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Durham University

Department of Geography

Departmental Research Projects

Publication details

Image: Cyberspace as the New Public Domain.Crang, M. Cyberspace as the New Public Domain. In: Kihato, C., Massoumi, M., Ruble, B., Subirós, P. & Garland, A. Urban Diversity: Space, Culture and Inclusive Pluralism in Cities Worldwide. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; 2010:99-122.

Author(s) from Durham


In considering inclusive cities, it is increasingly important to keep in mind the role of the intangible realm of urban digital media. Immediately, however, one might be justified in asking what possibilities for inclusion, and threats of exclusion, are created specifically for cities. This chapter suggests that the answer to this question is threefold. First, information and communication technologies (ICTs) are increasingly part of the competitive interurban order. More and more, the economic order of and relationships between cities are mediated through flows of information. Cities are located in this digital terrain as much as in a physical one—where flows of data and information have their own specific geographies produced through key cities and that in turn position some parts of cities differentially in the global environment.
Second, as a result of this competitive digital geography, we must challenge our habitual definition of cities in terms of a spatial location and extent. Instead, we need to think of cities as simultaneously containers for, facilitators of, and constraints upon interactions—as well as products of interactions. Looked at in this way, the mediation of such interactions by ICTs may have profound effects. This then “switches the emphasis of urbanity from physical built form to the quality of interaction in cultural life through the exchange of information” (Little 2000, 1814). If we see cities as originally creating a densification of activities in space, thus increasing the number of actions possible in a given time, then disembodied media for interactions seem to offer the inverse tendency—to intensify what can be done in a given time irrespective of distance (Graham 1997, 1998). Together, these two issues suggest a rescaling—or multiscaling—of urban interaction that challenges conventional planning and governance via territorial units.
However, the third strand in the answer to the question of cities’ possibilities for inclusion or exclusion is a resurgence of the urban reality as a means of coalescing multiple digital environs. The city still operates as a formal template for understanding the conditions of openness, free circulation, and multiplicity that might be argued to characterize informational realms. But it also acts as the location where such digital terrains are produced.
This chapter examines how these processes are entwined with the actual existing city. So rather than seeing cyberspace as a separate, detached realm, it focuses on “a multi-scalar co-mingling of electronic and physical space” of digital flows and physical flows, of virtual and real places (Page and Phillips 2003, 73). Daily lives do not encounter a great divide of offline and online worlds but rather feed the one into the other in subtle and continuous interplay.

Department of Geography