Urbane-ing the City: Examining and Refining the Assumptions Behind Urban Informatics

Urbane-ing the City: Examining and Refining the Assumptions Behind Urban Informatics

Amanda Williams (University of California, Irvine, USA), Erica Robles (Stanford University, USA) and Paul Dourish (University of California, Irvine, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-152-0.ch001
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Abstract

This chapter critically examines the notion of “the city” within urban informatics. Arguing that there is an overarching tendency to construe the city as an economically and spatially distinct social form, we review a series of system designs manifesting this assumption. Systematically characterizing the city as a dense ecology of impersonal social interactions occurring within recognizably public places, this construction can be traced to turn-of-the-century scholarship about the metropolis. The idealized dweller of these spaces, the flâneur, functions as the prototypical user for urban computing technologies. This assumption constrains the domain of application for emergent technologies by narrowing our conception of the urban experience. Drawing on contemporary urban scholarship, we advocate an alternative perspective which foregrounds the experience rather than the form of the metropolis. Users become actors embedded in global networks of mobile people, goods, and information, positioned in a fundamentally heterogeneous and splintered milieu. Grounding this approach in a preliminary study of mobility practices in Bangkok, Thailand, we illustrate how urban informatics might refine its subject, accounting for local particularities between cities as well as the broader global networks of connection between these sites.
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The City And Its Dwellers: Themes In Urban Informatics

There is perhaps no psychic phenomenon so unconditionally reserved to the city as the blasé outlook. It is at first the consequence of those rapidly shifting stimulations of the nerves which are thrown together in all their contrasts and from which it seems to us the intensification of metropolitan intellectuality seems to be derived... The essence of the blasé attitude is an indifference toward the distinctions between things.

Georg Simmel, 1903

Key Terms in this Chapter

Situationism: The Situationists were a group of avant-garde artists, radicals, and intellectuals active in Europe particularly in the late 1950s and 1960s. Situationism argued that the conditions of contemporary capitalism had rendered people passive subjects whose relationship to their own experience was one of the consumption of daily life as spectacle. Urban life was a particular example of a domain in which they sought to revolutionize the experience of everyday life by encouraging people to become conscious, active participants in the reality that their everyday actions produced.

Civil Inattention: Sociologist Erving Goffman coined the term “civil inattention” to refer to the ways in which people maintain a comfortable social order in public spaces by explicitly disattending to one another and their actions (for instance, the minimal social interaction amongst people packed into an elevator).

Power Geometry: Feminist geographer Doreen Massey introduced the term “power geometry” to point to the ways in which spatiality and mobility are both shaped by and reproduce power differentials in society. Examples might include the control over distribution of goods and services, or the different circuits enabled by transportation systems.

Flâneur: Critical theorist Walter Benjamin draws the term “flâneur” from the writings of French poet Charles Baudelaire. To Baudelaire, the flâneur is a figure unique to the city, one who wanders through urban space in order to consume and revel in the images that it offers. Flânerie, then, is an experience of urban space. Benjamin notes the historical and economic specificities of the flâneur, arguing that the kinds of narrative afforded by flânerie depend upon forms of leisure and mobility associated with wealth and power. Critically, the flâneur may be in the crowd, but is not of the crowd.

Positionality: In cultural accounts of experience, positionality refers to both the fact of and the specific conditions of a given social situation. So, where one might talk about the “position” of an individual in a social structure, “positionality” draws attention to the conditions under which such a position arises, the factors that stabilize that position, and the particular implications of that position with reference to the forces that maintain it.In urban informatics, positionality is relevant in the ways in which information systems create and sustain particular networks of positions, spatially and socially.

Anomie: Emile Durkheim used the term “anomie” to refer to the experience of an absence of social norms. Various writers have employed it to characterise the social isolation and alienation from communitarian life and social ties associated with the scale and anonymity of urban environments.

Space of Flows: Urban sociologist Manuel Castells uses the term “space of flows” to reimagine urban space as a nexus of flows of people, capital, goods, and information. This helps us understand the city as a component in broader social and economic processes, and draws attention to the dynamics of those processes.

Splintering Urbanism: A term coined by geographers Steven Graham and Simon Marvin to refer to the ways in which infrastructures, including information and communication technologies, can fragment the experience of the city.

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Table of Contents
Foreword
Anthony Townsend
Preface
Marcus Foth
Acknowledgment
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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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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