Playing the media city: the citizen as urban planner
Somewhere between the mid to late 19th century the science of urban planning took off as a professional and academic discipline. It was a reaction to the industrialization of the city and the squalid living circumstances of a majority of urbanites. Today, a wide range of digital media technologies are spreading into the urban realm. Again these new machines are affecting urban life and culture, as well as urban design practices.
Questions about the role of new media in shaping the built form and social fabric of urban life are urgent in the context of challenges posed by rapid urbanization, a worldwide financial crisis that hits particularly hard on the architectural sector, and broad socio-cultural shifts as online culture seeps through the porous confines of cyberspace into the physical world. Like many other disciplines, urban design is faced with shifting relations between professionals and amateurs, the decline in legitimacy of expert knowledge, and the rise of networked collective action.
This contribution investigates the relationship between digital media and urban culture and design through the notion of play. This is done in two ways. First, I explore how play and games are used to engage citizens in co-creating their own environment. Four cases are presented that range from games used in simulations or actual planning processes of physical environments, to games that help to foster a poetic ‘sense of place’ among urbanites. Second, I suggest that the concept of play may act as a lens to understand changing professional design practices. It is proposed that the tripartite ontology of play as object, algorithm and action offers a fruitful perspective on the changing role of urban designers in shaping the future of the media city.
Michiel de Lange (PhD) is a part-time Lecturer New Media Studies, Utrecht University, Netherlands. He co-founded The Mobile City, an independent research group that investigates the influence of digital media technologies on urban life, and implications for urban design. In 2010 he finished his dissertation about mobile media, urban life and identity.