Tag Archives: birmingham.io

A Gravitational Map of Cities

I recently made a light-hearted comment that Birmingham exerts a gravitational pull on its surrounding area. The same would be true to an even greater extent for London and that extends nationwide and beyond. This caused me to  remember reading a few months ago an economic observation that the average income of people in a city tends to increase with size because the number of paths for individuals to network and cooperate grows exponentially. This leads economists to extrapolate to a future in which most of the human population of Earth lives in densely populated mega-cities.

In contrast to this, for several years, I’ve been observing the gradual breakdown of hierarchy in companies, creative ‘industries’ and local politics (and yes, the star architecture of a city is a tree, drawn from above/below; a hierarchy. Hello, London outer-zone low-life.) Yet, the high-flying city worker’s dream is often to retire to a country cottage, away from the madness.

So why live in cities? The Internet has made it possible for us to belong to several distributed tribes, to “network” in a geography-free way, and yet… I’ve recently felt drawn by the culture of a place. I’ve joined Birmingham.io, a network of “hipsters, hackers & hustlers”, in and around Brum’s thriving ‘digital startup scene’. This netizen is feeling confused.

When I don’t know what I think, I draw pictures. When I don’t yet have an image in my head, I talk to people or get software to draw the picture for me. This time, I didn’t even know what software to use. I asked my local(ish) community if anyone knew of software that drew gravitational maps. I wasn’t sure what the question meant at the time, either: https://talk.birmingham.io/t/a-gravitational-map-of-uk-cities/1201

I think my mental image is becoming a bit clearer now: I imagine a map of the UK showing a circle for each of the n largest cities, proportional to it’s size (population / area, since the definition of city limits are fairly arbitrary. Cities will need to be broken down further, perhaps into post-codes, electoral wards or boroughs. I think employment opportunities, incomes and living costs will become relevant at a later stage, to fully explain population movement but let’s keep the model as simple as possible, for now. Represent these circles by a number, analogous to the mass of a planet or star then ‘do physics’. Clearly these celestial bodies are unusual because they have fixed relative positions but their populations feel the pull of other cities, just as the oceans of Earth experience the forces which lead to tidal movements.

How hard can it be to turn this into a software model? Maybe I’ve found an itch I can  scratch with code <cleans cobwebs off skillz>.

It’s all about The Community

Was it Margaret Thatcher who said “There’s no such thing as community”? No, of course it wasn’t. Neither was it the members of Birmingham’s (the Midlands, really) Lunar SOCIETY, who were fans of collaborating on big ideas, by the light of the silvery moon.

Birmingham was never a notable centre of organised labour or industrial unrest either, because of it’s lack of large industrial concerns being mean to people. It was more a cluster of craft workshops and small businesses, working co-operatively as though they were bigger; resulting in probably the only city centre made up of an ever-increasing number of Quarters, in addition to all its sides.

In about 2000, I started to burrow into Brum’s underground music and creative scenes,  both largely hidden, like some conceptual artisic ice-berg of a thing, and I was always impressed by the support given to others who appeared to be direct competitors. What these people intuitively knew, was that they were not fighting each other, but the apathy of their collective audience. Promoting together they had a broader product offering and were stronger.

A couple of years ago, as I became increasingly dissatisfied with my old corporate job,  I realised that the same might be true of The Tech Scene and I should start digging again. I’ve taken a few punts at The Silicon Canal meetings and last week I heard about and joined talk.planet.io, Brum DIGITAL tech start-up’s virtual talking-shop and this blog was subsequently invited aboard their Planet.

So, see all Brum tech scene blogs at: http://planet.birmingham.io/

We have Data, Information and Knowledge Quarters to build (I wonder if anyone invited ‘The Gadget Show’?)