Places Books

A City Is Not a Computer

Princeton University Press

August 2021

For the past few years, in an extraordinary series of essays on Places, Shannon Mattern has been investigating the various forms of media that are being used to design, describe, measure, quantify, control, and monitor cities and their citizens.

“Mission Control” took us into the emerging zones of dashboard municipal governance centered in “futuristic control rooms” with blinking screens. “Instrumental City” tracked the mega-development of Hudson Yards, a “testing ground for applied data science” as well as a convergence of neoliberal redevelopment and power politics, where people are defined either as consumers of products or generators of data. “Public In/Formation” and “Fugitive Libraries” argued that public libraries are the vital “information commons” of the digital age — and that as such they need to be made more inclusive, equitable, and welcoming. “Maintenance and Care” catalogued the many deteriorating and failing systems, from large-scale urban infrastructure to software applications, that require new levels of repair, care, custodianship, and maintenance. And “A City Is Not a Computer” affirmed an obvious truth that nonetheless needs saying: Urban intelligence is more than data processing.

Now these and other essays have been expanded into the book A City Is Not a Computer, the second volume in Places Books, published by our colleagues at Princeton University Press. In the new volume, Mattern describes the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the fragility of urban networks, and deepens her analysis of the “encoded inequities and restrictive logics” that lurk in the algorithms and databases, the cameras and microphones and scanners, that are increasingly pervasive in our urban environs.