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Beyond the archives: Reading, writing and mapping São Paulo's heritage

Beyond the archives: Reading, writing and mapping São Paulo's heritage

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Published by Rupert Brown
Documentation is moving beyond the archives. Heritage can be tagged, commented and rewritten through new layers of participation and visualisation. The future is a continuous open documentation of heritage authored both by researchers and by the public. It is a move towards creating open and accessible records of public heritage.

Historical records, buildings and artefacts can exist a connected living dialogue.

- Electronic access, requiring a digital version or summary for every asset
- Dimensional access, offering a spatial and visual experience
- Taxonomic access, allowing arrangements of information from different angles that are guided by tags, categories and metadata
- Participative access, offering a public stake in tagging, annotating, sorting, prioritising and connecting
Documentation is moving beyond the archives. Heritage can be tagged, commented and rewritten through new layers of participation and visualisation. The future is a continuous open documentation of heritage authored both by researchers and by the public. It is a move towards creating open and accessible records of public heritage.

Historical records, buildings and artefacts can exist a connected living dialogue.

- Electronic access, requiring a digital version or summary for every asset
- Dimensional access, offering a spatial and visual experience
- Taxonomic access, allowing arrangements of information from different angles that are guided by tags, categories and metadata
- Participative access, offering a public stake in tagging, annotating, sorting, prioritising and connecting

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Published by: Rupert Brown on Sep 18, 2007
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05/08/2014

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11th International Seminar
Forum UNESCO - University and Heritage
 University of Florence, ItalySeptember 2006
Beyond the archives: Reading, writing and mapping São Paulo's heritage
Documentation is moving beyond the archives. Heritage can be tagged, commented andrewritten through new layers of participation and visualisation. Fundap – the Foundation forAdministrative Development – is building a website for the continuous open documentationof heritage authored both by researchers and by the public. It is a move towards creatingopen and accessible records of public heritage.Historical records, buildings and artefacts can exist a connected living dialogue. We seefour routes to this and are actively incorporating them into our work - both behind thescenes and within the users' experience.
 
Electronic access, requiring a digital version or summary for every asset
 
Dimensional access, offering a spatial and visual experience
 
Taxonomic access, allowing arrangements of information from different angles that areguided by tags, categories and metadata
 
Participative access, offering a public stake in tagging, annotating, sorting, prioritisingand connecting
Electronic access and accessibility 
When heritage is recorded by multimedia or electronically it is immediately shareable overelectronic networks. When it is on paper it is more likely to be stuck in an archive. Howeverif information can be put online it doesn't mean it is universally accessible and we are wellaware that the internet represents this paradox of access and accessibility in Brasil.Statistics show that 15% of the population are counted as internet users and around 10%have computers at home. With this poor
access
to the online world – through modems andcreaky telephone lines multimedia resources can be as inaccessible as a dusty book inthe archives. However digital resources are have more reach and are more easily shared bymaking hitherto inaccessible documentation searchable, saveable and manipulatable. Thisgrowth in accessibility is fuelled by the widening availability of free and easy-to-use contentmanagement and an expectation that information should be available and present ratherthan overpresented and impenetrable. This means delivering the maximum content withthe minimum dressing, lifting barriers, dropping procedures and beginning to trust thepublic to start to do some of our work for us.Outsiders are acutely aware of information that is locked away or worse, information that islocked away in a number of different locations. Heritage documentation in cities is verymuch a victim of this distribution of unshared resources and it often follows that the richerthe information, the harder it is to locate, triangulate and assimilate. A large number ofrepositories also makes for a larger number of gatekeepers and of 'outsiders' to theinformation. In São Paulo, our fully accredited research team has to negotiate four heritageorganisations, eight federal, state and city ministries together with three documentrepositories and nine libraries. Each of these requires some form of introductory letter orpermit in order to access resources and things don't happen very quickly.This experience of badly connected document archives perfectly matches the concept of theinformation silo. Wikipedia defines this as 'a management system incapable of reciprocal
 
operation with other, related management systems'. The gatekeepers, procedures, formatsand different classifications all conspire against connecting information or constructingmore definitive resources. In order to reach beyond these barriers we have to declareindependence for heritage documentation. In order to free documentation, we need to takelessons from the new information architecture and the experiences of digital collections andto look at the examples of free online services and free software.Open documentation seems like an alien concept to the locked-up world of paidpublications, passworded intranets and stored paper records. Information is separatedfrom its network of references and sometimes it is 'buried' which is a larger issue than anyof the institutional transactions, imagined security threats or privacy claims that currentlyjustify closed records. There are few truly confidential documents and with little of thegraded access available electronically - such as read, copy and write permissions. There arereal world parallels here such as museums and exhibitions that also use similar gradedaccess - 'look but don't touch', 'no photographs'. At the same time they hide 90% of theircollection and curators are the filters, the gatekeepers to the scarce resource of floorspace.In an electronic world these digitised records, documents and exhibits are free of spaceconstraints and must be independent. It is time to bare all.
Fundap – visualising the document 
Fundap is responsible for developing a new platform to provide public and administrativeaccess to records of city properties that are under the protection of federal, state andmunicipal laws. Time delay, inefficiency and paperwork can mount up for even mundanepublic or internal requests while processes are opaque and institutions are protective oftheir materials and their remit while no single methodology exists for handling records,plans, judgements and assessments. A preoccupation with the collection of proofs,evidence and detail for the purpose of enforcement has closed opportunities for sharing andco-operation. We are well aware that ultimate ownership of all these resources is with thepublic, the voters and the taxpayers. It is better that this information, these details anddata exist beyond the information silos – it is better out than in.There is a strong demand for accessible documentation and our approach has been toresearch resources in order to assemble histories, plans and images of São Paulo's builtheritage and this first step is creating the basis for an open and updateable onlinerepository. We are also thinking of modularity and allowing for the future docking of otherorganisations and agencies who can either contribute to the information directly or runparallel systems, possible using a duplicate of our system. The construction, productionand hosting has been performed with free and open source software alone. All investmenthas been directed to the human resources required to provide the research and designrather than as a payment to a closed and proprietary software system. We have been ableto customised the website and can be the system can be shared, lent, duplicated or passedon to other organisations to use as a basis of their own information disseminationinitiatives.Our documentation now exists out of the archives and in the browser, and this is now theonly interface required to interact with data. Downloaded viewing applications sometimeshit the mark but are now much less attractive and cumbersome plugins are also surpassedby ajax and web2.0 refinements. These ease the viewing, reading and even the authoring ofresources, all online and away from the quicksand of directories and the hell of email. Withour ultralow budget we can still deliver full histories, property blueprints, digital maps, areal estate database, photo gallery, online updating and access control for sensitiveinformation. This operationalises hitherto dead information and leverages our other threemantras of information access: dimension through maps and images; taxonomy guidingthe pivoted views of categories; Participation by users to both read the resources and to
 
write, interact and upload.
Dimensional access through images and maps 
Maps and images continually direct us and inform us when we navigate cities and heritagewhile they have become vastly easier to produce, store and share. We are taking advantageof this growing simplicity of serving maps and photos to add to the user experience and tocross-fertilisation between media. A simple architectural feature, highlight or point ofinterest can be presented either in a paragraph of text or through photos and from anumber of different angles while presenting a fuller context. This dimension ofdocumentation has previously deserved especial attention, extra budgets and specialapplication whereas now it can be included without specialist skills and without massiveediting or programming. Panoramas and video clips are also easier to assemble but we feelthat there are enough free services that if these are needed they can be linked rather thanhosted. The utility to low bandwidth modem users is outweighed by the burden of openingor transferring files and clips on our servers.Maps offer a lot to heritage. They are used to visualise distance between threats andopportunities for protection and conservation, monitoring the encroachment of illegaldevelopments and revealing the most vulnerable boundaries. They can also locatepossibilities for the extension of protected areas, registrations or the consolidation ofhistorical clusters. Google maps and Google Earth have opened up great expectations of thedemure art of supplying maps. Google Earth represents the state of the art but is a hugefile that needs a recent PC. Yet, based on breakthrough standards of time-to-load,navigability and usability, there are fewer barriers for users of newer
online maps
and fewerinhibitions for using digital map tools as historical documentation. Online maps alone canoffer a great level of interactivity, the ability to show many layers of information plus aspatial search and match. It is now possible to navigate historical areas, adding layers ofhistory and annotating space backed up with as good as free satellite images. In our versionwe use municipal data and this will extend to maps supplied by the water company andmuch of the functionality will develop over time with gathering contributions and by-products of our own work.Worldwide user communities and the accumulation of comments and additions havecreated a massive resource with great implications for heritage. Many of the possibilitiesfor our map and new initiatives are informed by the mashups of recent years. A mashup isthe hybrid use of maps with conventional data sources and publicly contributed data forinstance the Early Gothic Structures in France site, UNESCO World Heritage Site and thefamous Chicago Crime Map plots daily crime reports onto a Google Map of the city. Fromthe perspective of the mashup, new layers can be added from pre-prepared externalsources: visitor data, traffic conditions, architectural history. We are also able to enrichmaps by plotting additional data 'on the go': trails, panoramic viewpoints, 'how to getthere' info. These require a cheap GPS unit to record the frequent visits that theresearchers conduct and save the trails and waypoints for future use.Maps represent locality and are spatial indexes to conventional documentation. The Fundapsite allows users to access information through properties plotted onto maps which arehyperlinked to the records of the individual properties and plotted by the focuses shownbelow. They can show the focuses of category - integrity, proximity – spread, relativity – context and layers - parallels.

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