25 January 2012

The city as interface. Digital media and the urban public sphere

Be the first to share

On 23 January 2012, Martijn de Waal defended his Ph.D. thesis ‘The city as interface’ at the Philosophy Department of the University of Groningen.

Abstract:

The main concern of the study ‘The City as Interface’ is the future of the urban public sphere. It investigates various scenarios that describe how the rise of digital and mobile media technologies, such as the mobile phone, GPS-navigation, and the usage of social networks through smartphones, change the way the urban public sphere functions.

Most studies on the urban public sphere have so far theorized it as a spatial construct, a physical place for encounter and social interaction. Yet, such a purely spatial approach has become problematic now that new media technologies, from the mobile phone to urban sensor networks, have started to play an important role in the experience and organization of everyday urban life. The experience of the city has become extended by media technologies that bring absent others or distant (either in time and space) contexts into the here-and-now. The infrastructure of these new technologies and the way they are programmed now co-shape urban life, just like the physical infrastructures and the spatial programming of urban planning have always done.

This may lead to two different (non-exclusive) scenarios that enforce a broader trend in which people sort themselves out geographically, that is: people are more and more keeping in touch with people who share a similar identity or particular goal. Citizens may use digital media as ‘filters’ that allows them to find the spaces where they are likely to meet people who are similar to them. Institutions may use these same technologies to target particular audiences and make places more attractive to them, or even to exclude access to those who do not belong.

A second scenario also builds upon a broader geographic trend that has been called ‘Living Together Apart.’ This is a development in which various urban publics live in and use the same geographic areas, but do not interact much. An example is found in the former working class turned migrant quarters near European inner cities that have become gentrified over the last decades. Local working class people, young professionals and migrants share the same neighborhood. A Turkish coffee house might be located next to a designer coffee bar. They are geographically close, but are separated by a large symbolic distance. The filtering mechanisms of mobile media could enforce this scenario. The chaotic experience of all those different worlds on top of each other becomes ‘navigable’ and ‘inhabitable’ through the use of urban media that help users locate those microvariations in space that are relevant to them.

That, however, is only one part of my findings. Urban media also have the affordance to create a public sphere in new ways. Urban media can create a new type of platform that can bring forth collective issues around which publics can organize. Data from various sensor networks can be mapped to, for instance, show the air quality or energy use of a city. These mappings can become a condensation point around which publics start to organize themselves. In addition, the use of urban media can be used to make individual contributions to such communal issues visible. This could mean that it becomes easier to turn resources into a ‘commons’, a communally used and managed resource. First examples of these are the bike and car sharing schemes that have sprung up in various cities around the world. There is a chance that the communal use and management of these practical collective issues could lead to the formation of publics around these issues that bring together people from various backgrounds. I have shown how ‘open data’ initiatives could perhaps play a similar role. These too could create new platforms on which urban publics can form.

At the same time I have also argued that the introduction of a new platform by itself is not enough for a public realm to come into being. To function as a public realm, platforms need a program that provide one or more functions that will attract citizens from various backgrounds. This is true for physical spaces as well as for urban media platforms. Studies have shown that digital platforms can enhance the sense of a local community or public in a particular neighborhood, but that this does not happen by itself.

(via SmartMobs)

Be the first to share
17 June 2016
Remember the people: The foundation for success in 21st C infrastructure
Infrastructure providers are used to focusing on issues of project selection, funding, and regulation. The most successful firms are learning to provide great consumer experiences too. "The consumer experience matters. Infrastructure providers therefore need to …
19 May 2016
Transition design as postindustrial interaction design
The School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University has started talking about 'Transition Design.' In his long reflection about this new kind of design practice, Cameron Tonkinwise, CMU's Director of Design and Doctoral Studies, writes: Transition refers …
25 April 2016
How city design is adapting to older populations
As cities experience a demographic shift, the need for age-friendly design is becoming ever more critical. From almshouses to driverless cars, the future of urban housing and mobility may just be shaped for and by …
21 April 2016
The product design of IoT
As more and more ‘Internet of Things’ products come into the market, most, if not all will come with significant challenges. The key to overcoming any obstacles, writes Joe Johnston, VP Experience Innovation for Universal …
8 April 2016
On the need for ethnography in user experience design
Michael Thomas of Ford Motor Company argues in a thoughtful personal piece that User Experience design is greatly enhanced by establishing classical ethnographic methods as foundational for defining the domain of design intervention. How can UX …
2 April 2016
A selection of Interaction 16 videos
In this post we highlight a number of Interaction 16 conference videos especially relevant to the Putting People First readers. They are grouped thematically. Algorithm-inspired design Crowds, algorithms and computations: The new materials of design - Matthew …
22 January 2016
Creating age-friendly cities
In a new report the McGraw Hill Financial Global Institute (MHFI) argues that we need a new thinking about how to create "age-friendly cities." Adapting to the challenges of an aging urban population, they write, requires …
14 January 2016
Pritzker Prize winner brings communities into the design process
The radical Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena, known for his pioneering social housing projects in Latin America, has been named as the winner of the 2016 Pritzker prize, the highest accolade in architecture. The 48-year-old, who is …

We are an international experience design consultancy helping companies and organisations to innovate their products, services and processes by putting people and their experiences first.

22 June 2016
A united energy economy: Experientia helps wrap up the CITYOPT Nice pilot project

Can behavioral change address local energy issues, raise people’s awareness energy consumption issues, and directly support non-profit organizations at the same time? With the Nice pilot of the CITYOPT project, we have seen strong suggestions that it can. It also suggests that the sense of belonging to a local community is a strong motivation for […]

23 May 2016
Experientia white paper: “Conducting clinical trials is about working with patients”

Patient-centricity is one of the defining issues facing clinical trials in the pharma industry. The past few years have seen a growing awareness by pharmaceutical companies of the importance of patient-centricity – but they have also illustrated that not everyone is clear on just what patient-centricity is, or how to achieve it. After using UX […]

12 April 2016
The latest on innovation in Energy Efficient Buildings: annual round-up of EU Commission projects

Every year, the Energy-efficient Buildings (EeB) Public Private Partnership (PPP) publishes the EeB PPP project review – a round-up of energy-efficiency projects that have been co-funded by two European Commission schemes. This year, the print and digital booklet design was done by Experientia, in particular by our talented visual and interaction designer Dohun Jang. Experientia […]

8 March 2016
Behavioral modeling – Shaping cultural change and behavioral evolution

One of the things we do here at Experientia that really sets us apart from other UX agencies is behavioral modeling. Our cognitive and behavioral models go beyond the standard customer journeys and personas (both useful tools, and often preliminary steps to behavioral modeling) to create frameworks that can be used to make people more […]

1 March 2016
Singapore’s main newspaper on Experientia’s design with the elderly

Arti Mulchand reports in the Straits Times, Singapore’s main newspaper, on Experientia’s “Design for Ageing Gracefully” project: Putting faces to end-users early in the design process is changing the way designers and organisations are approaching products aimed at Singapore’s growing elderly demographic. Experientia’s ethnographic study, which was commissioned by DesignSingapore Council in a collaboration with […]

18 January 2016
Experientia website completely reshaped

Experientia is pleased to announce that we’ve started 2016 with a brand new website. Experientia’s now officially 10 years old, and we decided that the best way to celebrate is by building a new website that showcases our growth – with new projects, new people in the staff, and two new locations in Lausanne and […]

See all articles