Speculative Civics: A Lunch Talk With Carl DiSalvo

walking_city_1Here’s a transcription of a talk and Q&A given by Carl DiSalvo on design in democracy.

Natural Fuse

natural_fuseHere’s an interesting one: Natural Fuse – an Internet of Things device for sharing your carbon footprint responsibility.

The Natural Fuse was a project which used plants as ‘fuses’ based on your use of an electrical appliance. It encourages people to cooperatively be aware of their energy expenditure using networked devices which keep the plants alive. The less energy you use, the more the system takes care of the plants. If you overuse, a random plant may have to be killed off, affecting others on your network.

Not so good for the plants, but a good use of the IoT and networked awareness.

On another note, it’s interesting that the underlying system  – Pachube – does not work anymore. The project is from 2009, the heyday of Pachube, and also around the time that I began to use Pachube to revisualise IoT data. Since then, the demise, resurrection and rebranding of Pachube into Cosm and Xively has broken many an interesting IoT app. It’s a lesson in how these seemingly open and community-based systems can upset a nascent movement for monetisation.

Million Dollar Blocks: Political Design


Million Dollar Blocks was a project by Spatial Information Design Labs at Columbia University. Using data from the US criminal justice system, they approached data visualisation in a much more thoughtful and effective way.

Where others’ instinct was to create heat maps of high crime areas, so the more privileged could avoid them, or misdirect finance towards gentrification; the folk at SIDL visualised in a much more effective way.

Million Dollar Blocks visualised the specific people who had been incarcerated and highlighted the blocks and areas where they came from.

“The United States currently has more than 2 million people locked up in jails and prisons. A disproportionate number of them come from a very few neighborhoods in the country’s biggest cities. In many places the concentration is so dense that states are spending in excess of a million dollars a year to incarcerate the residents of single city blocks. When these people are released and reenter their communities, roughly forty percent do not stay more than three years before they are reincarcerated.”

With this mapping, you could see how much each block was costing the taxpayer and it quickly became obvious where taxes could be spent with much more effectiveness.

An excellent example of Political Design over Design for Politics.

URL: Million Dollar Blocks
BOOK: Adversarial Design by Carl DiSalvo