Codesigning Urban Technology for Citizen Engagement: From Citizen-Centered to Collaborative Cities
This essay presents the results of an on-going series of codesign workshops about urban technology for policymakers that are being held in Chicago, New York and Boston during 2012-2013 with funding from the Urban Communication Foundation. The purpose of the workshops are threefold: 1) to expose policymakers to a range of urban technologies including urban screens, the ‘internet of things’ and mobile applications; 2) to expose the values embedded in these technologies as well as in political decisions about them; and 3) to introduce policymakers to codesign methods as a means of bringing together diverse stakeholders to discuss issues related to urban technology.
This essay draws on theories from communications (Carey, 1988; Innis, 1951), design (Sanders, 2008) and science and technology studies (Bijker, Hughes, & Pinch, 1987; Latour, 2005; Nissenbaum, 2001; Star, 1999) in order to frame the results of the three workshops and their importance to the field of urban informatics. Over the past five years, a growing body of academic scholarship has employed new concepts that challenge the separation of physical from digital, global from local, and private from public, which are relevant to the understanding of the way in which digital technologies are enabling emergent forms of organizing (Humphreys, 2008), new modes of citizen engagement (Foth, 2008; Foth, Forlano, Gibbs, & Satchell, 2011) and novel ways of experiencing urban space (Ito, 2003). Specifically, terms such as net locality (Gordon & Silva, 2011), code/space (Kitchin & Dodge, 2011), situated technologies (Shepard, 2011), and codescapes (Forlano, 2009) have been introduced in order to better articulate the ways in which digital interfaces, artifacts and networks have been integrated into urban space. However, we do not yet have a nuanced understanding of how these theoretical concepts play out in everyday work and life in cities. Specifically, how do emergent hybrid spaces of connectivity and connection in urban areas shape our experiences? How do they limit or expand our sociability with others? And, how might they prevent or enable opportunities for citizens to express themselves? How are digital interfaces, artifacts and infrastructures imbued with socio-political values and invisible actors?
In this essay, we will expand on these issues based on the discussions, activities, artifacts and outcomes of the three codesign workshops on urban technology, which are uniquely situated in different urban environments and thus reflect different relationships between people, technology, policy and space/place. Finally, the essay will introduce a codesign toolkit about urban technology for policymakers that will enable others to replicate the codesign workshops for their own purposes.