Januar 25, 2018
The potential and benefits of information and communication technology (ICT) for the formation and re-conceptualization of public space can hardly be overstated. ICTs have fostered new ways of designing public space(s), such as in the mushrooming participatory co-creation formats, human-human as well as human-AI co-creation. ICTs have added new layers to public space, such as location-based informations of various registers. ICTs have enabled new ways of operating and maintaining public goods and services, such as transportation and lighting. ICTs have successfully aspired to transform and virtualize functions of public space, such as social interaction and political manifestations. ICTs have produced new forms of interaction in public spaces such as for example in the gamification approach. And ICTs have brought about new forms of funding/financing such as in the case of crowd-funding models for public spaces. Sharing economy approaches for autonomous electric vehicles in particular have been a hot topic and ‘the next big thing’ to revolutionize public space for quite a while now, and the first focus of the finals conference is on the state of affairs of e-mobility in Berlin.
But despite the promises of participatory design, equal access and inclusiveness, liberation by way of the automation of repetitive routines, decentralization of governance, there is another role and impact of ICTs in public space, that, on the other hand, must not be understated. More than half a century after McLuhan resonated about the global village, digitalization and the progressive unfolding of what Wolfgang Coy has called the Turing-Galaxis has brought about economic, political, and social formations that actively undermine the role and function of public space on different levels. This other side of the digital, the risks ICTs bears for the formation of public space, is the second focus of the finals conference.
Friendly social media ‘likes’ are build on the same logic and algorithms that are also used for social scoring systems as rolled out on a big scale for example in China. The technical infrastructure of social media and sharing-economies inherently comprise the possibility of surveillance, with a perverse complicity and division of monitoring labor between democratic states and private quasi monopolistic corporations. The platform-oriented business models of Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon etc. are simply the contemporary forms of capitalism – what has been labeled platform capitalism – that go after the highest profit margins and aspire to monopolize their economic position. These platforms feed on the aura of openness that they promote to the outside, but internally they are highly regulated and all seemingly free use is restricted by their authoritatively defined codes of conduct. These codes of conduct of the digital economy and platform capitalism are optimized for data harvesting, not for the creation of public space. The question is, whether the logic of platform capitalism can be aligned with the creation and cultivation of public space(s), or if both are incommensurable. Is, for example, Airbnb a neutral platform with equal opportunities for all, or does it increase inequality, becoming even a racial gentrification tool, as the activist project insideairbnb has argued? Contrary to the simplistic additive interpretation of the role of ICTs, they are more than just an additional layer to existing public spaces; they inscribe their own specific materiality into public space, sometimes amending it, sometimes overriding or privatizing it, or turning it into what Keller Easterling has dubbed infrastructure space. ICTs are accessible and operational only by way of interfaces. With the proliferation of ICT, interfaces for public space(s) develop, and eventually will converge into urban interfaces for entire cities. But what will these urban interfaces be? Tools for the empowerment of citizens and demand-driven and feedback-controlled planning and maintenance, or urban operating systems that will grow to be the exclusive way or portal to access public space(s) and the city? It is from this perspective, that Greenfield has characterized the smart city paradigm of making the city – and public space(s) as one of it substantial ingredients – machine-readable as a technologically updated recurrence of modernist planning totalitarism.
Regardless whether this is an adequate historical analogy, what seems to be common understanding is that the formation of public space(s) in the Turing-Galaxy follows a logic of it’s own, and this logic and it’s multiple agency need to be understood and factored in into the theoretical modeling and practical design and planning of computational public space(s). In the final CyberParks conference, we aspire to put all the of exiting ideas and concepts of how to create better public space(s) that have been developed and discussed, and all the case studies and work-in-progress projects that have been examined and presented in the course of the CyberParks project, once again in a critical perspective, like the initial mission statement of CyberParks announced. Creating better public space(s) is both a question of technical feasibility and of a positioning regarding the political and economical impacts of making public space(s) machine-readable – which we hope to discuss with you in the CyperParks finals, both in looking back at the results but also in looking forward towards the next projects.