This blog is rather old now, and I have some new venues where I write:

Space Jams grew out of a radio show I started when I was studying at the LSE. It's a web-magazine, running mixtape, podcast devoted to all things urbanism.

I'm going to run a little newsletter for Space Jams too, since everyone has been doing that lately:

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Medium is a nice site for writing and publishing things that you don't know where else to put, and I use it sometimes.

http://helpmewrite.co/people/nickkauf/ideas is where I store and develop my raw ideas. If you have a twitter account, you can vote for which topics I pursue and write about next.

Twitter takes the bulk of my stream-of-consciousness

and of course you can add me on linkedin, especially if you want to hire me.

or email: nick@urbz.net


The Battle for Narita: Eminent Domain, Citizen Resistance, and Contradictions of State-Supported Neoliberal Development in Japan

I'm doing a brief presentation tomorrow on eminent domain / compulsory purchase in Japan and the battle over the construction of Narita International Airport. I'll probably turn this into a longer paper eventually. Interesting how the state/neoliberal development interests of an airport from the 60s literally were put right on top of the land used for older economic forms (agricultural land). The contradiction of 'hands off' globalized economic development needing to use a very 'hands on' tool of the state (eminent domain) to advance itself is also interest.

Here is a documentary about it:

Here are my slides:


On Travel, Cultural Relativism, and Ethnography

The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton

"Being White - Stories of Race and Racism" by bell hooks

A friend on facebook writes:
"I have realised that anyone who tries seriously to understand and communicate another culture, is bound to come across as relativistic."

Here are my thoughts on travel, ethnography, and relativism:

Some of the best travelers nonetheless love their home more than anywhere else and want to share it and understand foreign cultures in order to share their own better... I find my Irish friends have this quality.

I think it was Bell Hooks that wrote about western/male/privileged touristic travel versus other kinds of 'travel' like being a refugee, diaspora member or unwelcome guest.. she was writing about a black person visiting the caucasus region or somewhere.. but could also be applied to any american minority in japan who runs across racist things.... relativism in a sense is a privilege.. which is perhaps why it and cultural/moral relativism are used as epithets sometimes, as if: 'how smug to assume you can adopt whatever culture you choose' .... anthropology is full of this reflexive self-criticism about projecting your values on others, but sometimes misses the self-criticism of how your own pseudoscientific 'relativism' is a privileged position. Some of the best ethnographers acknowledged their biases and the limits of their position as participant observers.. for instance being a male or female and not having access to gender-exclusive rituals.. better to accept these sorts of limits and dwell in your own identity than to go crashing over boundaries and try to be all-seeing.. sometimes you actually learn more this way it seems..


 totally agree. as a laowai/gaijin, I get benefit of freedom from some social constraints in target culture.

 outsiders can ask questions about things so ordinary and commonplace they are taken for granted and not discussed explicitly.

Joyman Lee via Facebook:
"yeah, i'm not too familiar with this but have heard some of the basic criticisms against anthropology before. it's simply too difficult for a human being to become completely immersed in a different culture, in addition to being presumptuous. you're also very right that resources such as foreign languages, for example, can only be acquired at great expense of time and money, and hence why it's a privilege. but having acquired such (basic) skills what do we do? i personally find it most meaningful to try as best as possible to see what users of that language think, and esp in a well set -out case(for example a major industrialized country such as Japan with a massive literature) this isn't particularly difficult once you overcome the initial language barrier and given the right attitude. the distinction you made referring to Hooks is also interesting. At the end of the day I do believe that we're just ourselves, at the same time as remembering that the basic goal of most humanities/social sciences disciplines is to understand a society that is different from ours, be it the past, or a theme taken from the world as a whole but nonetheless one that is way beyond our immediate everyday and personal experience and hence 'foreign'"

Nick Kaufmann via Facebook:
yeah like the original fantasy of the internet was it was the place where you could be anyone, and change identities or have multiple identities.. go in all doors... but now so much of the internet is tied to one identity with social media... and it actually makes a lot of things possible or easier than were before.  similarly, anyone who plays RPGs would tell you it's no fun to have all the attributes for your character... the fun comes from limiting yourself and picking a 'class'

Joyman Lee via Facebook: 
the prob of course remains how much we can understand something/play the hand of someone who we are not. although of course with more benkyou we generally get closer


Urban Politics: A Bird's Eye View

 Aerial view of Occupy UC Davis - from publiclaboratory.org
Ubiquitous communications and media technology used by private citizens as well as public authorities and the military came to be a defining feature of the Arab Spring protests across the Middle East. The complexity of the technology employed at demonstrations, riots, flash mobs, and other urban spectacles only continues to increase, and accordingly the view of these phenomena that is available to the outside observer is getting more direct, detailed, and rich. One of the latest developments is the use of various technology to capture audio and visuals that aren't confined to the street level or one person's point of view.

In Oakland for example, Public Laboratory experimented with using cameras attached to weather balloons to create this bird's eye view of the crowd at "Occupy Oakland":

Then there is this video of recent riots in Warsaw, taken from a flying Drone:

It will be interesting to see how both private citizens and public authorities develop and make use of these technologies in an urban political environment where the conflict plays out both on the level of the physical geography of the street as well as the semiotic dimension of media and images.

For more information on grassroots mapping, check out http://grassrootsmapping.org/ . For more information on drone technology, check out http://diydrones.com/

Have more imagery or examples of tech that is providing new vantage points for observing and mapping public protest? Post a comment and let me know!


TEDxTohoku - Oct. 30th Sendai, Japan

This week I'm helping with TEDxTohoku, an independently organized TED event in Sendai, Japan that will showcase 12 speaker's presentations about the Tohoku region's revitalization after the 3.11 earthquake and tsunami. The theme of the event is "asking the 3.11 generation". I'm helping translate materials into English, organizing a team of bilingual volunteers to make the event more accesible for non-Japanese speaking attendees, and doing some English language PR.

My point of view and what I find so interesting about TEDxTohoku is that it is almost completely organized by local college students. Their passion and energy is amazing and I'm having a great time working with them. Having first imagined some stereotypical 20-30something creatives as the organizers I was shocked to find that most of them are my age or younger and most are going to university even as they are planning the event.

The popularization of the TED brand in Japan is another very interesting angle. This fall there have been many TEDx events in Japan like TEDxTokyo, TEDxTokyo_yz, TEDxTokyo Kids, and TEDxSEEDS. The brand is really starting to take hold. In a country where ideas are often handed down from central committees and presentations tend to be dry and read directly from a script... an event brand like TED where the spotlight is on the quality of the ideas and not who presents them is really radical and if it becomes popular, has the potential to really change how people think about post-disaster revitalization and other kinds of societal change here. The theme of the event is "asking the 3.11 generation" (the 3.11 generation being those whose lives were changed in great or small ways by the disaster). Focusing on "asking" instead of "saving" or "telling" something is what makes this event special in my opinion.

 Right now the regional planning process is well underway and there are a wide variety of projects aimed at restoring, revitalizing, and growing the urban environment of Tohoku, whether in big cities like Sendai or small villages. I hope that as redevelopment plans are implemented, their planners consider the importance of "asking" and collaborating with the people who have or will inhabit these spaces and places. I'm grateful to have the chance to be a part of this event and hope it helps promote this sort of curiosity and willingness collaborate on new models for the future rather than rebuilding the past with old theories and preconceived notions.

I need to thank my friend Cesar Harada, a Senior TED Fellow, for introducing me to the organizers. Having just presented at TEDxSEEDS in Yokohama, Cesar is currently biking from Tokyo to Sendai, looking for a place to launch his sailing drone, Protei, (designed to tack into the wind and skim oil in swarms) in an attempt to test it's potential to measure radiation. Although he won't be presenting at the event he will join us on sunday and have some materials available for people interested in learning more.

If you can't make it on sunday, you can watch the event live on Ustream from our website:

Some of the speakers at the event will include:

•Paul Bennet - Chief Creative Officer, IDEO 
As Chief Creative Officer of the global design consultancy IDEO, Mr. Bennett is actively involved in designing and bringing to market new products, services, and experiences. He is a proponent of 'human-centered design' that draws inspiration from the end-user experience and practical elements of daily life. he will speak on the concept of 'human-centered design' and how it might be applied in post-3.11 Tohoku.
•Kawashima Masashi – Google Senior Webmaster / Global Product Manager
Kawashima Masashi spearheaded the Google Person Finder project, initiated within hours after the earthquake struck, among other projects under Google Crisis Response. He will speak about the necessity of leadership and the role of Information Technology in natural disasters.
• Iinuma Kazuie - Head of Ishinomaki Red Cross Hospital.
Following the disaster, when the city of Ishinomaki's transportation links were severed, Ishinomaki Red Cross Hospital was the only functioning source of medical care, lead by Dr. Iinuma. He will speak about how to give medical care that protects the lives of residents in situations where outside aid is unavailable. 

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