From a single line of code to an entire city: reframing thinking on code and the city. Programmable City Working Paper 4.
NIRSA - National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis, Maynooth University.
Cities are rapidly becoming composed of digitally-mediated components and infrastructures,
their systems augmented and mediated by software, with widespread consequences for how
they are managed, governed and experienced. This transformation has been accompanied by
critical scholarship that has sought to understand the relationship between code and the city.
Whilst this work has produced many useful insights, in this paper I argue that it also has a
number of shortcomings. Principal amongst these is that the literatures concerning code and
the city have remained quite divided. Studies that focus on code are often narrow in remit,
fading out the city, and tend to fetishize and potentially decontextualises code at the expense
of the wider socio-technical assemblage within which it is embedded. Studies that focus on
the city tend to examine the effects of code, but rarely unpack the constitution and mechanics
of the code producing those effects. To provide a more holistic account of the relationship
between code and the city I forward two interlinked conceptual frameworks. The first places
code within a wider socio-technical assemblage. The second conceives the city as being
composed of millions of such assemblages. In so doing, the latter seeks to provide a means
of productively building a conceptual and empirical understanding of programmable
urbanism that scales from individual lines of code to the complexity of an entire urban
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