“If someone told you to meet then in Downtown Phoenix and gave no further details, where would you go?
I based this question on a presentation by Adam Greenfield at dConstruct09 in September entitled Elements Of A Networked Urbanism. During this presentation he asked a similar question of New York City, where the correct answer traditionally has been the clock in Grand Central. This what is referring to as a ‘focal’ or Schelling point. Named after Professor Thomas Schelling, the 2005 Nobel Prize recipient, a Schelling point is “that which gives a group of like-minded individuals their common purpose.” Groups with strong Schelling points are able to “coordinate their actions with minimal communication.”
Mr. Greenfield calls such places ‘nodes of unconscious coordination” that people in cities around the word have historically used to make sense of urban place. Most urban places have one. In Tokyo it’s the statue of the dog in Hachiko Square. In London it is under the clock in Waterloo Station. According to Adam, most cities have Schelling points, because, without effective communication between people (i.e., cell phones), meeting places ultimately converge on a couple of high visibility—and usually iconic—destinations.
There is nothing inherent about Grand Central Station that makes a particularly desirable meeting place. In fact its crowded and often hectic nature may actually be a detriment; it may likely be easier to meet someone at a quiet bar, or the public library reading room. Nevertheless, the popular notoriety of Grand Central Station as a meeting place raises its prominence and makes it a natural “focal point.”
As an ‘incurable urbanist’ I was taken by this concept, and wondered if any place in Phoenix could be considered a legitimate Schelling point, hence the question I posted. Here are the responses:
- Civic Space Park
- Lux Coffee
- Phoenix Art Museum
- Chase Field
- US Airways Center
- Central and Adams, by the ‘crazy preacher’
- Central and Washington (point ‘zero’ in the street numbering grid)
- 4th and McKinley
- Phoenix Public Market and have a glass of wine till they found me! (My personal favorite)
- Phoenix City Hall
- Fair Trade Café/Central and Roosevelt
- Revolver Records
- Lost Leaf
While Civic Space Park was the most popular answer, due largely you the controversial and highly visible ‘floating jellyfish sculpture, the numerous responses reflects the fact that Phoenix is an auto dominated, sprawling city, that has long neglected it’s downtown. As a result the city doesn’t have traditional gathering points like in cities established before the automobile.
What I found most interesting, however, is that several people responded that they simply would go anywhere without more information. While, in part, this reflects the lack of a vibrant urban core on another level, the response highlights the rise of ‘ubiquitous computing’ promoted by the prevalence of ‘smart phones.’ This was the point of Greenburg’s entire presentation: that when everybody (and everything is networked, you no longer need unconscious co-ordination. Rather you can simply post on Twitter, Facebook, FourSquare, BrightKite, etc that I’m and the Corner of Washington and 7th St, or I’m at Lux Coffeebar, or Gangplank, or Rula Bula, and this functions as a ‘flocking’ or ‘shoaling’ point: a place where people converge.
This not only has impacts for how people interact with each other, but also with their cities and neighborhoods. Social activity is increasingly less about specific times and places and more about converging at locations where have announced their presence or have expressed as their destination. As a result, what we’ve long understood as the nature of community as a loose connection of people within a neighborhood or interest group is morphing to a much more conscious social network.
This is not the first time I’ve mused about this topic (see my Ignite Phoenix 5 presentation on Slideshare or YouTube), nor will it be the last. I’m still not 100% sure of the final outcomes of this shift, but I feel that it will be huge. Stay tuned for further updates as my research and thinking progresses. In the meantime, please let me know what you think in the comment section.
This is day 2 in my 28 Day Blogging Challenge. 26 more to go.
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