City Is Not a Computer: Other Urban Intelligences

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UPC: 9780691208053
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Authors: Shannon Mattern
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  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Princeton University Press (August 10, 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 200 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0691208050
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0691208053

A bold reassessment of "smart cities" that reveals what is lost when we conceive of our urban spaces as computers

Computational models of urbanism―smart cities that use data-driven planning and algorithmic administration―promise to deliver new urban efficiencies and conveniences. Yet these models limit our understanding of what we can know about a city. A City Is Not a Computer reveals how cities encompass myriad forms of local and indigenous intelligences and knowledge institutions, arguing that these resources are a vital supplement and corrective to increasingly prevalent algorithmic models.

Shannon Mattern begins by examining the ethical and ontological implications of urban technologies and computational models, discussing how they shape and in many cases profoundly limit our engagement with cities. She looks at the methods and underlying assumptions of data-driven urbanism, and demonstrates how the "city-as-computer" metaphor, which undergirds much of today's urban policy and design, reduces place-based knowledge to information processing. Mattern then imagines how we might sustain institutions and infrastructures that constitute more diverse, open, inclusive urban forms. She shows how the public library functions as a steward of urban intelligence, and describes the scales of upkeep needed to sustain a city's many moving parts, from spinning hard drives to bridge repairs.

Incorporating insights from urban studies, data science, and media and information studies, A City Is Not a Computer offers a visionary new approach to urban planning and design.


"Shannon Mattern’s new book A City Is Not a Computer holds an important caveat: A city isn’t just a computer. While artists and urbanists have sought to describe it in its messy totality, an oversimplified logic that has reduced urban reality to singular narratives. . .blinds us to its ‘prismatic complexity’. . . . A City Is Not a Computer is, most fundamentally, a push to “inject history and happenstance” into our appreciation of urban life, and a reminder to respect the impossibility of summarizing our messy cities with neat, tidy narratives."---Annie Howard, Metropolis

"A City is Not a Computer digs into the data, dashboards, and language that keep people from building better, safer communities. . . . The book reflects the ways a bunch of academic disciplines refract the idea of urbanism, of how to make a city that supports everyone who lives there. . . . Mattern’s deft dissection of metaphors for cities shows that when they’re misguided, they point to a failure not only of imagination but of a city’s ability to carry out its chief function―as a bulwark against disaster."---Adam Rogers, Wired

"A City Is Not A Computer puts forth a much needed, audacious argument about the limitations of data-driven, computational thinking currently supported by countless municipalities and ‘smart city’ advocates. Accessible and provocative, Mattern is at her best, succinctly weaving constructively critical insights with wide ranging examples towards an urbanism of wisdom that tempers its focus on efficiencies with environmental justice, social sensitivity, and indigenous knowledge. Truer words have not been spoken when she describes such a city being ‘smarter than any supercomputer.’"---Erick Villagomez, Spacing Canada

"A City is Not a Computer by Shannon Mattern is a compact little book that packs a punch when you open its pages. From its eye-catching design to how easy it is to cart around with you, this book is a subtle winner to add to your collection and your scope of knowledge. . . . Overall, this book is an incredible analysis of cities and the lives that influence them, and what should be done when designing and building a city. . . .I highly recommend you pick this book up, whether you wish to further your anthropological knowledge of cities and the lives of urban people in the West or whether you simply wish to think a little bit about how cities and lives interact."---Jenna Collingnon, Western Exteriors

Hard to put down."---John Hill, A Daily Dose of Architecture Books
"Mattern offers a radically new perspective on the city as information and our modes of engagement with it. This stunning book presents a set of ideas that will continue to have a profound effect on scholarship and practice."―Daniel A. Barber, author of Modern Architecture and Climate: Design before Air Conditioning

"Mattern compellingly argues that smart urbanism is too technocratic and instrumental in its approach to urban life, predominately serving the interests of capital and elites. In this engaging and well-illustrated book, she opens up new ways of thinking about the relationship between technology, space, and society."―Rob Kitchin, National University of Ireland, Maynooth

About the Author

Shannon Mattern is professor of anthropology at the New School for Social Research. Her books include Code and Clay, Data and Dirt: Five Thousand Years of Urban Media and The New Downtown Library: Designing with Communities. She lives in New York City. Website wordsinspace.net Instagram @atlas.sounds Twitter @shannonmattern