the day I flew in, I got an opportunity to stroll a bit through the city.
I was impressed by the incredible amount of traffic that didn’t leave a lot of room for a person on foot. An experience I haven’t had since Beirut. And as underwhelmed as I was by the Red Square itself, the church at the end (Saint Basil’s Cathedral) was jarring in its familiarity. It had made a heavy impression on me when I was a small child and television commentary on the Soviet Union would feature it as a backdrop. An experience to finally see it in real life.
Surprisingly the one coffee chain in Moscow I visited Кофеин (Caffeine, I’m guessing) served a very smooth coffee and Foursquare is rather positive about the other chain (Кофемания) too.
That night I had a long overdue couple of drinks with Olaf Koens, an old friend who works as a Dutch correspondent in Moscow and writes a smashing travel book as well. A native guide is really recommended to ease acclimatization into Moscow. Without Olaf my impression of the city may have been a different one. As the night progressed we almost naturally wound up at Жан-Жак (Jean Jacques). A pleasant surprise as I had wanted to visit it ever since I read the piece about Russia’s New Decembrists last year.
One more thing we in the Netherlands and Germany especially could learn from Moscow: there is open WiFi almost everywhere. No bullshit passwords to mess with, just open.
On Tuesday I was in a panel to present our extra-governmental/developer approach to open data which we have built up with Hack de Overheid over the past years. It is a complex story to tell and to translate across the cultural divide to practitioners over there, but I think the things we have achieved speak for themselves. Right now we are slowly figuring what parts of our practice can be exported and what parts are too specific for the Dutch case.
There are the answers to the obvious questions (‘Should you charge for data?’, ‘In what format should you supply data?’ etc.) that we have mostly figured out already but that seem to be difficult to explain and supply as shortcuts. And after that there are the very subtle nuances of what data means, what it says about the world, what it excludes and how you can create a process that guarantees maximal inclusion and all of its benefits. Answering those issues requires a far more in depth look at everything, a look for which there is hardly any market or audience unfortunately.
The next day before flying out I managed to get my first ice skating of the season in at Gorki Park.
And then as a bit of infrastructure enthusiasm I went on a lightning tour of the various Moscow underground stations which are regularly quite stunning. The Russian metro system seems to be mostly at capacity with trains arriving every couple of minutes, covering the full length of the platform and many of which being jam-packed during peak hours. Fortunately if ever the city wants to create a tram/light-rail system to complement its public transportation, there is ample space still at street level.
I got some more work in and then after a two hour drive to the airport I was in a plane back to Berlin. I had gained three hours of time with which I managed to visit the Game Developers meetup in Berlin.
Then it was back full speed on development for SAKE and I visited the new offices of the esteemed Peter Bihr and Matt Patterson, just two doors down the street from where I’m at now. It is brilliant to further increase the concentration of internet nous in the same couple of streets.
I took the opportunity to relax a bit on Friday and have lunch with Igor Schwarzmann and then we presented our current release version of SAKE to the Gids. I was telepresent at that meeting which is a fun but also odd way to end a Friday, I must say.
As a side note: if you’re reading this you are probably a good candidate to be in the advice commission for the Dutch subsidy fund (Stimuleringsfonds) for either e-culture or architecture. What these commissions can use more than anything is a solid group of practitioners advising on proposals and people who set the bar high.