chapter  12
10 Pages

The City Is Not a Computer

On Museums, Libraries, and Archives
WithShannon Mattern

In this chapter, I will explore the longevity and limitations of city-as-computer scenarios. While contemporary tech companies’ and theorists’ visions reveal their origins in an age of big data and cloud computing, these algorithmic dreams are rooted in earlier reveries. I begin by tracing the history of urban metaphors, particularly that of the city-as-information-processor. Then, moving beyond “information” and its “processing” in creating more generous, inclusive maps of urban information ecologies, I look to other sites and collections—archives, libraries, museums, and repertoires of embodied culture—where urban intelligence is generated, organized, preserved, distributed, and activated. Finally, I reassess the power of these urban metaphors to condition urban design, planning, and administration, and consider alternative epistemological models that are better equipped to encompass the breadth of intelligences embodied in cities.