After Empirical
February 27-28
230 College St. Toronto

Session 2
Friday February 27, 4:00 PM

The Bias of Data

Mona El Khafif - University of Waterloo
Dietmar Offenhuber - Northeastern University
Mark Shepard - University of Buffalo
+Ultan Byrne - moderator - University of Toronto

With The Social Logic of Space (1984), Bill Hillier and Julienne Hanson began developing "space syntax" as one means of mathematically describing urban conditions. Carlo Ratti and others have recently drawn attention to the limitations and biases of this method – focusing specifically on the reductive character of the model relative to the actual complexity of the built form and social geography of cities. This has led some practitioners to develop alternative, more comprehensive models which are driven by combinations of static and real-time "big data" sources. Others have sought to supplement such empirical data with interfaces for participation, establishing new models of civic engagement in urban design processes.

Meanwhile, historians have contributed broader critiques to this whole field of study, by positioning concepts such as “data” and “interface” within a much longer historical arc of intellectual and technological developments. Theorists, for their part, have begun to question the political and legal implications of these data sets, interfaces, and algorithms. Such critiques have raised questions about the subjectivity involved in curating data, the implications of algorithmically-based modes of parsing and interpreting information, and the effect that chosen representational techniques have on the translation of data. This panel brings together practitioners (programmers, urbanists, media artists) with theorists and historians to debate the status of data – in its various forms and sources – in urban analysis and design.