Research Synthesis Report
Author: Manfredo Manfredini
ABOVE: “Civic” directional street signs in Botany Town Shopping Centre. © M. Manfredini, 2015.
The Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities Give Us Space project (BB-GUS) addressed one of the United Nations (2015, 2018) Sustainable Development Goals: “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” (Goal 11). It also tackled associated goals to “ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns” (Goal 12) and “strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development (Goal 17). More specifically, it focused on the related Sustainable Development Targets (United Nations, 2015) of enhancing “inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries” (Target 11.3); providing “universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities” (Target 11.7); implementing “the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns” (Target 12.1), which affirms that “fundamental changes in the way societies produce and consume are indispensable for achieving global sustainable development” (United Nations, 2012); and encouraging and promoting effective public, public–private and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships (Target 17.17).
Central to the BB-GUS project is the affirmation of the role of public space as central to supporting the social, cultural, and psychophysical well-being of city inhabitants as unanimously recognised and reaffirmed in the New Urban Agenda (NUA) of the United Nations (UN Habitat 2017). BB-GUS concentrated on spatial instances where the affirmation of this role of public space is subject to critical levels of participatory engagement and new consumption–production relationships. These are instances in which public space is privately owned and results from modern processes of its financialisation. These are instances of central urban space – identified as semi-public – that include various types of place. They range from extra-large “closed city” enclaves, such as integrated shopping and lifestyle centres, to small subsidiary places, such as the privately-owned public spaces (POPS) resulting from “bonus-floor area” concession programmes. These semi-public spaces epitomise how the progressive fragmentation of the modern city can hinder the exercise of the “right to the city.” They are relevant embodiments of the structural spatial inequality that can exacerbate social deprivation, segmentation, displacement, and segregation. They can exclude many of their stakeholders from their conception, production, association and use (Harvey, 2010, 2012; Lefebvre, 1996; Purcell, 2002, 2014) and pose limits to the capacity of such peoples and groups to take and exert civic responsibility and attain achievements by virtue of their own agency (Sennett, 2018).
Semi-public spaces are characterised by a spatial over-determination that is designed and implemented by private hegemonic powers – usually financial corporations – to align people’s behaviours and actions to their particular interests (Low & Smith, 2006). Their detrimental effects on the democratic and emancipatory agencies of the urban commons – of which they are a crucial component – are particularly critical when they constitute large-scale enclosures, such as integrated shopping malls, that antagonise the genuinely public urban centres of local communities (often these privately-owned enclosures even include actual public institutions such as libraries and reserves). The over-determination of these commons further diminishes their effectivity, which is already lessened by their dislocation from the central public space of the local communities they belong to (Atkinson, 2003; Brenner, 1997; Harvey, 2012).
In recent years, semi-public spaces have been heavily impacted by a major transformation in the spatial manifestation of publicness. Profound changes in the public sphere brought about by its digital augmentation have intensified both people’s relationality and civic engagement. The unprecedented mobile, transient and extremely plastic nature of the new digitally enhanced networks has transformed the core spatialities of public relational life. This, in turn, has created major issues for disciplines specific to spatial conception, such as architecture and urban design. These disciplines face difficulty in coping with the continuous change and differentiation of space in usage and practice. The fluidity of spatial conception renders implemented plans quickly obsolete and meaningless. Particularly affected are structures, such as shopping malls, designed with closed and tight-fit spatial conceptions (Jameson, 1992). Urbanists, designers, and place-makers need to rethink the theoretical framework as well as the conventional processes, methods, and practices for analysis, planning, and delivery of visions, strategies, and tactics.
Based on scholarly analysis of the emerging forms of augmented relationality, BB-GUS proposes the refoundation of discourse on public spaces. It submits that there is a growing ambivalence in the democratic agency (alienating/emancipatory) of semi-public space in the social, cultural, politic and economic life of both local and translocal communities (Manfredini, 2017, 2018; Milgram et al., 1994; Mitchell, 2003). Key to this tenet is the recognition of the augmented relational capacity granted by the pervasive transductive reality–virtuality continuum (i.e., the seamless and continuous transition between the solely virtual, the augmented reality and the actual reality). Our study questions the value of the conventional public/private dualistic approach for the understanding of the contemporary collective spaces. We propose an integrated theoretical and empirical methodology that recognises the coextension and the factual ambivalence of the private and the public realms.
BB-GUS maintains that this emerging ambivalent public condition leads to the formation of a new kind of space: the metapublic space. Meta-public space has its epitome in the latest modern metamorphosis of the semi-public space in the contemporary all-inclusive enclosures of consumption. In this thoroughly economised setting, it has superior civic centrality, referential association and legibility, and, importantly, a powerful digital infosphere that underpins its dual character. On one hand, it increases usage programmability and behaviour control, and social and spatial alienation, intensifying the spectacular hyperreality of the modern shopping mall by bringing to a new level its attractive, eventful and hedonic atmospheres (Deleuze, 1990; Jameson, 1991). On the other, it supports the growth of a powerful emancipatory counter-space: a space where collective re-appropriation of space creates a new type of inclusionary commons.
The commons of the new type are instituted quite differently to the conventional commons through processes characterised by three main features: mobility – here defined as itineration – partial instability – metastability – and iterative contextualisation – spatial transductivity. Itineration is related to the capacity of the commons to migrate, due to their capacity to materialise with different physical infrastructure. This traditionally occurs in communities, such as Roma people, that change location periodically by moving from one region to another. Metastability refers to the transient and metamorphic nature of the space of the commons which enable their recurrent materialisation and stabilisation through variable forms of assemblage of their both material and immaterial elements. A typical example of latent assemblages of physical infrastructure for labour-right organisations are parliament squares that are cyclically appropriated for protests. Spatial transductivity refers to the capacity of the commons to move across space virtually. Transduction is typically implemented using technological devices that transform function, appearance and perception of actual space using codes, such as the ones of virtual, augmented, and mixed realities (VAM). These three distinctive features of the relational patterns are emergent capacities specific of the aftermath of the “digital turn.” Their occurrence is a function of digital pervasion granted by places with high technological provision: advanced technospheres where the digital realm can fully integrate within the actual one.
The new commons have a decisive counter-spatial agency that increases the complexity and differentiation of spatial-production processes, consequently increasing people’s autonomy over their engagement with their own social and spatial realms. They activate the political capacity of places towards the reappropriation of disembedded territories, such as the semi-public spaces. They empower individuals and communities against the dominant forces that tend to increase sectarian polarisation of existing inequalities.
2. Approach refinement and validation through the engagement in international fora
In parallel with the engagement with local stakeholders, a review, fine-tuning, and dissemination of the BB-GUS project was carried out at prime global urbanism and architecture global. The objective was to ascertain the actuality of the project, its global relevance and potential impact, as well as to establish the validity of its approach and methodology. The global events included the conferences of the United Nations’ World Urban Forum (WUF), the congresses of the International Forum on Urbanism, and the manifestations of the International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia.
In February 2018, the BB-GUS team participated in the 9th WUF (the world’s premier conference on urban issues that are faced in the contemporary world), which constituted an open forum on the implementation of the NUA. Addressing the 2030 Cities for All perspective, it involved multiple stakeholders to share and exchange views and experiences related to the Sustainable Development Challenges (UN, 2015). Within that context, the BB-GUS project promoted various activities, which were supported by the Urban Research Network of the University of Auckland and developed in collaboration with a network of renowned international universities, from countries such as Australia (UQ and QUT), China (CUHK, HUN), Nepal (NUCE), and Vietnam (NECK); the Journal of Public Space; and the NGO City Space Architecture. The core event was the BB-GUS workshop, a symposium and networking session dedicated to the topic of the BB-GUS project, organised by the project team and chaired by M. Manfredini. The workshop, introduced by Cecilia Andersson, Coordinator of the Public Space Group of UN Habitat III, was attended by numerous senior academics, delegates and the wider public (80+ people). The WUF also enabled members of the project team to discuss the topic through invited addresses and talks at six other networking and dissemination events. One of them was a follow up of a workshop held at one of the foremost UN events, the 2016 Habitat III conference in Quito. This workshop series, named “Stand Up for Public Space,” (City Space Architecture, 2019) was co-organised by M. Manfredini in collaboration with the City Space Architecture network (Bravo, Guaralda, Tieben, Saltos Espinoza, & Manfredini, 2017) in alignment with the UN Global Public Space Programme (UN Habitat, 2011) which aims to enhance community cohesion, and promote health, happiness, and well-being for all citizens by improving the quality of public spaces worldwide. Moreover, the BB-GUS team co-organised an exhibition in the dedicated part of the official WUF that offered the opportunity to disseminate early findings of its research and engage the participants in the Forum (in total approximately 23,000 people). In the BB-GUS workshop, the articulation of the topic concerned nine areas, which were introduced by academic experts: entrepreneurs, semi-public space issues (Prof H. Tieben, Chinese University of Hong Kong, China); equity for migrants and grassroot migrant networks, semi-public space issues (Prof Quynh Huong Pham, Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences, Hanoi, Vietnam, and A/Prof Anh-Dung Ta, National University of Civil Engineering, Hanoi, Vietnam); post-disaster, historic semi-public space issues (A/Prof Shyam Sunder Kawan, Nepal Engineering College, Kathmandu, Nepal, and A/Prof Adrian Lo, Nepal Engineering College, Kathmandu, Nepal); children and youth, semi-public space issues (Dr Greg Mews, Urban Synergies Group, Canberra University, Australia); indigenous values, semi-public space issues (Ms Olivia Haddon, Ngāti Manuhiri, Auckland Council, Auckland, New Zealand); age-friendly semi-public space issues (Dr Luisa Bravo, City Space Architecture, Bologna, Italy, and Queensland University of Technology, Australia); gender-specific, semi-public space issues (Prof Dory Reeves, the University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand); and post-consumerism and spectacle semi-public space issues (Dr Paola Leardini, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia).
The International Forum on Urbanism (IFoU) is a global network of universities, research institutes and knowledge centres tasked with strengthening international collaboration in the field of urbanism. It also includes governmental and professional institutions related to the planning and design of the built environment. The 10th congress, Chinese University of Hong Kong, China, was devoted to rediscussing theories, design and practices related to the entrepreneurial city in the face of global and local environmental, social and economic challenges. Following the goals of UN Habitat’s NUA, the conference explored how to create urban prosperity and an inclusive economy. Early findings of the BB-GUS research were presented in one talk of the stream of the congress devoted to public space and social issues and in a restricted event on the activities of the organisation (Manfredini, 2017; Ta & Manfredini, 2017). The 11th congress, held at the International University of Catalonia, Barcelona, was devoted to reframing the concept and implementation of urban resilience. It addressed problems emerging from “resilient city” initiatives that fail to integrate local communities or sustainability goals within their strategies. It discussed how to avoid trade-offs of actions designed to tackle and reduce certain risks and vulnerabilities which, in actuality, end up reinforcing unsustainable “business as usual” patterns of development. Further findings of the BB-GUS research were presented in one talk of the stream of the congress devoted to public space and social issues and in a restricted event on the activities of the organisation (Manfredini, 2018). The interest generated by the study triggered a discussion that led to a decision to dedicate a future congress to its topic area, to be held at the University of Auckland in 2021.
The International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia (IBAV) is the premier global event in the architecture field. BB-GUS participated in an official event of Freespace, its 16th edition, which was co-organised with City Space Architecture. It was a 3-day event titled “Past Present and Future of Public Space. Knowledge Sharing Toward Implementation of the NUA.” It aimed to continue the discussion on the importance of public space in cities started at the Habitat II conference. The event included one international symposium and one international workshop (City Space Architecture, 2018) which engaged scholars and students from top global universities, such as the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom; Tsinghua University, China; Pratt Institute, USA; City University of New York, USA; Keio University, Japan; and Politecnico di Milano, Italy. It also included representatives from ISOCARP – the International Society of City and Regional Planners – UN Habitat, and the Italian Ministry of Infrastructure. The international workshop was coordinated by M. Manfredini. The event involved an attendance of more than 400 people. Findings of the BB-GUS research were presented in various talks, panel discussions and project presentations on public space and socio-spatial issues (City Space Architecture, 2018; Manfredini, 2019).
Overall, the WUF, IFoU, and IBAV provided a unique opportunity to discuss the key BB-GUS ideas revolving around the notion of transductive meta-publicness. Addressing similarities and differences among urban processes regarding the key characteristics of the new kind of space, the discussions confirmed that this is not a condition idiosyncratic to New Zealand (Manfredini, 2017b; Manfredini & Ta, 2017; Manfredini, Tian, Jenner, & Besgen, 2017; Tian et al., 2018), rather it occurs globally within the main urban centres of rapidly developing cities. For example, reports of manifestations in East and Southeast Asia confirmed that this paradoxical condition, which associates high spatial introversion and digital hyper-connectivity, is typically found in shopping centre enclaves of China, Indonesia. Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam. Specific emphasis was given to the role of two key processes relevant to the NUA implementation: 1) the shift from an abstractive and financialised collaborative consumption (Harvey, 1996; Lefebvre, 1991; Ritzer, 2015; Ritzer & Jurgenson, 2010) to a complex participatory differential production (Manfredini, 2017, 2018; Manfredini, Zamani Gharaghooshi, & Leardini 2017); and, 2) the progressive support given by digitally augmented transduction to the social life of translocal communities in their steady deterritorialising and reterritorialising processes (Foth, Brynskov, & Ojala, 2015; Papacharissi, 2010)
The necessity of urgent action to compensate for the poor exploration and understanding of these phenomena emerged as a common claim among all stakeholders in all the BB-GUS events. This specifically included a focus on the high potential of individual and community empowerment embedded in the pervasion of VAM realities that have increased the scale of spatial complexity and differential processes, prompting a strong recombination of the rules defining the engagement of people with their own civic realm.
The BB-GUS tenet that the on-going radical transformations of public spatialities and relational practices have the potential to reinstate the right to centrality (Purcell, 2003), reassemble the city as “body politic” (Harvey, 2005) and create the “open city” (Sennett, 2018) was shared by the participants. This included sharing the understanding that these transformations require a revision of the discourse on the right to the city, starting from the critique of the new mode of production. Such a revision should be accompanied by empirical work on relevant cases that provide evidence of the agency of emerging forces in countering processes of falling “prey to abstraction” (Lefebvre, 1991). More specifically, case studies should focus on the emerging subversive forces growing within the civic-adverse processes of homogenisation that characterise the colonisation of the civic and its commons by dominant private forces.
Overall, the engagement in international fora strengthened the BB-GUS project advocacy for an equitable, pluralistic, truly inclusionary production of urban public space with sustainable post-consumerist patterns. This
n toward a democratic. It also reinforced its underlying belief that for an effective and efficacious implementation of the NUA as well as to support the changing role and responsibility of designers, place-makers, and urban planners new knowledge produced through co-creative multistakeholder processes is urgently needed.
3. Literature Review
As part of the extensive critical analysis of the literature relevant to the BB-GUS project, to provide a context for the research, identify and establish similarities and differences between main ideas, theories and research methodologies, three reviews on semi-public space issues were made. Two of them, aimed at providing an overview of the problem and establishing the theoretical framework of this study, address issues concerning the right to the city for the sustainable development of cities, dealing with theoretical aspects that are specific to contemporary problems of spatial publicness and stakeholder engagement. A third one, focused on identifying the most advanced and appropriate analytical methods and techniques, explores recent methodological research for the study of big data on the spatialised digital sphere.
3.1 The Right to digitally infused public space: the New Urban Agenda and the concept of the right to the city
This part of the review explores the literature that illuminates the theoretical understanding of semi-public space in relation to key issues for the socially sustainable development of cities, with reference to the socio-political and spatial context of the project and its semi-public space types – the malled and the privately owned. It addresses the relationship between the NUA (UN, 2017) and the evolving concept of the right to the city and the right to difference that inspired it (Brenner, Marcuse, & Mayer, 2011; Lefebvre 1996; Marcuse, 2009, 2014; Mayer & Fezer, 2010; Stanek, 2011). It investigated the theoretical discourse supporting the paradigm shift pursued by the NUA for the sustainable development of cities (UN, 2015) to answer the question of its effectiveness in responding to novel forces that threaten to augment problems of socio-spatial fragmentation, inequality and segregation. The BB-GUS focus on urban public space led the review towards studies on the struggle behind the new forms of territorial appropriation that discuss the opposed strategies and tactics of spatial alienation/abstraction and reappropriation/differentiation. Part of the review addresses research analysing how, within digitally infused public and semi-public realms (e.g., malled metropolitan centres and POPS), there is a growing role of VAM augmentations in the spatial practices of territorial control that leads to a new condition (which we define as post-consumerist). Through the study of the spatialities of the abstraction and differentiation processes, relevant literature that frames spatial problems of semi-public space was found in studies on urban governance in cities developed under an enhanced neoliberal agenda (Amin, 2002; Brenner & Theodore, 2002; Harvey, 2014). The crisis of public space followed from its restructuring to favour corporate strategies (Low & Smith, 2006), the epitome of which is seen in privatised urban space (Minton, 2009) and in the financialisation of urban commons (Hodkinson, 2012; Loukaitou-Sideris,1993; Sorkin, 1992).
The review is articulated on two sections focusing on abstractive privatisation and differential augmentation in the emerging socio-political dimensions of situated semi-publicness. The first section revolves around the role of privatisation of public life and the hegemonic process of abstraction. The second section unpacks the spatial augmentation of such spaces by digital technologies, which reproduce a differential space through prosumption and transduction. The first section of the overview is articulated on the analysis of the following five processes: 1) the ambivalence of the de- and reterritorialisation that rises from the irreducible multiplicity of the concurrent singular conditions that compose each spatial instance (Brighenti & Karrholm, 2019; Shields, 1999; Staeheli, Kofman, & Peake, 2012); 2) the depoliticisation and repoliticisation of urban realms triggered by strategies of homogenising abstraction and segregational peripheralisation (Harvey, 2012; Kohn, 2004; Lefebvre, 2003); 3) the citizen’s dispossession and alienation of the commons and the overall civil space through the implementation of advanced systems to control users and interdict selectively, which occasionally lead to dissent and disruption (Harvey, 2012; Hodkinson, 2012; Stanek, Schmid, & Moravánszky, 2016); 4) the appropriation of distributed everyday practices of production that express autonomy in spatial production, such as participatory consumption and transductive prosumption (Fuchs, 2013; Ritzer & Jurgenson, 2010); and 5) the privatisation of the key places of public life through what Lefebvre defined as abstractive processes (Brenner, 1999; Kipfer, Goonewardena, Schmid, & Milgrom, 2008; Lefebvre, 1991, 2003; Wilson, 2013, 2014).
The second section of the review foregrounds the emerging theoretical discourse on the reestablishment of the collective power to redress spatial injustices by shaping the process of urbanisation. It expands on the question concerning the “right to the digital city,” recognising the problems and opportunities emerging in the advanced digital age. This part concentrates on two key processes: 1) the pervasive reterritorialisation trends of citizens as increasingly mobile co-producers and instigators of active change (Featherstone, 1998; Foth, 2015, Manfredini, 2017a; Manfredini & Jenner, 2015); and 2) the spatial augmentation by socio-spatial embodiments of the digital public sphere through grassroots participatory processes that Lefebvre considers of “differential” nature (Brenner 2000; Butler, 2012; Corsín Jiménez, 2014; Fuchs, 2014; Larsen, 2014; Purcell, 2002).
The concluding critical reflection of the literature review proposes an integrated interpretation of these processes formulating the notion of augmented meta-public space (Manfredini, 2017a). This reflects a reading of the emerging contested spatialities that acknowledges a radical ambivalence of the new semi-public realm. This gives insight into the poorly investigated effects of the penetration of the digital sphere into realms of depleted publicness, illuminating the complicated and multidimensional relationships between private and public spheres of this paradoxical condition where a diffusive translocalisation profoundly redefines the overall spatial ontogenesis.
3.2 Semi-public space and the New Urban Agenda: Stakeholders and issues
This part of the literature review addresses the relationships between the NUA and semi-public space’ stakeholder groups and urban issues. The implementation of the NUA requires urban planning strategies that promote access for all to quality basic services and public spaces, and enhance overall health and well-being, social cohesion, pluralism, safety, diversity, and positive intergenerational, gender-neutral interaction (UN Habitat, 2017). Particularly, it pertains to stakeholder groups with higher vulnerability due to age, gender, economic condition, migration, and psychophysical ability issues. An overview of literature on children and youth, migrants and nomads, gender-disadvantaged, the differently abled, indigenous people, and the elderly has been produced to address urban issues of social integration and inclusion, cultural consumption, consumption and spectacle, and economy and empowerment.
Regarding children and youth, numerous studies have found that children have often been brought up in unsafe and polluted urban environments where they can neither play independently nor access adequate recreation and learning facilities (Bringolf-Isler et al., 2010; Malone, 2018), and youth are marginalised from community life and deterred from using quality public space due to mistrust, fear of nuisance and the perception of them as strangers (Shirtcliff, 2015; Spencer & Woolley, 2000). These problems have produced multiple claims for tangible actions to drive change and empower children, implementing the prescriptions of the NUA’s move towards a universal “right to play” (Mews, 2018), enacted through joint processes of co-creation and co-gestion instituted with strategic alliances between local governments, urban planners, and community groups (Veitch, Salmon, & Ball, 2008), as demonstrated by successful programmes (Manfredini et al., 2017)
As for migrants and grassroots groups, studies have found that, whilst their usage of semi-public spaces is often limited by filtering mechanisms that exclude those with either real or potential legal issues and increase their destitution and isolation (Khosravi, 2010), there are instances where they are able to constitute effective socio-spatial networks with very complex patterns of territorialisations. Relevant cases of these inclusionary, agonistic and more-than-relational urban public spaces with limited participatory restrictions to autogestion have been extensively analysed and described. Also, the appropriation by migrants of public spaces in cities shows not only how social spaces can provide a platform for diversity within the city, but how such appropriation produces a new kind of public space in which the various stakeholders engage socially, culturally, economically and politically. As in the cases of Filipino maids in Hong Kong’s semi-public spaces (often in front of shopping malls or HDB residences; Law, 2002), or street vendors in the encroached pavements of Hanoi (Manfredini & Ta, 2017), or citizens of Manado (Susilo & De Meulder, 2018), places are repurposed as civic platforms for expression, encounter and interaction. Other relevant, yet less antagonist, spaces have been found in other semi-public spaces located within shopping malls in rapidly developing cities, such as Singapore. These spaces, whilst constituting favourite gathering places for migrants, for their richness in amenities and recognisability (Ostertag, 2016), remain depoliticised places of “soft-cosmopolitan” encounter (Wise, 2011).
In regard to gender-specific groups, differently abled, and indigenous people, critiques have been moved to dominant contemporary theoretical and applied approaches. Lefebvrian (Beebeejaun, 2017) or Habermasian (Meehan, 1995) scholarship have been reproached for being underpinned by a patriarchal perspective, which rarely developing a gender-equality approach to understanding space. Feminist geographical studies have pointed out that women face immense challenges as their rights become restricted in their search for place and feelings of belonging in today’s cities (Beebeejaun, 2017; Reeves, Parfitt, & Archer, 2012). Participation and empowerment have been actively sought by women’s organisations which have had significant inputs into addressing gender difference in planning housing and community facilities like parks and toilets (Beebeejaun, 2017; Reeves & Zombori, 2016). Policies have been criticised for prioritising the perception and values of “able-bodied” persons, and thus aiming to normalise disabled people, rather than valuing different abilities as positive diversity factors (Kitchin, 1998).
A gap in knowledge and awareness has been found in how people with neurodiversity, the ageing population and those with different experiential habits use and navigate public spaces (Holt-Damant, Guaralda, Taylor Gomez, & Nicollet, 2013). Globally speaking, the issues of indigenous people are often neglected or made invisible. In order to recognise their rights, values, and traditional knowledge, participatory processes are needed (Auckland Council, 2019). Older people should be able to fully participate in social, cultural, and civic activities (World Health Organization, 2002) and assisted to create space within urban environments, as the increasing private control of urban public space is exercised by particular groups with limited interest in the age-friendly agenda (Buffel, Phillipson, & Scharf, 2012).
On the subject of public spaces for cultural consumption and tourism, and post-consumerism and spectacle, issues concerning socio-economic sustainability have been described as associated with problems of depoliticisation of the centre (Manfredini, 2017a, 2017b), disappearance of the commons (Harvey, 2012), and renunciation of the open city vision (Sennett, 2018). Practices of spatial control and over-determination, exercised by hegemonic powers in consumption spaces, such as shopping malls, theme parks, and creative public spaces, have been criticised for producing distorted mirrors of ourselves as consumerist citizens (Miles, 2010). In the dual processes of prosumption (participatory instances of transformative engagement intertwining consumption and production processes; Manfredini, 2017a) and transduction (experiential instances of switching between realms of different contextual references; Manfredini, 2018; Manfredini & Jenner, 2015), people’s experiences are subjected to continuous shifts of context and projected into immersive otherness of simulated realities (Crang, Crang, & May, 1999; Knudsen & Waade, 2010). A global pervasion of the space of flows abstracts, homogenises and alienates cultures and social practices (Castells, 1999). In the tourism sector, cultural elements, embedded in places, spaces, and communities, become progressively commodified (Morimoto, 2015). Urban spaces are transformed, decontextualised and distorted into venues for exotic spectacles; authenticity is challenged, it becomes apparent and dependent on the critical lens of the observer, and their criteria of what constitutes reality (Shepherd, 2002).
With reference to economy and empowerment, it has been argued that augmented spatialities mediated through handheld devices provide the main access to the public sphere. This splinters public space into multiple parochial spaces reducing chances of encounter with the stranger (Hampton & Gupta, 2008). The continuous proliferation and transformation of prosumptive and transductive augmentations give rise to modern heterotopias of illusions with an ambivalent agency that, whilst deprivatising semi-public spaces and thus disempowering their dominant external forces, empowers individuals and local communities (Manfredini, 2018). Informal economic activities operating in public spaces, such as street vending, are visible in many cities of the global south and face the common threat of being charged for the right to sell (Donovan, 2008; Low, 1996). In some cases, local policies have tried to limit informal economic activities with bans, over-regulation, redesign of urban spaces and even harassment of vendors (Cross, 2000). Cities need to encourage informal economic activities through adaptation of public spaces, so that people can create businesses and vibrancy, as well as increase their interaction (Mendoza-Arroyo & Chelleri, 2017; Tieben, Geng, & Rossini, 2017).
3.3 Digital space analysis
This section of the literature review addresses the research methodology for the analysis of the contribution of visual-locative media data to urban studies. This methodology has recently grown in quality and quantity, reflecting the increased relevance of the digital public sphere in urban processes. New approaches, methods, and tools have been developed to specifically study substantive amounts of user-generated and location-specific content data regarding both historical and real-time information (Kuznetsov & Paulos, 2010). Research on multivariate data sourced from visual-locative services, such as Instagram, has made a substantial contribution to urban studies, providing a large quantity of materials on people’s and communities’ interactions, relations and representation of their experiences in relevant spatial and chronological instances (Boy & Uitermark, 2017). Instagram, the globally most popular visual-locative service (on the verge of an integration with the parent platforms WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger), has been found particularly effective in socio-spatial relationality research since its vast public section is preeminently visual (containing videos, images, emoticons and memes), affords scalable interaction (progressing from followings to likes, comments, and replies), and guarantees access through multiple means (via both desktop and mobile applications) in near-ubiquitous and time-continuous ways (Boy & Uitermark, 2016). Most importantly, Instagram is open, participatory, highly accessible, and does not under-represent or discriminate against digitally active demographic group.
Analytical methodology for Instagram data is rapidly evolving in all its parts (Borgatti, Everett, & Johnson, 2018; Hanneman & Riddle, 2011; Wasserman & Faust, 1994; Watts & Strogatz, 1998). Data collection has recently developed methods to cope with the progressive access restrictions to Instagram interface (API) and created or optimised dedicated scraping software, such as Kijkeens (Boy & Uitermark, 2015). Data processing has combined conventional and experimental methods to detect both quantitative (e.g., spatial distribution and strength of interaction) and qualitative (e.g., interest areas, places’ memorability) elements. Visualisation has employed traditional processing to produce graphs and maps (e.g., in- and out-degree distribution graphs and heatmaps; Boy & Uitermark, 2017) that have been complemented by innovative procedures specific to multivariate datasets (e.g., to produce pixel-based scatterplots, projection methods, such as multidimensional scaling, and axis-based coordinate plots; Kerren, Purchase, & Ward, 2014).
The overview of literature on multivariate exploration and visualisation of complex networks focuses on new methods to analyse and present data specifically suited to understanding how groups with distinct relational and dynamic characteristics respond to different urban spaces. It discusses and compares various tools developed to find network outliers, patterns and trends, giving priority to effects manifested across an entire system rather than individuals. It concentrates on state-of-the-art tools suitable for the BB-GUS project that enable it to detect and comparatively analyse network clusters with variable size and density. Such tools detect distribution patterns and their dynamics, by tracking IDs, followers, posts, comments, replies and likes; and constitute and compare denser network clusters, providing multiple visualisation options for both analysis and dissemination. Some tools, such as DOSA, are designed to enable non-expert users to process data manually or automatically at different levels of detail both within a selection and between selections to produce high-level, infographic overviews (van den Elzen & van Wijk, 2014). In order to describe complex interactions, studies on entire social networks tend to focus on topology (Smith, Rainie, Shneiderman, & Himelboim, 2014). Networks are identified and partitioned in either exclusive groups or hierarchical clusters. The levels of coherence and aggregative strength of communities are detected and comparatively analysed (Fung, 200; Soler, Tencé, Gaubert, & Buche, 2013). When researchers need to work simultaneously at different resolutions in large databases, community detection methods such as Louvain allow them to find appropriate structures at progressively finer levels of detail (Blondel et al., 2008). Various indices have been developed to study communities’ centrality (i.e., group/cluster polarisation), segmentation (i.e., parochial structure), similarity (i.e., pattern consistency), interactivity (i.e., exchange frequency; Boy & Uitermark, 2005, 2016) and interdependence (i.e., reciprocal support between separate networks; Kenett, Perc, & Boccaletti, 2015).
Network analysis is often combined with semantic content analysis to understand how people communicate on the same social media platform whilst holding fundamental differences such as language, attitude or beliefs (McPherson, Miller, Smith-Lovin, & Cook, 2001; Neuendorf, 2002). This combined research provides insights into how people in close contact create parochial environments to share their interests and approaches (De Nooy, Mrvar, & Batagelj, 2018), and enables communities to be classified in sociological types (e.g., lifestyle vanguard and cultural entrepreneur groups; Boy & Uitermark, 2016). Subject to the analysis are textual elements of the messages, such as status, captions, comments, and hashtags. Semantic elements from Instagram are used to explore city dynamics on specific locations by using geo-location tags. The investigation of public opinions on public spaces in specific locations provides evidence for studies on 1) reception of public institutions and event type (e.g., political, cultural and sportive); 2) perception of places and landmarks, safety and security; and 3) usage and mix of language types (Liu & Jansson, 2017). Furthermore, semantic analysis is often adopted to understand psychological and behavioural factors as it concentrates on textual elements which people use to express their perception of various topics in their everyday lives (Schwartz & Ungar, 2015). Focusing on individual and integrated textual elements, it enables detection of discourse complexity, interest area and affinity (Manikonda, Hu, & Kambhampati, 2014), as well as differences between social groups based on age, gender, ethnicity and the like (Manikonda et al., 2014). Content components are usually categorised in general trending topics (e.g., arts/photo/design, fashion/beauty, and sports/wellness; Shahzad et al., 2017). Automation software allows quantitative analysis to process large datasets, whilst minimising human errors. Experimental analysis methods, such as the crowd-calibrated geo-sentiment analysis, have been developed to utilise time intervals and location tags to retrieve and process data for the detection of clusters of positive, neutral, and negative opinions. To further improve the understanding of the spatialised experiences of people, textual analysis can be integrated with data obtained from visual analysis. Image recognition software, such as Google Cloud Vision API, has been efficaciously used to analyse visual content by detecting key elements within images to provide labels that are compiled and integrated with textual datasets (Rykov et al., 2016).
Fig 1. Sylvia Park area: a) Building footprint (Sylvia Park mall is the building in black), b) Unitary Plan zoning (the mall area is designated as Metropolitan Centre Zone), and c) New Zealand Deprivation Index 2013 (The Mt Wellington South area unit Decile scored 9/10). Source: a) and b) https:// geomapspublic.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/viewer/index.html; c) https://massey.maps.arcgis.com/apps/Embed/index.html?webmap=449633d9f5b74954ab44973c6b046d04&extent=159.2605,-47.7099,180,-34.271&zoom=true&scale=false&legend=true&disable_scroll=false&theme=light
Fig 2. Diagram of the Research Method Articulation: Abstract Space – Infrastructural Transductive Capacity (External Set) and Differential Space – Transductive Referentiality (Internal Element, in Light Grey). Diagram adapted from Manfredini, Tian, Jenner, & Besgen, 2017, p. 419.
Sylvia Park mall is the epitome of the malled centre type. The area of the mall entirely occupies the metropolitan centre designated zone (figures 1a and 1b) and is dominated by one single composite building. This is an integrated mall, opened in 2006, that is the best New Zealand representation of the recent redefinition of the commercial centre model, where the modern closed volume that internalised shopping and entertainment practices (specific to both Types 2 and 3) has been transformed into a semi-open and more-than-consumerist enclosure with scalable aggregations of multiple building types and daily practice, where socialisation and employment are no longer externalities, rather the primary driver of its conception and management (the most recent expansion of Sylvia Park has included two “lifestyle” precincts devoted to improve the “feel of the centre” – a lane-square open-air and a galleria dining place – and a 10-level office tower).
Fig. 3. Samples of maps resulting from the spatial analysis. a) Urban area of Auckland with identification of the six case studies and the retail trade area of the major shopping centres (Huff model). Courtesy of M. Manfredini, A. Hills and J. Jung. b) Urban block maps within radii of 400, 800 and 1,200 metres from each shopping mall. Courtesy of A. Hills.
Fig.4. Samples of maps resulting from the spatial analysis of Sylvia Park primary catchment area (Huff model), 2013 Census meshblock dataset: a) Resident population density, b) Resident median age, and c) Households with access to mobile devices.
Fig. 5. Samples of maps and charts resulting from the spatial analysis of Sylvia Park area. a) Resident population count maps of the core area of each town centre driving catchment (census 2013 data). Courtesy of A. Hills, M. Y. Landingin and M. Manfredini. b) Street intersections maps of the areas within 400, 800 and 1,200 metre radii from each mall. Courtesy of A. Hills, A. Bueno, T. Chalermtip and M. Manfredini. c) Charts of street intersection number (left) and density (right) within 400, 800 and 1,200 metre radii from each mall.
The analysis uses multiple catchment areas of the centres – determined with transport isochrones and a gravity model (fig. 3a) – to assess basic data on population – e.g., resident density and median age, and households with access to mobile devices (fig. 4a–c) – and three key morphology measures relevant to public space usage: walkability, functional segmentation and access to amenities. To enhance the validity of the finding, the analysis on each centre type uses two representative case studies (fig. 5). Results provide evidence on the spatial condition of the multidimensional disjunction polarisation of amenities of malled urban places. They document the important challenges that architecture and urban design pose to the usage of public space. The investigation of the spatial aspects of the architecture of the selected sample of prime metropolitan centres in Auckland, illuminates the poorly explored effects of urban morphology on social life and establishes the basis to interpret the de- and repoliticisation of these spaces enacted by the pervasive digital transduction in relational life of both local and translocal urban communities in our contemporary post-consumerist, digital society.
4. Analysis methodology and findings
4.1 Physical space analysis
The spatial analysis of Auckland’s metropolitan centres focuses on specific morphologic and configurational aspects concerning the relations between the semi-public space enclosures and their socio-spatial urban context. The analysis uses consolidated quantitative methods (Manfredini, Tian, Jenner, & Besgen, 2017, Fig. 2) to comparatively evaluate three types of metropolitan centre districts where these enclosures are found. Type 1 – malled centre – has a single integrated mall that subsumes most of the centre’s roles and functions. Type 2 – semi-malled centre – has a dominant mall that concentrates a large portion of the roles and functions of the centre. Type 3 – non-malled centre – has a main mall that acts as a minor complement to the roles and functions of the centre. Malled centres are suburban, emerging metropolitan centres. Semi-malled centres are external metropolitan centres that were city centres prior to the 2010 Auckland Region amalgamation. Non-malled centres are central or semi-central metropolitan centres that were city centres prior to the amalgamation. Our project case study, Sylvia Park, belongs to the first type. It results from a recent and on-going redevelopment of a site located in the old southern fringe area of the city that had low land value and a varied assortment of urban land uses: industrial (mainly with productive and logistic functions), transport (rail yards and, being the narrowest part of the isthmus of Auckland, the prime road and rail infrastructures of the region), residential (fringe suburban housing), services (e.g., Auckland City Council’s municipal abattoir) and farming.
4.2 Digital space analysis
To cope with the digital transformation of the public sphere, the research uses social media activity to analyse socio-spatial relationality and perception. It focuses on spatially situated dynamics and contents of social network interaction, utilising location- and visual-based data. It formulates a methodology that integrates innovative and traditional big-data, multilevel, analytical techniques, methods, procedures, and protocols. Data are sourced from Instagram, the photo- and video-sharing social networking service with the highest popularity in New Zealand (in 2018, its users were in excess of 35% of the total population). Elements of the methodology were based on international state-of-the-art research yet required substantial refinement and adaptation not only to match the research project’s goals and the peculiarity of the New Zealand context, but also, most importantly, because of the restrictions on data access consequent to the early 2018 Facebook–Cambridge Analytica scandal (Instagram is owned and developed by Facebook, Inc).
The analytical phases (data mining, processing and visualisation) focused on two integrated areas: 1) network analysis, concerning social network composition and dynamics; and 2) semantic analysis, regarding textual discursive component characteristics. The network analysis investigated the relationship between individuals and their contribution to the rest of the network by identifying connectivity, their influence (centrality) and the groups that are formed (community). The semantic analysis concerned topic of interest, interest-based networks’ interests and dynamics. Data of the entire 2017 calendar year (1/01 – 31/12) were collected from the main POIs (points of interest) of the case study. A database with posts’ metadata (ID, URL, time etc.) and content (images, comments, likes etc.) was formed. A data cleaning was performed to remove duplications, commercial and improper items. Relationships between the different forms of interaction were detected by dissecting the network into parts that identify the number of people using multiple types of communication, the preferred type of communication, and the proportion of people using each kind of interaction.
The typological analysis of the network used the Himelboim classification (Himelboim et al., 2017) and detected centrality, modularity, and fraction of isolates indexes. This included the identification of quantitative distribution of users in communities and the classification of the latter in three balanced size brackets, small, medium and large (fig. 7). The network analysis also included the evaluation of dynamics of the overall activity to unveil how well a place is performing over time and reveal cyclic patterns.
Fig. 6. Samples of charts resulting from the digital space analysis of Sylvia Park, Instagram data 1/01-31/12 2017: a-b) Communities and people over the intire year and distribution within four size brakets.
Findings of the network analysis showed a large number of active users, in excess of 120,000, and interactions, over 150,000. Most of the users (almost 90%) were linked to others and constituted stable communities, with the minimum size of communities set at 15 members (fig. 7). Over the year, the network reached a total of 236 communities, which tended to consolidate in larger aggregations – 51,000 people in large communities, 50,000 in medium, and 21,000 in small. Communities resulted as a hybrid combination of Himelboim’s three types: the polarised, with large interconnected groups (the network includes five main community clusters); the fragmented, with multiple disconnected brand clusters (the network comprehends a large number of them in the medium-size bracket); and the broadcast, where one or more celebrities have dominant centrality (e.g., four communities are each polarised around single international personalities in sport, spectacle and fashion). This reflects the multiform composition of Sylvia Park’s translocal communities. The dynamic analysis found a general and sustained trend of growth over the year (fig. 8a). Monthly figures showed an increase by 12% of posts, 136% of comments, and 152% of likes, with peaks of interaction in school/university holiday periods (a primary peak at the end of the year and a secondary one between June and July). Community variations showed a steady consolidation trend considerably higher in large communities, with mergers that saw most people remaining in the expanded communities.
Fig. 7. Samples of charts and graphs resulting from the digital space analysis of Sylvia Park, Instagram data 1/01-31/12 2017: a) Growth of communities over the year, and b) Node centrality indegree (left) and outdegree (right).
The semantic analysis investigated people’s language and interests based on identifiable keywords found in the comments. Findings on language showed expressions in English greatly outnumbered the ones in any other language, yet including a noteworthy presence of Māori ones. Findings on topics revealed the presence of ten macro-categories. These categories had a highly variable ratio of occurrences, with food and drinks at 23.5%, people and society at 15.4%, places and architecture at 13.5, events and entertainment at 12.6%, fashion and style at 12.4, beauty, sports, and wellness at 8.3, art, design, and photography at 8.1, nature at 2.7, technology at 2.7, and animals at 0.6%. Relevance of relation to places emerged for the central role that its proxy, places and architecture references, occupied in some communities. The importance of these spatial references in associative processes is manifested also in their high discursive association with socialising nourishment practices embedded in references to food. Findings on changes over time in interest level in various topics showed significant variations in relation to major public events, public holidays, and school holidays.
Fig. 8. Samples of charts and graphs resulting from the digital space analysis of Sylvia Park, Instagram data 1/01-31/12 2017: a) Relationship of keywords and comments over 12 months; b) Distribution of interest in each community size bracket
Overall, a well-performing system of networks has been found. Its large number of interactions is evenly distributed in all its components (likes, comments, and posts), forms strong connections between large and medium communities, has few disconnected, isolated and small communities, and shows a unified and low hierarchical structure made up of multiple lineages, which are especially dependent on communities that are established early in the year and continue growing at a fast rate. Importantly, the semantic analysis of interaction in large-scale communities detected in the network analysis revealed that, notwithstanding the major influence on each community interest exercised by major events or influential persons, the relevance of place for relational life remains substantially stable throughout the year.
Fig. 8. Samples of charts and graphs resulting from the digital space analysis of Sylvia Park, Instagram data 1/01-31/12 2017: a) Topics of interest distribution of 27 largest communities; b) Comments Distribution over 12 months of 27 largest communities.
5. Digital space analysis
Considering social cohesion, a primary factor for the development of sustainable and resilient cities facing the fast and radical anthropological changes generated by digital technology, this study addresses the socio-spatial implications of the transformation of relationality networks. It focuses on the forces behind latent struggles in contested central urban spaces of rapidly developing contemporary cities. Engaging with the discourse on the crisis of inclusionary urban commons, results provide innovative insights into one of the major socio-spatial challenges to urban resilience building. Through the articulation of the problems impacting on the development of both physical and functional redundancy of the associative spatialisation patterns of post-consumerist urban communities, it shows the factors that oppose the increased vulnerability of urban commons caused by the displacement and financialisation of their infrastructures. Firstly, it formulates a theoretical framework to analyse how hegemonic economic powers have amplified crucial urban problems, such as socio-spatial fragmentation, polarisation, and inequality. Secondly, it discusses criticalities and opportunities emerging from the conflicts between the forces that control and expand the digitally augmented networkability of key asset of the urban commons. Thirdly, it discusses the results of the analysis of the material and digital spatial semi-public geographies, focusing on their capacity to reintroduce practices of participation and commoning that reassemble fragmented relational infrastructures, translocally combining social, cultural and material elements.
The theoretical framework follows a comparative critical urbanism approach inspired by the right to the city and the right to difference and elaborates the discourse on sustainable development that informs the NUA. The discussion sheds light on specific socio-spatial relational practices that counteract the dissipation of the “common worlds” caused by sustained processes of urban gentrification and homogenisation, with citizens’ dispossession of urban space, starting from the subsumption of its conception into closed circles of expert managers. The discussion on criticalities and opportunities emerging in the new urban commons, and specifically in their semi-public spaces, argues that their novel spatialisation patterns have the potential to make the commons “bounce forward” after the crisis caused by the withdrawal of direct state involvement; this study presents how the emerging commons are metastable institutions enacted by digitally augmented and mobile embodiments that include powerful forces for their emancipation from dominating external hegemonic forces. Their capacity to turn the setbacks into setups for success is linked to their ability to decouple their actants, separating those that constitute productive presence (no matter whether materially actual or virtual) and the ones that do not, yet are present to exercise control (mainly elements imposed with material occurrence). This capacity has been linked to three fundamental incipient processes: pervasive translocalisation (i.e., the shift towards territorialisation patterns that dissipate the traditional bounds of social networks to continuous, discrete and fixed geographical territories), recombinant transduction (i.e., operations implying the digitally advanced coming together of heterogeneous forces that augment the “metastable state” of a space) and publicness hybridisation (i.e., the creation of ambivalent conditions of territorial control). The description of these processes and their relationality agency shows their contribution to the production of more efficacious, robust, supple and redundant chains of associations. Their subjection to a critical trade-off is identified. Since resilient semi-public spaces depend on an augmented transduction that thrives in the most relationally active and equipped technospheres, their embodiments occur chiefly in the semi-public space of consumption enclosures – places that offer their infrastructures at no apparent direct cost, whilst imposing a loss of independence. Our inquiry uses the critical tradition of the right to the city to disentangle the changes in power relations that emerge in these semi-public technospheres. This enables us to unveil what enables the commons to reverse the modern decay of their social agency and counter the progressive segmentation and commodification of the public realm from within it.
Accordingly, this study offers an empirical validation of the research hypothesisdiscussing the findings of the study on Auckland’s metropolitan centres. Evidence of the production of advanced simulative and transductive spatialities in places of enhanced consumption grounds the discussion on the extent to which the agency of the forces of augmented territorialisation reconstitute inclusive and participatory systems of relationality. On this basis, we describe the emerging complex spatialities adapting the primary Lefebvrian triad – isotopia, utopia and heterotopia – based on the opposition between abstract space and differential counter-space (a fundamental key to discerning concurrent factors of dominating exclusionary spectacle and reappropriating inclusionary commoning).
Conclusions discuss the emancipatory potential found in these Auckland social laboratories and claim that the challenges of relational and associative life brought about by our post-civil society require a reframing of the question of the crisis of the commons and a redefinition of their resilience concept. This includes a critical review of instruments and methods of analysis and intervention necessary to the disciplines of architecture and urbanism to engage with the latest effects of the digital turn and efficaciously contribute to the development of socio-spatial conditions, where individuals are granted the right to difference, where citizens and their associations control their own production processes and protocols in the pursuit of a collaborative space of freedom and autonomy.
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