XCity course description

XCity, aka Environmental Art Activism, aka Socio-Ecological Systems Design (xDesign)

An anti-MOOC on the participatory redesign of our urban environments towards improving our shared Environmental Health with a special emphasis on material visual and quantitative representational strategies.



Environmental Health Clinic(xCLINIC); Impatients; Civic innovation; Messy Cities; institutional critique; critical making; tangible media; contestational robotics; public experiments; lifestyle experiments; structures of participation; howstuffismade and howitcanchange (HISM); critical realism; Anthropocene; visualization; crisis of agency; mutualistic systems design; proxies for the common good


The Climate crisis revealed the more insidious crisis: the crisis of agency--aka: what to do in the face of shared, uncertain environmental threat. How do we re-imagine and redesign our shared urban environment?

This class examines how we might respond, not only with concern, research, legislation, but the creative imaginary. Can and how do our individual actions become a force of social and environmental transformation? How do we, and how do we decide to produce a desirable future? What agency do I have? Do I have any capacity to change my local urban environment?  This is a fundamental challenge to our (individual and collective) political agency, our cultural imagination and our scientific and economic understanding. We will use complex urban ecosystems as our primary object of analysis. Therefore we ask: What is a smart city? Can we seize the opportunity that new technology provides to change our relationship to natural systems, to improve public health, cultural resources, productivity and environmental performance? What can we learn from “big data” that we didn't already know?  Can a city be responsive and to whom and what should it respond? What is a citi-hackers or impatient citizen? This course provides an introduction to the wicked problems involved in the socio-technical design of cities and of our own lives.

Is this too complex? Who is qualified to intervene; to participate in designing their local environment, their city; scientific and technical knowledge? What kinds of changes do our cities need to undertake to increase environmental performance, improve public health, develop and incentivize economic and entrepreneurial opportunities?  What are the limitations of market-based participatory democracy for addressing shared environmental health?



Individual assignments:

  1. a visual essay for the encyclopaedia including quantitative representation: How Stuff is Made and How it Can Change.  See assignment handout.

  2. a personal lifestyle experiment to explore how to improve local environmental performance in a specific and measurable way in your local habitat.


In addition to two individual assignments you will participate in one or more public experiments, aka, xClinical trials that explore one’s own agency in producing social and environmental change. 

FALL 2014 xclinical trials include:

  1. PHENOLOGICAL Clock: mapping local urban ecosystems re-presenting time in space.

  2. FARMACYxFLOWERING; LIFExCYCLE; SIGNSofLIFE implementing xClinic Farmacy, a distributed urban flower farm and associated urban food experiments and events; street advertisting 2.0

  3. xBRIDGE: can physical infrastructure be design to improve shared environmental health?


These assignments--Public Experiments, HSIM, lifestyle experiments--can be combined in some cases. These public and lifestyle experiments involve visual essays (critical realism) and quantitative representation; documentation, including but not limited to video blog, real-time data feeds, maps or similar to suit the project, and incorporate experimental paradigm. Visual, spatial and quantitative representations are required in all projects.