“War Over Hollywood Sign Pits Wealthy Residents Against Urinating Tourists”

GPS hasn’t just altered the lives of LA residents living on formerly quiet streets near the freewaysnow, neighbors of the famous Hollywood sign have convinced Google and Garmin to remove their street off their maps due to an influx of visitors.

Everyone involved agrees that the situation has become a powder keg. “Neighbors have been yelling,” says Tamer Riad of Rockin’ Hollywood Tours. Homeowner Heather Hamza, whose husband, Karim, runs a diving company servicing film productions, claims she’s experienced “aggressive” tourists “cursing and spitting at me.” She adds that, after the recent holiday period, “There is rising, palpable tension between the residents and visitors. Everybody is infuriated. I shudder to think if any of these people coming up here have weapons in their cars. One of these days someone will get shot — it is that bad.“…

A sign originally erected to advertise a neighborhood to the world has become that neighborhood’s deepest frustration, and affluent residents have been fighting back. Although several thousand houses lie in Beachwood Canyon and neighborhoods adjoining the nearby Lake Hollywood Reservoir, most of the clamor comes from a few dozen activists in the area. They have lassoed various government and commercial entities into doing their bidding. They’ve persuaded Google, Garmin and other tech giants to literally take their exclusive neighborhood, where the average home costs $1.5 million, off the map for people searching for the sign. They’ve pushed City Hall to enact strict new parking regulations and to go after tour-bus operators. They’re fighting for the closure of a trailhead gate to Griffith Park and the removal of one popular viewing spot. And they’re not done.

Some residents say that a key element in winning the hearts and minds of city officials is a 30-minute advocacy film that, according to its producer, former actress and onetime Hollywoodland Homeowners Association president Sarajane Schwartz, required “thousands of hours” of collective labor and the expertise of “professional editors who live in the neighborhood and donated their time.” The wry narrative includes an overlaying of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring as doofusy tourists ride Segways, light up in hazardous areas and take nude pictures or pose with liquor bottles. THR was offered a rare screening of the closely guarded documentary: “We thought it would attract more people [if posted online] because it would just tell people where to go,” says Schwartz. “And we didn’t want it to end up on The Tonight Show — you know, making fun of us.”…

“There’s this privatization of public spaces in L.A., where people who are affluent expect to be insulated from the public,” says urban design professor Jenny Price, a visiting lecturer at Princeton and veteran of the Southern California coastal-access wars (she created the popular Our Malibu Beaches app, to David Geffen’s chagrin). “But the scandal here isn’t the wealthy homeowners. It’s the city’s complicity. Not just in getting permitted parking but in intentionally disseminating misinformation about a park they own. That’s the scandal.”

A fascinating story that raises important questions for cities: who gets to control access to public spaces? The sign is on public land (Griffith Park), streets are for the public, and yet wealthier residents want to control access and even knowledge disseminated on maps.

The article suggests the city needs a coherent plan:

Absent amid all the long-shot concepts are coherent, actionable steps to oversee access and shape tourism around a landmark. The city never has moved forward with clear plans to build a visitor center, properly control parking, manage trail access, strictly enforce rules (about smoking and alcohol, for instance) and inform visitors how to interact with the sign in a way that is satisfying and sensitive to residents. Imagine this type of chaos at the Statue of Liberty or Mount Rushmore (both are managed by the National Park Service).

Sounds like there is work to do to divert visitors, particularly if the city wants to respond to the wealthier residents while also keeping areas near the sign public (a visitor center just means people won’t really need to get that close).

Your future GPS to have an “avoid ghetto” option?

Here is some interesting news out of the world of GPS patents:

Microsoft has been granted a patent for its “avoid ghetto” feature for GPS devices.

A GPS device is used to find shortcuts and avoid traffic, but Microsoft’s patent states that a route can be plotted for pedestrians to avoid an “unsafe neighborhood or being in an open area that is subject to harsh temperatures.”

Created for mobile phones, the technology uses the latest crime statistics and weather data and includes them when calculating a route.

The patent, written in a combination of tech-speak and legalese, was awarded to Microsoft earlier this week. It also described other uses for the new GPS technology.

I wonder how exactly they will define an “unsafe neighborhood.” Even with access to crime statistics, it sounds like they will have to draw a cutoff line to distinguish between safe and unsafe areas. Where exactly is this line or is usually more about perceptions about which neighborhoods are unsafe in day-to-day life? “Ghetto” itself is a loaded term involving race and class and I’m sure there will come up in discussions of this new GPS feature.

I know companies are looking for advantages but is there a big need for this sort of information? Are people clamoring for help in avoiding certain neighborhoods?

The limits of GPS in the West

Technology can be a good thing but it can also lead people astray. Hence, a warning out West regarding using GPS in certain areas:

Travelers in the western U.S. should not rely solely on technology such as GPS for navigation, authorities said, after a Canadian couple were lost in the Nevada wilderness for 48 days.

Albert Chretien, 59, and his wife Rita Chretien, 56, sought a shorter route between Boise, Idaho and Jackpot, Nevada during a road trip from British Columbia to Las Vegas…

Sheriff’s offices in remote, high-elevation parts of Idaho, Nevada and Wyoming report the past two years have brought a rise in the number of GPS-guided travelers driving off marked and paved highways and into trouble.

The spike has prompted Death Valley National Park in California to caution on its web site that “GPS navigation to sites to remote locations like Death Valley are notoriously unreliable.”

When two roads diverge in Western lands, take the one more traveled, authorities said.

Perhaps this could be read as a warning about over-reliance on technology: it is not infallible.You can occasionally find stories of people driving into retention ponds or crashing into things because the GPS told them to turn. At the same time, how bad are these GPS maps that people can get lost so easily? This would seem to be bad news for GPS makers if they don’t cover certain areas very well. Could a GPS maker ever have any liability for any of these unpleasant occurrences? Additionally, I wonder how many GPS owners also carry around a map of some kind in their vehicle or on their person.

More broadly, this is a reminder that one doesn’t have to travel very far to leave the comforts of the modern world and get lost in nature.

Just how much did Facebook and Twitter contribute to changes in Egypt?

With the resignation of Hosni Mubarek, there is more talk about how the Internet, specifically social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, helped bring down a dictator in Egypt:

Dictators are toppled by people, not by media platforms. But Egyptian activists, especially the young, clearly harnessed the power and potential of social media, leading to the mass mobilizations in Tahrir Square and throughout Egypt. The Mubarak regime recognized early on that social media could loosen its grip on power. The government began disrupting Facebook and Twitter as protesters hit the streets on Jan. 25 before shutting down the Internet two days later.

In addition to organizing, Egyptian activists used Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter to share information and videos. Many of these digital offerings made the rounds online but were later amplified by Al Jazeera and news outlets around the world. “This revolution started online,” Ghonim told Blitzer. “This revolution started on Facebook.”

Egypt’s uprising followed on the heels of Tunisia’s. In each case, protestors employed social media to help oust an authoritarian government–a role some Western commentators expected Twitter to play in Iran during the election protests of 2009.

This article, and others, seem to want it both ways. On one hand, it seems like social media played a role. But when considering whether they were the main factor, the articles back away. Here is how this same article concludes:

It’s true that tweeting alone–especially from safe environs in the West–will not cause a revolution in the Middle East. But as Egypt and Tunisia have proven, social media tools can play a significant role as as activists battle authoritarian regimes, particularly given the tight control dictators typically wield over the official media. Tomorrow’s revolution, as Ghonim would likely attest, may be taking shape on Facebook today.

Or it may not. Ultimately, we need more data. For example, we could match Facebook or Twitter activity regarding Egypt with the level of protests on specific days – did more online traffic or activity lead to bigger protests? This would at least establish a correlation. Why can’t we match GPS information from people using Facebook or Twitter while they were protesting on the streets? This would require more private data, primarily from cell phone companies, but it would be fascinating to look for patterns in this data. And how exactly do these cases from Egypt and Tunisia help us understand what didn’t happen in Iran?

These questions about the role of social media need some answers and perhaps some innovative insights into data collection. And a thought from another commentator are helpful to keep in mind:

Evgeny Morozov writes in his new book, “The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom,” that only a small minority of Iranians were actually Twitter users. Presumably, many tweeting about revolution were doing so far from the streets of Tehran.

“Iran’s Twitter Revolution revealed the intense Western longing for a world where information technology is the liberator rather than the oppressor,” Morozov wrote, according to a recent Slate review. In his book, Morozov writes how authoritarian regimes can use the Internet and social media to oppress people rather than such platforms only working the other way around.

Perhaps we only want it to be true that social media use can lead to revolution. If there are enough articles written suggesting that social media helped in Egypt and Tunisia, does it make it likely that in the future social media will play a pivotal and even decisive role in social movements? Morozov seems to suggest this is a Western idea, probably rooted in Enlightenment ideals where information can (and should?) disrupt tradition and authoritarianism.