Apps for Urban Rambling

by Matt Blair on September 25, 2010

At least three or four times a week, I set out on foot, without any specific destination in mind.

I might intend to stop at the store on the way home, but that’s an hour or two off in the distance.

Until then, my route is determined by whim, and by whatever catches my ear or eye.

I might turn right down a street for no other reason than I haven’t been there before, or because of the way the light catches a particular wall:

Imagining the view from that window...

Droopy eyebrow window

Or I might hear the branches of a tree creaking in time with the wind.

Or glimpse an unusually-shaped rosemary bush.

Or stumble over a friendly reminder:


Good Advice

If there is one thread that passes through each of the Civic Apps projects I’m working on, it is this:

I’m an urban rambler, and these are apps for rambling.

(Note for non-residents: In Portland, urban includes the fringes of forests, too.)

When I first glimpsed the the datasets released as part of Civic Apps, I wondered: how can I take this information off the server, right past the desktop, and into the physical world?

My goal is to bring the unseen to the surface, and make it possible to discover elements of our environment that we might not have known were there, whether those are trees or poetry boxes or historical landmarks.

Instead of little placemark icons and comprehensive detail balloons designed for 20+ inch screens, I wanted to transform the data into portable clues to new experiences — the kind that deeply engage the senses, better connect us to our surroundings, and maybe even each other.

My criteria for success won’t be how many people download them, or how many server hits I get, though these are still useful indicators.

My real criteria are harder to measure: how many shoe-sole molecules are added to sidewalks and streets, how many hours are spent moving between the places featured in these apps, and how many aspects of this city are perceived and appreciated in ways they might not have been otherwise.

I have a number of apps in mind for this series. At least two of them will be released in the next few weeks.

Until then, happy rambling.

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