Codespaces: Community Wireless Networks and the Reconfiguration of Cities

Codespaces: Community Wireless Networks and the Reconfiguration of Cities

Laura Forlano (Columbia University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-152-0.ch020
OnDemand PDF Download:


This chapter introduces the role of community wireless networks (CWNs) in reconfiguring people, places and information in cities. CWNs are important for leading users and innovators of mobile and wireless technologies in their communities. Their identities are geographically-bounded and their networks are imbued with social, political and economic values. While there has been much discussion of the networked, virtual and online implications of the Internet, the material implications in physical spaces have been overlooked. By analyzing the work of CWNs in New York and Berlin, this chapter reconceptualizes the interaction between technologies, spaces and forms of organizing. This chapter introduces the concept of codespaces in order to capture the integration of digital information, networks and interfaces with physical space.
Chapter Preview


For over ten years—since the mainstream adoption of the Internet with the introduction of the World Wide Web in 1995—researchers, businesspeople and policymakers have conducted studies, launched applications, products and services, and implemented new laws related to the virtual, online, digital and networked properties of the information society. However, in this first decade of the Internet’s adoption, the role of physical place has been significantly under-theorized. We are at a turning point. A digital information layer is rapidly expanding throughout the physical spaces of our homes, offices, cities and towns. This digital layer includes mobile and wireless technologies such as WiFi hotspots, municipal wireless networks, cellular networks, Bluetooth headsets, wireless sensors and radio frequency identification (RFID) tags. WiFi hotspots can easily be found in coffee shops—including Starbucks—as well as in parks, airports and other public spaces. And, for the past several years, cities across the country and around the world have been planning to build wireless networks.

This chapter analyzes the people and organizations for whom WiFi networks, and the spaces that they inhibit, play an important role. This chapter draws on a four-year network ethnography (Howard, 2002) of community wireless networks (CWNs) and their role in building, using and innovating local infrastructures in the United States and abroad. Specifically, the chapter draws on participant-observation in NYCwireless, a CWN in New York City, which I have represented as a member of the board of directors since January 2005. Network ethnography is an emerging transdisciplinary method that makes use of a wide variety of network data—using new media including e-mail, websites, log data and social network analysis—in order to study communication in organizations (Howard, 2002). In keeping with network ethnography and following Rogers (2006), I have used Issue Crawler,1 a network analysis software developed by in order to better understand the ecology of organizations involved in CWNs. I created a list of the urls of the major community wireless organizations from and ran the Issue Crawler to analyze in-links and out-links. The Issue Crawler is a fast way to create a picture of the network by examining aspects such as the centrality and significance of organizations, the domain names of organizations and the linkages between organizations. This chapter addresses the question: What new socio-technical arrangements and forms of organizing are emerging at the intersection of technology and place?

WiFi networks are interesting for a number of reasons. First, they emerged, like the Internet, somewhat by accident. That is to say, the Internet—invented by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as a resilient backup communications network in case of nuclear attack—was not expected to achieve such a widespread commercial success. In a similar way, the technological standard that serves as the basis for WiFi relies on unlicensed electromagnetic spectrum or what is known as the ‘junk band’ to communicate. Second, they translate digital networks onto physical spaces. Third, they are the domain of a diverse group of volunteers, activists and organizations referred to as CWNs. Fourth, WiFi and related technologies are currently at the center of a number of significant business and policy debates. For example, city governments are struggling to identify sustainable business models for municipal wireless networks. And, policymakers are continuing to set guidelines for issues including spectrum regulation, network neutrality, universal access and community media.

This chapter surveys existing literature and presents key theoretical concepts that are useful in analyzing the people, technologies and places that animate the work of CWNs. First, the global network of CWNs is mapped and the organizational structures through which they are linked are presented. Second, examples of mapping and social network applications are offered in order to build the argument that CWNs are lead users and innovators of wireless technologies. These examples also serve to illustrate the ways in which CWNs are reconfiguring people, communities and spaces. Third, two CWNs, NYCwireless in New York, and Freifunk in Berlin, are described in detail. Finally, this chapter concludes with a discussion of future trends and argues that a new theoretical concept—codespaces—is needed to incorporate the integration of digital networks, information and interfaces in physical space. This chapter concludes with a summary of the main arguments presented.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Social Network Analysis: The study of the relationships between people, groups or organizations

Codespaces: The integration of digital networks, information and interfaces with physical spaces

Municipal Wireless Networks: Wireless networks that are initiated by cities, towns and municipalities but that are often built and maintained by private organizations

Network Ethnography: An emerging transdisciplinary methodology that makes use of a wide variety of network data in order to study communication in organizations

WiFi Networks: A network that connects computers to the Internet wirelessly using IEEE 802.11x, which is commonly known as WiFi

Mesh Networks: A decentralized, flexible and redundant network in which each node is connected to every other node

Community Wireless Networks: Wireless networks that are initiated, built and maintained by community groups often in partnership with private, government or non-profit organizations

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book:
List of Reviewers
Table of Contents
Anthony Townsend
Marcus Foth
Marcus Foth
Chapter 1
Amanda Williams, Erica Robles, Paul Dourish
This chapter critically examines the notion of “the city” within urban informatics. Arguing that there is an overarching tendency to construe the... Sample PDF
Urbane-ing the City: Examining and Refining the Assumptions Behind Urban Informatics
Chapter 2
Jaz Hee-Jeong Choi, Adam Greenfield
Once a city shaped by the boundary conditions of heavy industrialisation and cheap labour, within a few years Seoul has transformed itself to one of... Sample PDF
To Connect and Flow in Seoul: Ubiquitous Technologies, Urban Infrastructure and Everyday Life in the Contemporary Korean City
Chapter 3
Nancy Odendaal
Recent literature on African cities examines the way in which social networks function as critical livelihood arteries in the ongoing survival... Sample PDF
Creating an Analytical Lens for Understanding Digital Networks in Urban South Africa
Chapter 4
Wayne Beyea
Community planning is facing many challenges around the world, such as the rapid growth of megacities as well as urban sprawl. The State of Michigan... Sample PDF
Place Making Through Participatory Planning
Chapter 5
Mike Ananny, Carol Strohecker
In this paper, we describe the design and installation of a new kind of public opinion forum—TexTales, a public, large-scale interactive projection... Sample PDF
TexTales: Creating Interactive Forums with Urban Publics
Chapter 6
Jenny Preece
This chapter describes a small networked community in which residents of an apartment building in Washington, D.C., USA supplement their... Sample PDF
An Event-Driven Community in Washington, DC: Forces That Influence Participation
Chapter 7
Fiorella De Cindio
After more than a decade of e-participation initiatives at the urban level, what remains obscure is the alchemy—i.e., the “arcane” combination of... Sample PDF
Moments and Modes for Triggering Civic Participation at the Urban Level
Chapter 8
Michael Veith
Societies face serious challenges when trying to integrate migrant communities. One-sided solutions do not pay tribute to the complexity of this... Sample PDF
Fostering Communities in Urban Multi-Cultural Neighbourhoods: Some Methodological Reflections
Chapter 9
Victor M. Gonzalez, Kenneth L. Kraemer, Luis A. Castro
The practical use of information technology devices in domestic and residential contexts often results in radical changes from their envisioned... Sample PDF
Beyond Safety Concerns: On the Practical Applications of Urban Neighbourhood Video Cameras
Chapter 10
Colleen Morgan
This chapter explores how we may design located information and communication technologies (ICTs) to foster community sentiment. It focuses... Sample PDF
The Figmentum Project: Appropriating Information and Communication Technologies to Animate Our Urban Fabric
Chapter 11
Barbara Crow, Michael Longford, Kim Sawchuk, Andrea Zeffiro
The Mobile Media Lab (MML) is a Canadian interdisciplinary research team exploring wireless communications, mobile technologies and locative media... Sample PDF
Voices from Beyond: Ephemeral Histories, Locative Media and the Volatile Interface
Chapter 12
Helen Klaebe
This chapter defines, explores and Illustrates research at the intersection of people, place and technology in cities. First, we theorise the notion... Sample PDF
Embedding an Ecology Notion in the Social Production of Urban Space
Chapter 13
Vassilis Kostakos, Eamonn O’Neill
In this paper, we describe a platform that enables us to systematically study online social networks alongside their real-world counterparts. Our... Sample PDF
Cityware: Urban Computing to Bridge Online and Real-World Social Networks
Chapter 14
Katharine S. Willis
In our everyday lives, we are surrounded by information which weaves itself silently into the very fabric of our existence. Much of the time we act... Sample PDF
Information Places: Navigating Interfaces between Physical and Digital Space
Chapter 15
Viktor Bedö
This chapter contributes to the ongoing effort to understand the nature of locative urban information by proposing that locative urban information... Sample PDF
A Visual Approach to Locative Urban Information
Chapter 16
Tristan Thielmann
Car navigation systems, based on “augmented reality,” no longer direct the driver through traffic by simply using arrows, but represent the... Sample PDF
Navigation Becomes Travel Scouting: The Augmented Spaces of Car Navigation Systems
Chapter 17
Daisuke Tamada
A lot of street view services, which present views of urban landscapes, have recently appeared. The conventional method for making street views... Sample PDF
QyoroView: Creating a Large-Scale Street View as User-Generated Content
Chapter 18
Hideyuki Nakanishi, Toru Ishida, Satoshi Koizumi
Many research projects have studied various aspects of smart environments including smart rooms, home, and offices. Few projects, however, have... Sample PDF
Virtual Cities for Simulating Smart Urban Public Spaces
Chapter 19
Andrew Hudson-Smith
Digital cities are moving well beyond their original conceptions as entities representing the way computers and communications are hard wired into... Sample PDF
The Neogeography of Virtual Cities: Digital Mirrors into a Recursive World
Chapter 20
Laura Forlano
This chapter introduces the role of community wireless networks (CWNs) in reconfiguring people, places and information in cities. CWNs are important... Sample PDF
Codespaces: Community Wireless Networks and the Reconfiguration of Cities
Chapter 21
Katrina Jungnickel, Genevieve Bell
From WiFi (802.11b) with its fixed and mobile high-speed wireless broadband Internet connectivity to WiMAX (802.16e), the newest wireless protocol... Sample PDF
Home is Where the Hub Is? Wireless Infrastructures and the Nature of Domestic Culture in Australia
Chapter 22
Andres Sevtsuk
This chapter presents the iSPOTS project, which collects and maps data of WiFi usage on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus in... Sample PDF
Mapping the MIT Campus in Real Time Using WiFi
Chapter 23
John M. Carroll
We discuss the vision, plan, and status of a research project investigating community-oriented services and applications, comprising a wireless... Sample PDF
Supporting Community with Location-Sensitive Mobile Applications
Chapter 24
Christine Satchell
Early 21st century societies are evolving into a hybrid of real and synthetic worlds where everyday activities are mediated by technology. The... Sample PDF
From Social Butterfly to Urban Citizen: The Evolution of Mobile Phone Practice
Chapter 25
Jong-Sung Hwang
u-City is South Korea’s answer to urban community challenges leveraging ubiquitous computing technology to deliver state-of-the-art urban services.... Sample PDF
u-City: The Next Paradigm of Urban Development
Chapter 26
Dan Shang, Jean-François Doulet, Michael Keane
This chapter examines the development of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in urban China, focusing mainly on their impact on social... Sample PDF
Urban Informatics in China: Exploring the Emergence of the Chinese City 2.0
Chapter 27
Francesco Calabrese
The real-time city is now real! The increasing deployment of sensors and handheld electronic devices in recent years allows for a new approach to... Sample PDF
WikiCity: Real-Time Location-Sensitive Tools for the City
Chapter 28
Eric Paulos, RJ Honicky, Ben Hooker
In this chapter, we present an important new shift in mobile phone usage—from communication tool to “networked mobile personal measurement... Sample PDF
Citizen Science: Enabling Participatory Urbanism
Chapter 29
Mark Shepard
What happens to urban space given a hypothetical future where all information loses its body, that is, when it is offloaded from the material... Sample PDF
Extreme Informatics: Toward the De-Saturated City
Chapter 30
Roger J. Burrows
Is it still the case that one can symptomatically read the early work of the cyberpunk author William Gibson as a form of prefigurative urban theory... Sample PDF
Urban Informatics and Social Ontology
About the Editor
About the Contributors