Using GPS traces, we are making a living portrait of 24 hours in Birmingham with the people who move through its streets, parks, waste grounds and tow paths on foot for the Fierce Festival and the Midlands Art Centre (MAC)
A Day in the Life - The Walkers of Birmingham is a portrait of a city as experienced at ground level. The animation emphasises walking, making lines from other forms of transportation more feint.
I read that the most popular leisure activity in Britain today is not TV or shopping, but 'going for a walk'. We are not consumers, we are walkers. Walkers of Birmingham, making the city a civilised space, inhabited, recognised, greeted, cared for. Every walk is a performance, an affirmation of faith in ourselves and others. Sky for a roof, birdsong for a soundtrack. Celebration of the humanness of our world, the naturalness of humanity. - John Newson, project participant
The outcomes of 'A Day in the Life, the Walkers of Birmingham' have so far been a performance lecture given at the MAC as part of the Fierce Festival, as well as an ongoing cartographic animation with a soundtrack of participants narrating their own stories behind their traces. This animation shows a day in the life of Birmingham by playing all the GPS traces back as if they had happened on the same day, but keeping the time of day intact. A 24-hour portrait of the city is achieved with the night owls, shift workers and insomniacs making their way home as then the early morning commuters, dog walkers joggers, post men and women beginning their day. Parks and open spaces blossom during daylight hours, a cycle courier buzzes around the centre and a woman says 'Hello' to her Nan on the way to work.
You can also read about the project on 'This is Tomorrow' here, where there is an interview between James Smith and us.
plan b's Narrating Our Lines is a delicately expansive contemplation of the écriture of contemporary urban life. Dan Belasco Rogers and Sophia New quietly and humorously elaborate on some of the ways in which digital technology allows us to record and map the way in which we write ourselves into a city, and a city writes itself into us. They play out the digital archive that we unthinkingly construct of our everyday actions and interactions through the library of old text messages building up on our mobile phones, in so doing conjuring charming, fleeting traces of their own personal relationship.
Underpinning all of this is a fierce yet understated political analysis of the value and power of data in contemporary digital society; a passionate invitation for us to become more interested and invested in the data that our lives ineluctably generate. To re-conceive of our ambivalent relationship to the traces that we leave behind. As such, perhaps the most delightful thing about the entire piece was seeing quite how many people had been enchanted and inspired by the strategies of self-documentation that Dan and Sophia so eloquently describe.
Andy Field, co-director of Forest Fringe.
The Walkers of Birmingham has not ended! With the fantastic support of all involved, we are continuing to gather GPS traces at least until the end of 2011. It is not too late to get involved, or to get your friends and family involved!
We are interested in gathering traces from everyone who is moving about the city on foot at different times of the day: people walking to work, people walking for pleasure, parents and guardians pushing their children to nursery or accompanying them to school, pensioners taking regular walks, shift workers walking to work in the middle of the night or insomniacs trying to tire themselves out. It doesn't matter if your journey lasts minutes or hours, every walking journey will build up the portrait of this city.
GPSs can be borrowed from the MAC front desk for a number of days (we just ask you to leave a ten pound deposit which you get back when you return the GPS). All you have to do is switch it on when outside during that time. Journeys that are not made on foot will be filtered out later in the animation.
We working with Peter Vasil's openFrameworks application he has been developing with us for some time to visualise the GPS tracks. Thomas Wesselman has been periodically coming into the MAC and taking the data off the dataloggers using the BT747 free software and popping this into a Dropbox folder in the form of GPX files which I have then been putting into the database Peter conceived for this. Because we want the animation to represent a single day, we then process the GPX files so that if someone has taken a GPS out for a number of days, they are split into different 'users' as far as the animation is concerned. This is done manually using Viking, another free, open source programme. Peter has written a GPX importer for the database as well as a python script for changing all the timestamps to one date.
Thank you to Steve Watts, Andy Ingamells, Brian O'Connor, Nicky Lambert-Green, Charles Weston, John Newson, Peter Cox, Jane English and Joss Widdowson for the fascinating insight into their daily lives and thoughts about walking.
Thank you to Brian Prangle, one of the citizen mappers of Birmingham, involved in the West Midlands section of the wonderful OpenStreetMap, the free wiki world map for his advice, engagement, humour and GPS tracks.
This project would not be possible without the people who have taken out the GPSs, those that came in and talked to us about their walks, the great MAC front-of-house staff, Dan Whitehouse Next Generation Producer, Laura, Harun, Nicola and all at Fierce and Steve Benford at the MRL, to all of whom we say a huge thank you.