Mediated Cityscapes 01: Four Statements About Urban Computing

Conversations about ubiquitous computing and the city often get anchored to specific paradigms: urban informatics, discussions of 'smartphone urbanism', open data drumbeating and any number of other stock frames of reference are usually engaged before more primary topics like civic engagement, class and our moment-to-moment experience of the city are broached. This is not entirely surprising as cities are monstrously complex assemblages – it is difficult to wrap our heads around the scale of the infrastructures, ideological forces and the flows of capital that shape the urban realm. If one were to unflinchingly subscribe to the claims made by advertisements like that pictured above, they'd be inclined to believe that we are on the threshold of a fundamental shift in the way we represent and 'operate' our cities. However, on closer consideration it is clear that we are merely at the end of a very long arc of developments that has seen the increasing deployment of scientific management principles and information technology directly into the urban fabric. What we're really experiencing right now is an exponentially greater data yield from and increasing interoperability between systems that we previously considered insular. While the density of sensors and access to civic data may be increasing, this rationalization of the landscape has been underway since at least the early nineteenth century – Molly Wright Steenson has astutely identified the origin of these phenomena as the intercity railroad and electrical telegraph, technologies that "annihilated both space and time" and "transmitted intelligence".(1)

This text is the first of a series entitled Mediated Cityscapes, which will provide a cursory introduction to how emerging technologies interface with the city. The goal of this endeavour is to deliver an overview of current thought in this field, a selection of related case studies and to identify and consider several key historical precedents. There is a breadth of opinion and a lot of moving parts within this discourse, so rather than produce catch-all manifestos this series will be delivered as speculative, topical vignettes. This first post provides four general statements regarding urban computing and information culture more broadly.

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