I passed by where you lived.

Project Title: I passed by where you lived.

Instructor: Allison Parrish

Time: May, 2019

Code lives here.


The book “Invisible Cities” by Italo Calvino, portraying a number of speculative cities through the mouth of Marco Polo. Even though all the cities Marco Polo described are a little bit strange and absurd, I can always find similarity and relevancy to the world and city I live in. Just as Marco said in the book:”“Every time I describe a city I am saying something about Venice.”  Calvino extracted and purified the core desires and drives of human, just like a bone, and then add flesh onto it with his imagination. Through telling the stories of cities, Calvino told stories about humanities. And through the absurdity and deconstruction of the story, readers are urged to fill the gap with their own imagination and reflection. “It is not the voice that commands the story: it is the ear.” I think it is similar to what program can do: deconstruct texts to let reader reconstruct the meaning.

I am very interested in the relationship between city and human. City is a place that is shaped by the residents and also reflects the shape of residents living in it. I am curious about how a city is shaped? Who shaped it? Who decided how to develop a city? What is a better city for residents? What do residents want from a city they live in?

The development of global economy and technology has accelerate the progress of urbanization, leading to more urban problems such as pollution, urban chaos, sprawl, traffic, overcrowding, etc. In order to solve these problems, government and institutions have proposed to make better urban plan using technologies, such as real-time monitoring and big data analysis. However, do these plan and approaches really doing good to the residents? Are these what the residents want?

With these questions in mind, I want to create a series of generative description of speculative cities to evoke the reflections and conversations through deconstructing and reconstructing the related texts.

Source Texts

I chose three source texts for this project:

  • Invisible Cities book
  • New York Times articles about “smart city” and “urban planning”
  • Twitter posts including the keyword “I want”

I want to use the speculative context from Invisible City to mesh up with the very logic and practical news articles about city technology and planning. In addition, I want to collect what people want as a part of the ingredient added to the poem,  to be in contrast with the NYT articles, if there is any.


  1. Collect and clean source texts
  2. Analyze texts
  3. Build poem structure to generate poems

Step1. Collect and clean source texts

I started by collecting texts from different sources, making API request to retrieve NYT articles and Twitter posts.



Screen Shot 2019-05-14 at 11.41.21 AM

Step 2. Analyze texts

1. Language style

As I know I want to mesh up texts from Invisible City and NYT articles, I use Markovify to regenerate them to see the differences.

Screen Shot 2019-05-14 at 11.44.12 AM.png
Only texts from Invisible City
Screen Shot 2019-05-14 at 11.45.20 AM.png
Only texts from NYT articles

By comparing, I found the language of Invisible City is more personal, and prose-like. The words is use are more abstract and poetic. While NYT articles sound more accurate, calm, analytic with lots of words about data, technology and devices.

2. The most common noun in NTY

Then I want to see what NYT articles talk the most about.

Screen Shot 2019-05-14 at 11.50.32 AM.png

Screen Shot 2019-05-14 at 11.51.11 AM.png

I decided to use these words to replace some other nouns in the poem to make it more “realistic” and analytical.

I tried to use SimpleNeighbor to increase the volume of these texts, but it turned out the result is not very ideal. So I didn’t continue.

Step 3. What people talk about on Twitter

The main reason I use Twitter is that I want to collect data about what people actually thinking about, what they want in general. I want to see if these wants can actually match with speculative contents or the NYT articles, or not.

Step 3. Design the text structure and generate poems!

I have iterated through several text forms, ranging from city description, travel journal and finally ended at a postcard style.

Form 1. city description: generate description about a city that is non-existent

With everything on hands, I started to generate poems by combine Invisible City and NYT articles using Markovify, applying different weights. I use the “wants” from Twitter as the ending and reflection.

Screen Shot 2019-05-14 at 11.55.54 AM.png

Screen Shot 2019-05-14 at 11.58.56 AM.png

Screen Shot 2019-05-14 at 11.59.47 AMScreen Shot 2019-05-14 at 11.59.53 AMScreen Shot 2019-05-14 at 12.00.00 PM

I like the contrast between heavy speculative and heavy practical. So I went on to explore if I could show this transition in the poem. I got feedback from classmates and Allison that the texts need more framing —- what’s this text from, who is saying it. I totally agree and decided to add more personal elements into it. Then I generate a series of travel journal-ish text using “I”.

Form 2. Travel journal

Screen Shot 2019-05-14 at 12.04.39 PM.png

I think I really like the personal elements and make reader for more intimate. So I decided to go further and make the description of the city as a story that one traveller would say on the postcard to his/her friends/significant others/family, etc.

Form 3. Postcard

Screen Shot 2019-05-14 at 12.08.29 PMScreen Shot 2019-05-14 at 12.08.37 PM

Screen Shot 2019-05-14 at 12.09.06 PM.png

I really like the form after generating it. So I continue to work on this.  I re-arranged the structure several times, and landing at the following structure:

  • Salute
  • Greeting + which city “I” am at
  • Description about the city (more speculative tone)
  • “I remember you …” and the city (more speculative tone)
  • Description about the city (even tone)
  • “I …” and the city  (more practical tone)
  • “You said you want…”
  • Ending question
  • Salute

I want to make the transition of from more speculative (more weight on Invisible City) to more practical (more weight on NYT) as a progressive flooding, as a way to describe the city from more dreamy to more realistic. I end the texts with what people want and a question with an aim to evoke a sense of relevancy and reflection.

Screen Shot 2019-05-14 at 12.11.37 PM.png


5 copy 95 copy 85 copy 125 copy 7


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started
%d bloggers like this: