Urbane-ing the city: Examining and refining the assumptions behind urban informatics

Amanda Williams, Erica Robles, Paul Dourish

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationHandbook of Research on Urban Informatics
Subtitle of host publicationThe Practice and Promise of the Real-Time City
PublisherIGI Global
Number of pages20
ISBN (Print)9781605661520
StatePublished - 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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