digital urban culture

Exploring the digital cultures of cities

Today, we increasingly know and navigate the city through the interfaces of digital platforms like Google Maps, Facebook, Instagram, TripAdvisor, and Airbnb, whose sophisticated AI-powered algorithms help us pursue our daily desires—finding a place for coffee, a park to hang out in, or a bed for the night. In doing so, they have profound yet underappreciated effects on the city at large: the platform algorithms inadvertently reshape the flows of visitors, shifting our imaginaries of urban place, and decide which communities have their voices heard. The algorithmic representations in turn feed back into the city, as establishments—whether restaurants or community centers—set out to improve their ranking and visibility. The effects of digital platforms have become a central topic of public, political and scientific debate, with cities around the world investigating how to mitigate their negative consequences, such as overtourism and gentrification.

This is seen in reporting on how architects and decorators are designing buildings so they will "work" on Instagram. On the emotional effects of our neighborhoods, communities and even religious sites becoming subject to reviews, announcing our worth as tourism commodities. With Airbnb and Yelp bringing a harmonization of tastes around the world, converging on a faux-artisanal aesthetic of mass-produced "authenticity", leading to a form of commodified placelessness.

But academic research has so far been lagging behind in exploring this digital-urban cultural interface.

This is the website for the NWO VENI funded project "Seeing the City through Digital Platforms", starting in Q2 2021, aiming to explore questions around the digital cultures of cities through an interdisciplinary approach. The project will examine questions like: How do digital platforms reshape the city? How is the city represented on platforms? Whose voices are amplified and who is silenced? Who has the digital right to the city?

The project aims to develop a systematic approach to digital urbanism that combines insights from Urban Studies and Media Studies, using computational approach to reverse engineer the algorithms and AI systems that are reshaping our cities. The project will use everything between sophisticated computational methods and ethnographic approaches to examine how meanings and metrics on digital platforms emanate from and feed back into the city.