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Conference paper

Digital public space: imagining the everyday impacts of infrastructure transitions

Smartphones Public spaces Smart cities Urban precincts

Contrary to dominant narratives that frame public space as something that has the potential to be digitally transformed, urban public space is already thoroughly digital.  But the mundane ways that digital technologies are part of public space are often overlooked in the scholarship on digital geographies which is focused on new and emerging technologies, and the potential for these to supplant older technologies and processes.  This foregrounding of the new is also characteristic of smart cities narratives in which digital technologies are framed as something that will transform urban governance, or as offering solutions to the uncertainty and risk associated with major crises like climate change.  In the context of public space this emphasis on digital technologies as emerging frames them as belonging to the public spaces and places of the future.  This overlooks the complex and nuanced ways that digital technologies are already thoroughly implicated in the fabric of public space, and the emerging and consequential ways that this is configuring how people experience those spaces as part of their everyday lives.  For those concerned with public space and the policy from which it emerges this oversight matters because it means such policy is not able to account for the consequential but everyday impacts of these already established technologies.

This disconnect between the consequential ways that mundane technologies are shaping public space and peoples engagement in and with it, and how those spaces continue to be made through policy and design is related to two things; how we understand public space, and how we sense and make sense of the digital as part of that space.  In this paper I will outline how I have approached understanding how people sense and make sense of the digital in my doctoral research by using speculative visual research methods to approach the digital as part of the ongoing configuration of urban public space.

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