Meeting #1- Ask Tenison Road, Tell the Nation

On 20th November about 25 of us met to discuss the different views of Tenison Road and the different ways we’d like to represent these views with/using data. The meeting was titled “Ask Tenison Road, Tell the Nation.”

propsThese are a few of the themes I made note of during the conversations:

A number of people spoke about their interest in the street’s history. There was agreement that it would be nice to see an archive produced for the street capturing the different historical moments in the area, the different types of people who have lived on Tenison Road, and the particular histories for each house. We also discussed how there might be physical/visual markers to this archive, like the plaques that are placed outside houses on Covent Garden in Cambridge (see news story on these plaques here ). One of the residents on Tenison Road, Margaret, an archivist who has lived on the street for 41 years, has agreed to start this archiving process. Siân Lindley, from Microsoft Research, will work closely with her as this nicely aligns with Siân’s research interest in temporality/time.

I think our aim here should be to think about how these kinds of local archives tie into different kinds of data sources and get pieced together (by different people) through the aggregates of sources. Also, I’d like to think of ways we materialise the data and archives; that is how we make them visual in different ways. Of course, there will probably be an online element to the archive, but like the blue plaques on Covent Garden, I think it’s worth asking how else might we physically reflect the public, community and private qualities of these data.

Neighbourhood development
A big discussion started up around the traffic on Tenison Road. This quickly turned in to talk about the CB1 development around the Cambridge train station and the significant impact this is going to have on the local area and, specifically, Tenison Road. As someone put it, this is going to be a significant year of change for the street one in which traffic, pollution, numbers of people, etc. are all going to change, dramatically. We spoke for a while about what data we could record about these changes and how. A few of us from Microsoft were keen to emphasise the importance of the anonymity of the data we collected. Residents from the street raised questions about this, however. There was a proposal that some might opt-in to being ‘tracked’ in an identifiable way, thus providing more meaningful data. Also, there were questions about the meaningfulness of data like traffic movements on the street. It wasn’t clear how this data ‘belonged’ to the street and whether there were data that we could produce as a street that would be more relevant/meaningful.

I really enjoyed the thread of this conversation. There was a really sophisticated understanding and discussion about the collection, recording and presentation of data, and a lot of the complications were raised in how we’d like to collect and produce data as a street. To me, all this shows we really have chosen an opportune moment for the project and that we might be able to build a data resource that could be meaningful for people. It also shows how there are continuously tensions being played out in the places we live and work, tensions in this case around the delight we get out of being somewhere so central and lively and troubles that come along with these benefits.

Local news/stories
In the conversations we had in smaller groups, a resident on the street said how much she’d like to have a better sense of the things that are going on in the neighbourhood, the social geography of Tenison Road and the local area, if you will. The suggestion was made that news in the local paper might be somehow mapped on to the physical geography of the neighbourhood to present a sense of what was happening where. We also spoke about how the different areas of the street have changed, some once being used more by children playing, some being used for unwanted parking, some for now defunct street parties, etc.

I’d like to think of a way we might collectively build up these kinds of ‘stories’, developing a shared source of data for the neighbourhood. Again, it would also be nice to explore the ways these data might be represented, differently, to capture the different kinds of people on the street. We spoke about how the people on and passing through Tenison Road make up many different kinds of smaller ‘populations’. I wonder whether there’d be a way to present things for these smaller groups. This might also help to understand how we make sense of local places/spaces, how we build ‘models’ of the neighbourhoods we live and work in, and pass through.

I also see a nice correspondence with these more contemporary data and the archive mentioned earlier. There are different senses of space and time depicted in these kinds of data so I wonder how these might be brought together and also made distinct.

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