Urban Computing and Its Discontents

I’ve long been fascinated by the intersection or what might be called “imagined spaces” and real spaces – the way that the places we live influence our imaginations and vice versa. (Long ago, in a world far far away, I did a dissertation on Urbanization and American Fiction from 1880-1930).

I was fascinated, therefore, to stumble on this book by Adam Greenfield and Mark Shepard: Urban Computing and Its Discontents. It’s the first pamphlet in a forthcoming series on Architecture and Situated Technologies, edited by Moar Khan, Trebor Scholz, and Mark Shepard.

It’s being made available through Lulu, and the download version is free (as in beer anyway; it is a standard copyright license). Paperback version is currently $15 in full color.

In the book, Greenfield (whom you may know as the author of Everywhere, co-founder of Boxes and Arrows, and a blogger) recalls proposing a class titled “Urban Computing” at NYU in early 2007:

In proposing such a class, Kevin and I were motivated by a fundamental belief that the ubiquitous and pervasive computing technologies that human-computer interface (HCI) researchers had been discussing for around twenty years could no longer be dismissed as a matter of conjecture. They were, instead, already starting to appear in everyday life, as building systems and public infrastructures, but above all as consumer products—what, after all, could be more ubiquitous than the mobile phone? And from where we stood, it was self-evident that this broad array of networked, embedded, post-desktop computing devices couldn’t possibly not have a radically transformative effect on everything we understood as urbanism, on the physical form of the city and on metropolitan experience both.

As the whole notion of “computing” becomes invisible-because-pervasive, how will it change our interactions with the built environment and with other people in cities? What signs can we read in the present of what these changes will be like?

Coming in Spring 2008 will be the second in the series, titled “Open Source Urbanism” by Usman Haque and Matthew Fuller – I’ll be looking forward to that one as well.


  1. Just finished a fun book on this topic, Charlie Stross’ Halting State. It proposes a near-future where all sorts of data is laid on top of “Real Life” and . . . I can’t think of how to explain more without spoiling it.

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