Envisioning The Works of a City

One of my great regrets in life is that I have never been to New York. Although I have been to the US many times, it has always been in as part of a business trip and somehow the conferences have always taking place elsewhere like Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, Cleveland and Atlanta. So I have to envision the city and dream about when I’m going to experience spring there IRL.

There are several means for visualizing New York. One way of doing it is to read Kate Asher’s book “The Works – Anatomy of a city”. She works at the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and has designed a beautiful and intelligent piece of art that describes the transport system, the various parks and trees, how the sewage system works and so on. I guess she’s been inspired by Edward R Tufte’s work on visualization.

Another way of experiencing New York is to read Mark Helprin’s wonderful story “Winter’s Tale”. This is my absolute favorite book of all times since the language is so beautiful and the story so rich and amazing. It combines the importance of following your dream with staying true to your friends and family.

“Set in New York at the beginning and the end of the twentieth century, Winter´s Tale unfolds with such great narrative force and beauty that a reader can feel that its world is more real than his own. Standing alone on the page before the book begins are the words, I have been to another world, and come back. Listen to me. In that world, both winter and the city of New York (old and new) have the strength and character of protagonists, and the protagonists themselves move as if in a vivid dream. Though immensely complicated, the story is centered upon Peter Lake, a turn-of-the-century Irish burglar, and Beverly Penn, a young heiress whom he encounters in robbing her house, and who eventually will die young and in his arms. His love for her, and a gift of grace, will allow him after the most extraordinary and painful explorations and discoveries to stop time and bring back the dead. To follow him, his predecessors, his inheritors, and his companions is to experience one of the great stories of American literature.” (from www.markhelprin.com)
A totally different way would also be watching the new “Sex and the City” film. I must admit that I have seen quite a number of the TV episodes, although I’m not sure I will watch the movie. Although it contains a lot of clever product placements and must in itself be a great ad for New York, I’m not sure I can stomach the moral. Especially after trying out their “Match your man” quiz that resulted in pairing me with Mr Big...

Should you want to view New York and the US in a larger perspective, you can always watch Hans Rosling’s tool for visualization of complex and important issues: Gapminder. There you can watch his 2007 TED talk, "The Seemingly impossible, is possible". It will be interesting to follow the development of Gapminder, now that Google has bought the underlying software.

However, Göteborg is also good at visualization! I feel proud about having been part of the formation of the Center of Visualization Göteborg, an organisation that supports collaboration between academia, companies and the public sector. We used “Appreciative Inquiry” as a means for envisioning the future of the center, and so far much of what was expressed as dreams now have come true in terms of research funding, a conference, a physical center, a web site, collaboration projects and so on.

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