Blockchain City

Spatial, social and cognitive ledgers


City dashboards are typically representations of a city’s accounts, manifest according to values set by the stakeholders. The currency of the data within a dashboard is typically reduced to an assessment of the performance of services largely derived from quantitative sources. Whilst such databases may be useful for mayors to report on the performance of a local government, or use it to set targets that lead to penalties or bonuses, the city workers and inhabitants that are complicit in the production of data are rarely aware of the nature of the ‘ledger’ that they are contributing to. As a consequence, dashboards cannot describe many of the transactions that take place between people, nor can they make explicit the values that are brokered between the myriad of city occupants.

This paper explores different perspectives upon economic and socio/geographical ledgers and the complexity that they involve as they inevitably collide with concepts of chronological time, representation and actions.

The paper introduces three means of approaching the concept and practice of the ledger: i. Money, Time and the Blockchain: an exploration of how the representation of money shifts from its material representation within fiat currencies to the Blockchain, the sealed distributed ledger that supports the Bitcoin cryptocurrency; ii. City as Ledger: a recovery of the role of time in the production of economic geographies with a focus upon Hagerstrand’s approach to time-geography that accounted for personal and group actions within temporal and spatial frames, and inevitably a recovery of Marx and the obfuscation of histories and geographies; and iii. Cognitive and practice based ledgers: introduces the telling of stories through film as a form of cognitive ledger and uses the Dardennes film ‘Two Days and One Night’ as an preface to the framing of the automobile production line as a form of material ledger, which for those who work upon them has changed dramatically from traditional Fordist models to the more contemporary Toyota Production System.

These three theoretical perspectives on ledgers set the scene for the introduction of two design pieces produced from the Design Informatics studio at the University of Edinburgh and make explicit some of the temporal and social potentials for using ledgers within design experiences.

By reflecting on the role of ledgers in their many different forms, this formative paper establishes the complexity of both capturing and producing data across a myriad of social practices using linear systems.

Link to the workshop presentation