The Neogeography of Virtual Cities: Digital Mirrors into a Recursive World

The Neogeography of Virtual Cities: Digital Mirrors into a Recursive World

Andrew Hudson-Smith (University College London, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-152-0.ch019
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Digital cities are moving well beyond their original conceptions as entities representing the way computers and communications are hard wired into the fabric of the city itself or as being embodied in software so the real city might be manipulated in silico for professional purposes. As cities have become more “computable,” capable of manipulation through their digital content, large areas of social life are migrating to the web, becoming online so-to-speak. Here, we focus on the virtual city in software, presenting our speculations about how such cities are moving beyond the desktop to the point where they are rapidly becoming the desktop itself. But what emerges is a desktop with a difference, a desktop that is part of the web, characterized by a new generation of interactivity between users located at any time in any place. We first outline the state of the art in virtual city building drawing on the concept of mirror worlds and then comment on the emergence of Web 2.0 and the interactivity that it presumes. We characterize these developments in terms of virtual cities through the virtual world of Second Life, showing how such worlds are moving to the point where serious scientific content and dialogue is characterizing their use often through the metaphor of the city itself.
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The idea of the ‘computable city’ is one that stretches back to a time when the convergence of computers and communications first began to make an impact on the way cities functioned. New forms of electronic interaction began to display themselves in the need for wired infrastructures to support everything from smart buildings to new kinds of information industry (Batty, 1997). The notion that the city through its hardware might become ‘intelligent’ is something that has been with us since the 1980s. But during this time a somewhat different prospect has emerged with the city itself and its many functions being encapsulated and articulated in non-physical terms, in virtual space rather than real space. At first the impact of the Internet was largely in terms of cities advertising their services to ‘virtual tourists’ who browsed or shopped the web through simple passive browsing. The early web site Virtual Bologna represented the portal to urban services and information about the Italian town of Bologna which become a favourite example of early commentators on the power of the web.

Virtual Bologna was typical of its time with its iconic representation of the city as a gateway to real urban information but what is now happening is that these many technologies which display and transmit information in somewhat passive terms through the web are beginning to take on new forms of interactivity. Increasingly cities and city-like media are being captured on the web and disseminated not as passive web pages but through virtual worlds where the user enters a digital space that is in many ways akin to a real space and engages in interactions which mirror what happens in real space. Virtual cities are being built and inhabited using systems such as Second Life, with millions of users making rapid decisions thus shifting these virtual realities minute by minute into new manifestations of digital urban form.

The concept of the ‘computable city’ is still alive and well in the city itself as more and more computable devices exists within our physical environment. We have not quite reached the stage where such devices are embedded into themselves but all this is becoming routine. It is in terms of what is happening within the computer itself that now marks the cutting edge. The circle has turned completely: computers in cities exist in abundance of course, but it is cities inside computers that now define the digital frontier. This notion of the ‘city inside the computer’ changes rather remarkably our vision of how one can build virtual cities. Rather than being based on any single real place, they increasingly embody a mix of fiction and reality, digital cities linked together in a virtual urban sprawl, forming part of the ‘metaverse’ so eloquently anticipated by Neil Stephenson and William Gibson, that genre of science fiction writers that based their visions of the near future on ways in which the physical and virtual merge.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Digital Recursion: Is the activity of representing and accessing digital media which is nested in some form within computers and networks.

Recursive Worlds: Are aspects of reality often represented in literal graphical terms which are captured digitally and recreated within different spaces which can be accessed from each other within the computer and across the net.

Neogeography: In its most literal sense this means a new geography but one which is digital From the Platial weblog (, it is defined as: “Neogeography, as we see it, is a diverse set of practices that operate outside, or alongside, or in the manner of, the practices of professional geographers. Rather than making claims on scientific standards, methodologies of neogeography tend toward the intuitive, expressive, personal, absurd, and/or artistic, but may just be idiosyncratic applications of “real” geographic techniques. This is not to say that these practices are of no use to the cartographic/geographic sciences, but that they just usually don’t conform to the protocols of professional practice”

Mirror Worlds: Are representations of the real world in scaled down simplified form that were originally pictured as working in parallel to the reality itself but with strong interaction both ways between reality and its mirror. The term was first popularised by David Gerlernter.

Virtual Worlds: Are representations of reality usually formed in 3D which enable users to enter the world and represents themselves as avatars, thus communicating with other in the world while at the same time transforming the world for educational, leisure or business purposes

Web 2.0: From Wikipedia ( “Web 2.0 is a trend in World Wide Web technology, and web design, a second generation of web-based communities and hosted services such as social-networking sites, wikis, blogs, and folksonomies, which aim to facilitate creativity, collaboration, and sharing among users. The term became notable after the first O’Reilly Media Web 2.0 conference in 2004.”

Virtual Cities: Are digital representations of city forms which may range from the services of cities embedded in web page through to representations of the geometry of buildings streets and landscapes comprising cities which one can manipulate on the desktop or across the web.

Complete Chapter List

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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
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