What is an urban lab?

To think about the city as a laboratory is not the only way of using this metaphor in an urban scenario; we also have urban labs. An urban laboratory is either a temporal or a permanent “constructed site of knowledge production” (Karvonen & van Heur, 2014). The nature of the laboratory is not relevant at this point. It could be either a profit-oriented start-up, and academic research group, a governmental program, or an urban living lab (ULL) (Bergvall-Kåreborn & Ståhlbröst 2009Bulkeley et al. 2018).

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What is an urban experiment? Presenting the “Green Light for Midtown” program

In general terms, an experiment is something that you do for either validate or reject a hypothesis. That something is an organized and controlled procedure that should be able to be replicated in a similar scenario following a specific set of instructions. But experiment is not an easy concept. When we talk about doing an experiment we have to put generalizations away and going to to the specific. There are different magnitudes, levels, and logics involved in an experimental process, some of them are even challenging the general definition of this particular notion.

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The free-WIFI experiment

Times Square is a fragile place. In 2016 a solitary homeless man was caught watching porn using the tablet of a free WIFI kiosk located around the Square. Immediately the news made a big echo of this issue tracing an imaginary relationship between this man and the recent past of the zone, the one before its renovation. A tourist interviewed by the New York Post was complaining about the situation saying that right now Times Square was much worse than in the ’70s because at least at that time the porn was indoors. 

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Experimenting in the experimental city

Cities are the epithet of progress. Cities are the humanity’s greatest invention (Glaeser, 2011). Cities are sites for experimenting, creating, and innovating. But cities are also scenarios where poverty, inequality, environmental threatens, and insecurity happen. Cities are administrative ways of dividing geographies. “City” is a metaphor; the city is a semantic resource. “City” is a label used for gathering groups of random-particular places with the aim of governing and regulating them.

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The chess player

I saw him was by casualty. He was reclining on one of the granite benches near the TKTS booths. It was Monday’s night at the beginning of September, and the Square was full of people, but next to him was a free spot. I went there and I sat at his side. I did not talk with him, and I am pretty sure that he was not aware of my presence. He was busy, looking around for something. His outfit was the first thing that caught my eye. He was wearing a bowler hat, a white t-shirt, an opened white-blue squared shirt, black pants, and impeccable white Nike Air Force 1 sneakers. A yellow bag on the ground, from M&M’s World, store located two blocks far from us, was completing the whole attire. 

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Traveling light, an epistemological promise

How can we close the gap between reality and theory? How can we explain a reality that is fluent and that is always changing when the theoretical constructions we use for it are going slower than the world outside? Those questions were proposed by Hugo Zemelman (2012) in a paper about epistemic thinking. 

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Relativity and an ontology of the particular

The elaboration of a “particular case” has two stages. The first one is selecting a specific portion of spatialized reality for being decomposed and analyzed. The reality, in a pragmatic view the world that is there, is the group of things that exist before the researcher’s interference. In other words, in an urban-open scenario reality is a collective unfinished construction made-up of an x number of elements, happening simultaneously, without any kind of intervention from our side. It means it is a specific group of differences. World, nation, country, city, neighborhood, zone… Those are just some of the ways —accurately or not— we have been using, mostly connected with a spatial demarcation, for trying to gather and to grasp the reality. This primary reality can also be measured in terms of time, relation, action, and affection. 

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Generalities about particular cases

if we want to be on the sidelines of totalitarian points of view, we need to use relativity and a particular and located vision.

To talk about relativity results problematic nowadays due to the possible relationship that could be traced between relativism and postmodernism, interpreting the first one into the frame of the second one. However, relativity, as we will see below, is nothing more than a fundamental scientific attitude to approach reality. 

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Expanding a corner in Times Square. First approach

Around seven and a half in the morning, a man dressed red is dragging a kind of metal rack with wheels around the northern part of Duffy Square. The rack contains twenty-two chairs and sixteen tables. All of them are metal painted red. He stops near the TKTS booths and starts to organize first the tables and then the chairs. Two chairs per table. It looks like he knows by heart the exact position where each table should go. Patiently, table by table, he organizes them into two imaginary beelines of four tables and eight chairs each. Then, a little bit more to the south, he repeats the same activity one more time. 

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The Project for Public Spaces

The transformation of Times Square from a car-land to a sight of the walkable public space is the result of a process based on pedestrianizing Broadway that occurred during the Bloomberg mayoralty. In a brief sense, the portions of Broadway Avenue crossing Times Square and Herald Square were eliminated from the City’s traffic system, changing their use and meaning, displacing the vehicular hegemony in the area. 

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