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Workshop: Digital Cities 6: Concepts, Methods and Systems of Urban Informatics




Workshop: Digital Cities 6: Concepts, Methods and Systems of Urban Informatics

Penn State University Stati Uniti

Marcus Foth, Senior Research Fellow, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia - m.foth@qut.edu.au
Laura Forlano, Kauffman Fellow in Law, Yale Law School, New Haven, USA - laura.forlano@yale.edu
Hiromitsu Hattori Assistant Professor, Department of Social Informatics, Kyoto University, Japan - hatto@i.kyoto-u.ac.jp
Web site: http://tinyurl.com/dc6-2009

Transport grids, building complexes, information and communication technology, social networks and people form the bones, organs, muscles, nerves and cell tissue of a city. Studying the organisation and structure of these systems may seem straightforward at first, since there are visible artifacts and tangible objects that we can observe and examine. We can count the number of cars on the road, the number of apartments in a building, the number of emails on our computer screens and the number of profiles on social networking sites. We could also qualify these observations by recording the make and model of cars, the size and price of apartments, the sender and recipient of emails and the content and popularity of online profiles. This approach would potentially produce a large amount of data and render a detailed map of various levels of a city's infrastructure, but a large quantity of detail does not necessarily result in a great quality (and clarity) of meaning. How do we analyse this data to better understand the 'city' as an organism? How do the cells of the city cluster to form tissue and organs, and how do various systems communicate and interact with each other? And, recognising that we ourselves are cells living in cities as active agents, how do we evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of the processes we observe in order to plan, design and develop more livable cities?

A macroscopic perspective of urban anatomy does not easily reveal those meticulous details which are necessary to help us understand and appreciate what Anthony Townsend calls the urban metabolism (Townsend, 2000), that is, the nutrients, capacities, processes and pace which nurture the city to keep it alive. Some of the fascination with human anatomy stems from the fact that a living body is more than the sum of its parts. Similarly, the city is more than the sum of its physical elements. Trying to get to the bottom of a city's existence, urban anatomists have to become dissectors of urban infrastructure by trying to microscopically uncover the connections and interrelationships of city elements. Yet, this is anything but trivial for at least three reasons. First, time is a crucial factor. Many events that trigger urban processes involving multiple systems result in a timely interrelated response. A dissection by isolating one system from another, would cut the communication link between them and jeopardise the study of the wider process. The city comprises many of these real-time systems and requires approaches and tools to conduct real-time examinations. Second, the physical city is increasingly complemented with a virtual layer that digitally augments and enhances urban infrastructures by means of information and communication technology including mobile and wireless networks. This world, which Mitchell (1995) called the 'city of bits,' is invisible to the human eye, and we require instruments for live surgery to render the invisible visible. Third and most importantly, the 'cells' of the urban body, the lifeblood of cities, are the city dwellers who have a life of their own and who introduce human fuzziness and socio-cultural variables to the study of the city. The toolbox of what could be termed anthropological urban anatomy thus calls for research approaches that can differentiate (and break apart) a universally applicable model of 'The City' by being sensitive to individual circumstances, local characteristics and socio-cultural contexts.

Exploring these three challenges, this workshop looks at concepts, research methods and instruments that become the microscope of urban anatomy. We want to discuss urban informatics systems that provide real-time tools for examining the real-time city, to picture the invisible and to zoom into a fine-grained resolution of urban environments that reveal the depth and contextual nuances of urban metabolism processes at work.


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