Urban informatics: research and insights for libraries, cultural industries and innovation systems

13 Mar 2012

Over less than a decade, we have witnessed a seismic shift in the way knowledge is produced and exchanged. This is opening up new opportunities for civic and community engagement, entrepreneurial behaviour, sustainability initiatives and creative practices. It also has the potential to create fresh challenges in areas of privacy, cyber-security and misuse of data and personal information.

The field of urban informatics focuses on the use and impacts of digital media technology in urban environments. Urban informatics is a dynamic and cross-disciplinary area of inquiry that encapsulates social media, ubiquitous computing, mobile applications and location-based services. Its insights suggest the emergence of a new economic force with the potential for driving innovation, wealth and prosperity through technological advances, digital media and online networks that affect patterns of both social and economic development.

Urban informatics explores the intersections between people, place and technology, and their implications for creativity, innovation and engagement. This paper examines how the key learnings from this field can be used to position creative and cultural institutions such as galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM) to take advantage of the opportunities presented by these changing social and technological developments.

This paper introduces the underlying principles, concepts and research areas of urban informatics, against the backdrop of modern knowledge economies. Both theoretical ideas and empirical examples are covered in this paper.

The first part discusses three challenges:

a. People, and the challenge of creativity: The paper explores the opportunities and challenges of urban informatics that can lead to the design and development of new tools, methods and applications fostering participation, the democratisation of knowledge, and new creative practices.

b. Technology, and the challenge of innovation: The paper examines how urban informatics can be applied to support user-led innovation with a view to promoting entrepreneurial ideas and creative industries.

c. Place, and the challenge of engagement: The paper discusses the potential to establish place-based applications of urban informatics, using the example of library spaces designed to deliver community and civic engagement strategies.

The discussion of these challenges is illustrated by a review of projects as examples drawn from diverse fields such as urban computing, locative media, community activism, and sustainability initiatives.

The second part of the paper introduces an empirically grounded case study that responds to these three challenges: The Edge, the Queensland Government’s Digital Culture Centre which is an initiative of the State Library of Queensland to explore the nexus of technology and culture in an urban environment. The paper not only explores the new role of libraries in the knowledge economy, but also how the application of urban informatics in prototype engagement spaces such as The Edge can provide transferable insights that can inform the design and development of responsive and inclusive new library spaces elsewhere.

To set the scene and background, the paper begins by drawing the bigger picture and outlining some key characteristics of the knowledge economy and the role that the creative and cultural industries play in it, grasping new opportunities that can contribute to the prosperity of Australia.

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