(Psychogeographical Markup Langauge)
Wilfried Hou Je Bek
laying dormant within obscurantist circles for the last few decades,
psychogeography, that joyful combination of peripatetic hedonism &
cartographic sadism, is again a living practise. This revival takes
place alongside recent developments in fields as diverse as outdoor
gaming, location based services & graffiti. All these practises
reflect the need for new ways of using, experiencing & understanding
the ever changing city.
important direction modern psychogeography is taking is the development
of systems that can display the psychogeographical landscape of a city
without having the need to describe the shape of the city that caused
the psychogeography. Or in other words: instead of talking about the
anatomy of individual cities it wants to extract data from the city
as a persistent body of continuing processes: doing psychogeography
thus becomes the possibility to, metaphorically speaking, measure the
heartbeat & blood pressure of a city. Of course in the human body
blood pressures are different for everybody, but for all humans apply
the same boundaries of what is considered healthy. It would be interesting
to see if it’s possible to determine the ideal conditions that support
a healthy urban system. Jane Jacobs already postulated this kind of
research in the sixties.
(Psychogeographical Markup Language) is a notation system meant to do
all of the above. It’s not at all finished at present, but what follows
is a rough sketch of how it is being envisaged.
starts with a list of recommended markups that identify beyond doubt
a certain experience-based quality of urban space. These markups are
not placed in a fixed dropdown menu that floats around in the corner
of your mind’s eye while wandering about, they are recommendations only.
Current tags include: “stim”, “dross”, “horror”, “terror”, “open”, “closed”,
most of them taken from acknowledged writers in urban theory (Jacobs,
Lerup, Lynch, Radcliffe).
a small set of markups is selected, psychogeographers start swarming
through the area; they are not trying to find the experiences that come
with the tags. They only mark them when they really feel the markup
is a valid tag equivalent to their experience. After a certain time
everybody comes back together. The various lists of markups can than
be layered on top of each other, usually with the name of the street
as the binding element. In this way PML tries to distill an objective
psychogeographical image of a territory by clustering many small subjective
observations into one file. In this way the particular, the freak-incident,
is cancelled out from the average.
Once a PML dataset for an area has been compiled it can be used in several
ways. The results can be translated into a psychogeogram: a diagrammatic
representation of psychogeographically experienced space. Or in medical
terms: a psychogeogram is a cardiogram of the territory.
resulting data can be shared on the internet, preferably in a format
that complies to the standards used in the development of the ‘free
information network’, more commonly known as the semantic web. This
has several benefits, once your data is ready for the semantic web you
can also combine it with other data about the same area as your PML
data is about, in this way adding more knowledge to your psychogeogram.
Secondly you herby add to the available knowledge about an area, thereby
improving the precision of future psychogeograms. Thirdly, by making
this data available you ultimately add to the knowledge of cities in
general, cities that can than be compared, analysed, etc.
translating the experience of cities into a small number of categories
may seem like a contradiction to the general aims of psychogeography,
as a tool developed in the public domain, PML might play an important
role in helping bring about a participatory urban design, or open-source
urbanism. PML enables non-specialists to make reasonable statements
about urban space, with PML anybody can get their second opinion if
the one put forward by the urban planner doesn’t seem right.