Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Hybrid Cities

My ever-thoughtful friend Fabio got me reading Anthony Townsend's recent dissertation, Wired / Unwired: The Urban Geography of Digital Networks, and it's good.

This dissertation examines the development of digital network infrastructure in the world’s great cities at the turn of the 21st century. Drawing upon the concept of cities as information systems and techniques of communications geography, it analyzes how the physical components of digital networks were deployed in major urban areas during the 1990s. It finds that historical processes and pre-existing differences between places shaped the evolution of this infrastructure at multiple spatial scales; global, metropolitan, and neighborhood. As a result, rather than bringing about the “death of distance”, digital network infrastructure actually reinforced many of the pre-existing differences between connected and disconnected places. With the telecom bust of 2000-2002, these differences were likely to persist for a decade or more. Yet just as the development of wired digital network infrastructure slowed, wireless technologies emerged as a more flexible, intuitive, and efficient form of connecting users to networks in everyday urban settings. As a result, an untethered model for digital networks emerged which combined the capacity and security of wired networks over long distances with the flexibility and mobility of wireless networks over short distances. This new hybrid infrastructure provided the technology needed to begin widespread experimentation with the creation of digitally mediated spaces, such as New York City’s Bryant Park Wireless Network.

On a related note, William Mitchell - his thesis supervisor - will be giving the keynote at UbiComp next month, speaking about his upcoming book Me++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City.

And on a somewhat less related note, David Sucher at City Comforts has these brilliant (?!) things to say about yours truly ;)

[Update 25/09/03: Clay Shirky enthusiastically posted about Townsend's thesis at Many-to-Many, and neglects to mention that although the thesis is very well-written and interesting, there is an almost complete lack of critical perspective on the social and cultural impacts of wireless technologies. ]

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