Communicating the City

Meanings, Practices, Interactions

by Giorgia Aiello (Volume editor) Matteo Tarantino (Volume editor) Kate Oakley (Volume editor)
©2017 Textbook XXX, 216 Pages
Series: Urban Communication, Volume 4


How human meanings, practices and interactions produce and are produced by urban space is the focus of this timely and exciting addition to the study of urban communication.
Challenging notions of the ‘urban’ as physically, economically or technologically determined, this book explores key intersections of discourse, materiality, technology, mobility, identity and inequality in acts of communication across urban and urbanizing contexts. From leisure and media consumption among Chinese migrant workers in a Guangdong village to the diverse networks and communication infrastructures of global cities like London and Los Angeles, this collection combines a range of perspectives to ask fundamental questions about the significance and status of cities in times of intensified mediation and connectivity.
With case studies from Italy, Britain, Ireland, Russia, the United States and China, this international collection demonstrates that both empirical and critical knowledge on the relationship between communication and urban life has become vital across the humanities and social sciences.
Communicating the City will be essential reading for all scholars and students who desire to gain an in-depth understanding of the multiple roles that media and communication have in lived experiences of the city.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Advance Praise for Communicating the City
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Acknowledgements
  • Foreword (Susan Drucker / Gary Gumpert)
  • Introduction: Communicating the city between the centre and the margins (Giorgia Aiello / Matteo Tarantino)
  • Imagining, Making, and Sharing The City
  • The Book’s Chapters
  • References
  • Part One: Imagining the City
  • Chapter One: Journalism and the changing act of observation: Writing about cities in the British press 1880–1940 (Carole O’Reilly)
  • Introduction
  • Walter Benjamin: Flânerie and Urban Journalism
  • From Flâneur to Reporter: Planning Utopia and the Idea of The City
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Chapter Two: Questioning the smart city: From techno-entrepreneurial to intelligence-enabling (Davide Lampugnani)
  • Introduction
  • What is The Smart City?
  • Techno-Entrepreneurial Smart City
  • Intelligence-Enabling Smart City
  • Conclusions
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Three: Spatial materialities: Coproducing imaged/inhabited spaces (Greg Dickinson / Brian L. Ott)
  • Introduction
  • The Experience of Space
  • The Many Senses of Main Street USA
  • Imaged/Inhabited
  • Semiotic/Somatic
  • Cognitive/Affective
  • The weaving of Main Street
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Chapter Four: Vedic Victorians on American Gothic’s landscape: Relocating “foreign” architecture and restoring the spatial figure of juxtaposition (Joan Faber McAlister)
  • Introduction
  • Revisiting Figuration through American Gothic
  • Resurfacing “Foreign” Faces on Fairfield Square
  • Reorienting East and West
  • Note
  • References
  • Part Two: Making the City
  • Chapter Five: Rural spaces, urban textures: Media, leisure, and identity in a Southern China industrial village (Matteo Tarantino / Chung-Tai Cheng)
  • Introduction
  • The Leisure Spaces of “Floating Workers”
  • Leisure spaces, villages, urbanization
  • The Reshaping of Daning’s Media Spaces
  • First phase: Shared spaces, shared media
  • Second phase: Shared gathering, individual consumption
  • Third phase: Atomized leisure, networked individuals
  • Conclusions: Textures, Weddings and Proxies
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Six: Practices of location-sharing and the performances of locative identity among Italian users of Foursquare (Federica Timeto)
  • Introduction
  • The Way Foursquare Works
  • Theoretical Background
  • Doing Location
  • Methodology
  • Findings
  • Conclusions
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Seven: Urban change and the mesh: An ethnography of Deptford’s Open Wireless Network (Paolo Cardullo)
  • Icarus Ascending
  • From No. 2 to No. 7, via No. 5
  • Methodologies and Interdisciplinarities
  • Icarus Descending
  • Icarus on The Ground
  • Conclusions
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Eight: The communication infrastructure that supports life in the city and enables urban community change (Matthew Matsaganis)
  • Introduction
  • Components of Urban Communities’ Communication Infrastructure
  • Integration into the Local Storytelling Network as Indicator of Communication Capital
  • The Role of Local Media and Organizations in the Storytelling Network Integration Process
  • Media in urban communities’ communication infrastructure
  • The role of local community organizations in the communication infrastructure
  • The Impact of the Communication Infrastructure on Residents’ Lives
  • The role of the communication infrastructure in civic engagement
  • Communication infrastructure and urban communities’ health and wellbeing
  • The Interaction of the Storytelling Network and the Communication Action Context, and the Emergence of a “Field of Action”
  • Interventions to Change Communities’ Communication Infrastructure
  • Addressing interethnic communication divides and building civic engagement
  • Reducing health disparities in urban communities
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Part Three: Sharing the City
  • Chapter Nine: Interrogating phonocentrism in the “hearing” city: Exploring Deaf experiences (Gill Harold)
  • Introduction
  • Cultural Context: Situating The Chapter
  • Making Space for Communicative Difference in Theories of Citizenship
  • Challenging Understandings of Speech-as-Language
  • Sign Language and Everyday Forms of Citizenship
  • Expressions of Deaf Citizenship: Processes of Disruption and Difference
  • Conclusions
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter Ten: Plague in the city: Digital media as shaming apparatus toward mainland Chinese “locusts” in Hong Kong (Jonathan Corpus Ong / Tony Zhiyang Lin)
  • Introduction
  • “One Country, Two Systems”
  • Hong Kong’s City Logics
  • Digital Media as Shaming Apparatus
  • Surreptitious Image Capture
  • User-Generated Video Production
  • The Shaming Apparatus and Failures of Hospitality
  • Coda: “Positive” Rearticulations of Hong Kong Identity
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Eleven: Communication and knowledge creation in urban spaces: The tactics of artistic collectives in Barcelona, Berlin, and St. Petersburg (Aleksandra Nenko / Anisya Khokhlova / Nikita Basov)
  • Introduction
  • The Three Contexts: Barcelona, Berlin, St. Petersburg
  • The Paths Taken: Communication Tactics of Artistic Collectives and Engagement in Knowledge Creation
  • Challenging conventional artistic spaces
  • Artistification of routinized spaces
  • Intimization of the city space
  • Triggering creative attitudes toward space
  • Constructing a unique identity for the particular space
  • Enforcing deterrence culture in space
  • Blending communal and professional images of the cohabitation place
  • Combining formal and informal dimensions of social space
  • Mixing representation spaces
  • Conclusions
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Twelve: Community through multiple connectivities: Mapping communication assets in multicultural London (Wallis Motta / Myria Georgiou)
  • Introduction
  • Community Asset-Mapping and Communication
  • Researching The Field
  • Multiple Connectivities of Belonging
  • Mobilizing community institutions as communication assets
  • Online social networking as place-making, ethnic media, and local press
  • Face-to-face communication: Engagement across difference
  • Conclusions
  • Notes
  • References
  • Afterword: Communication and the city (Kate Oakley / Giorgia Aiello)
  • References
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

| vii →

List OF Figures

Figure 3.1 Fort Collins Fire Department Parade, 1891. Courtesy of Fort Collins Local History Archive (Image # H02185a).

Figure 3.2 Walnut Street, Fort Collins, 2014. Photograph by Greg Dickinson.

Figure 7.1 Panorama from Daubeney Tower in Deptford. Photograph by James Stevens (SPCR.org).

Figure 7.2 Panorama from the Pepys tower block. Photograph by James Stevens (SPCR.org).

Figure 8.1 Components of an urban community’s communication infrastructure: The storytelling network (STN).

Figure 8.2 Components of an urban community’s communication infrastructure: The communication action context (CAC).

Figure 12.1 Harringay parks and community spaces as both hotspots and comfort zones. Map data is © 2016 OpenStreetMap contributors and 2016 Mapzen. This image is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. (Motta 2016b).

Figure 12.2 Harringay comfort zones. Map data is © 2016 OpenStreetMap contributors and 2016 Mapzen. This image is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. (Motta 2016a).

| ix →


This book was born from the many conversations, meetings, and presentations that we have shared with colleagues from across the world over the past five years. We first started talking about the need for a volume of this kind at the ECREA Media and the City Temporary Working Group’s meetings in Milan (February 10 2012) and Istanbul (26 October 2012). The following year, we coorganized the very successful conference “Communication and the City: Voices, Spaces, Media” (June 14–15 2013) at the University of Leeds, with the aim of bringing together researchers and practitioners from a variety of national contexts and professional fields to discuss major questions about the urban/communication nexus. With over 70 papers, 16 panel sessions, four keynotes, and nearly 100 participants from 20 different countries, the Leeds conference demonstrated that the relationship between cities and communication has become central to a range of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. Many, though not all of the contributors to this book participated in the Leeds conference. We are grateful to them and to all of the other conference participants for introducing us to their cutting-edge research on the multiple ways in which cities are imagined, made or shared both through and within media and communication.

We are especially grateful to the Urban Communication Foundation, the Department of Communications and Performing Arts at the Catholic University of Milan, and the School of Media and Communication at the University of Leeds for enabling us to fund, host, and participate in these and other more recent ← ix | x → research events centred on urban communication and urban media studies. It is only thanks to the synergies that originated from our exchanges with other likeminded scholars that this book could come into being. Our thanks go to Bernadette Shade, Mary Savigar, and Michael Doub at Peter Lang for their commitment to this book project. We also want to thank the many colleagues from Europe, North America, and Asia who gave their time to serve as anonymous reviewers of the book’s chapters. Without their expertise and specialist knowledge, the interdisciplinary strengths of this project would have been an impossible achievement. In addition, our colleagues and friends Simone Tosoni and Peter Haratonik gave us helpful feedback and encouragement throughout the development of this edited volume. Finally, we are very grateful to Gary Gumpert, series editor, and to Susan Drucker for the invaluable support and numerous insights that they offered to us from the very beginning.

| xi →



The metamorphosis of the communication discipline parallels the transformation of the urban landscape. As a discipline, the morphing of speech, communication, sociology, psychology, computer science, and geography into a magnifying glass through which the large population centres of the globe could be examined is a late evolving perspective—albeit a vital one.

Communicating the City is an important and ambitious globe-trotting endeavour that juxtaposes contrasting and often antithetical strands of development, and delves into new and often surprising connections that reveal both the problems and promises of contemporary cities. “Communicating the city,” the apposition of process and location, is also a complex and interdisciplinary notion that is often difficult to define. From Jane Jacobs to William H. Whyte, from Sherry Turkle to Scott McQuire, from Paul Goldberger to Blair Kamin, scholars and critics have fought the beast. It has not been an easy task. The acceleration of technology and the transformation of community have pushed us into a simultaneous analytic and normative mode.

As a particular transformative gathering, “urban communication” began in Boston in 2003 when twenty likeminded scholars led by the late William Mitchell, Dean of Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, pondered how to approach the complexity of the worldwide technologizing of increasingly dense cities amid both squalor and wealth. Asked at that time was whether the realm of crisis and development ought not be a vital concern of ← xi | xii → communication scholars and whether such insights could be applied outside the academic realm.

In 2005, the Urban Communication Foundation was founded as a not for profit organization through the generosity of Gene Burd, a professor of Journalism at the University of Texas. But the search for defining the nature of urban communication continued, and over the next decade a series of annual day-long conference sessions were convened in which up to thirty scholars wrestled with their conceptions of communication issues linked with the urban. That process of parsing “urban communication” included three meetings held in Washington, Paris, and Rome in 2007 and 2008. There, groups of communication scholars, urban planners, architects, and critics sought to define those qualities best describing “a communicative city.” Subsequently, a series of successful publications, together with international conferences held at the University of Leeds in 2013 and at Yonsei University in Seoul in 2016, demonstrated the increasing recognition of urban communication as a field of inquiry in its own right. The incorporation of communication as a globally recognized urban issue has also been demonstrated by the invitation and participation of communication scholars in the Future of City conferences in Buenos Aires and Stockholm in 2014 and 2015, leading up to Habitat III in Quito in 2016.

The evolving search to define the urban realm through a communication perspective, grappling with its often prescriptive, but necessarily analytical outlook, continues to this day. The relationship between communication and the city has often been associated with technologically descriptive labels including digital, cyber, wired, media, tele, and smart. While it is clear that communication technologies are changing our urban environments, it is also true that cities have always been environments of and for communication. Urban communication research is based on the notion that cities are inherently places of communication, meeting spaces for interaction and observation.

But it is also clear that scholars throughout the world have begun to recognize that the urban realm is a global issue. Communicating the City is an impressive result of scholars coming together, tied by their mutual concern with the future of cities and the lives of those who inhabit them. In this volume, scholars from three continents contribute important ideas on key issues like imagination, construction, and involvement in both historic and current settings of urban life. Communicating the City represents the continuing and growing interest in a world where urban sprawl, climate change, conflict, migration, and memory simultaneously impact on us all.

Susan Drucker and Gary Gumpert


| xiii →


Communicating the city between the centre and the margins


By now, the repertoire of themes and critiques with which one could open an edited collection on urban communication has come to be quite populated. We may start by paralleling the growth of urbanism with that of communication technologies. We could begin by restating the central role of cities in informational capitalism, following the work of Manuel Castells (1989, 2009) and Saskia Sassen (2001, 2011). In the same vein, we could begin by showing how narratives of dematerialization of urban space through ICTs have been proven wrong by history—whereas twenty years ago we would have stressed their “promise.” And so on. If we felt so inclined, we could easily bring back in power inequalities in urban spaces and how they are linked to communication practices that are revealing of class, gender, racial, or ethnic divisions.


XXX, 216
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (July)
Cities Smart cities Creative cities Media Communication Urban space Urban life Built environment Community Neighbourhood Gentrification Place Migration Rhetoric Materiality Technology Discourse Urban communication Infrastructure Mediation Connectivity
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2017. XXX, 216 pp.

Biographical notes

Giorgia Aiello (Volume editor) Matteo Tarantino (Volume editor) Kate Oakley (Volume editor)

Giorgia Aiello is an associate professor in the School of Media and Communication at the University of Leeds. She has published widely on the aesthetics of urban regeneration, urban communication research methods, and promotional communication in urban contexts. Matteo Tarantino is a research associate at the University of Geneva and an adjunct professor at the Catholic University of Milan. Kate Oakley is Professor of Cultural Policy in the School of Media and Communication at the University of Leeds. Her most recent books are Culture, Economy and Politics: The Case of New Labour (with David Hesmondhalgh, David Lee and Melissa Nisbett; 2015) and Cultural Policy (with David Bell; 2015).


Title: Communicating the City
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