Communication and the City: Voices, Spaces, Media

Keynote Abstracts and Bios

Alessandro Aurigi

Rethinking the context-rich, adaptable, unfixed smart city

The flavour-of-the-month and multi-million driven concept of the smart city is often described as a long-awaited programme of studies and actions which can ‘fix’ increasingly large, wasteful, chaotic and unsustainable urban environments across the globe. And, despite attempts to look at this in a holistic way, the hi-tech fix aspects of the smart city are entirely dominant in global debates as well as in real-world initiatives. The emergence of the ‘internet of things’ and the ‘addition’ of sensing and intelligent functions to everyday objects and spaces will – it is argued – change rules and improve quality of life, hence attractiveness and the related economic development. This presentation will look at the current, widespread limits of the smart city perspective and conceptualisation, and will try and do it playing on the same battleground of its major selling point: successful urban management. It will do it by arguing that prevalent smart city visions tend to be based on hierarchy, centralised control, ‘good’ management based on economy of scale efficiencies, and expert algorithms, whilst making only few, tokenistic concessions to what Sassen describes as the need to ‘talk back to the city’. My contribution involves looking at an alternative vision for urban management, which stems from considering the city as a ‘learning’ organisation that can thrive – and has historically thrived – on trial-and-error as much as on long-term centrally controlled planning. Once the need for highly adaptable, pluralistic and context-rich cities is taken into account, the ‘smart’ way to go about them can change considerably from what is normally proposed at present.


Alessandro Aurigi is Professor of Urban Design and Head of the School of Architecture, Design and Environment at Plymouth University. Alex was previously Head of the Architecture at Newcastle University; a lecturer at the Bartlett School of Planning and research fellow in the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, At UCL. His research focuses on the relationships between our increasingly digital society and the ways we conceive, design, and manage urban space, to enhance and support place quality. Alex has published the multi-disciplinary book Augmented Urban Spaces (Ashgate, edited with Fiorella De Cindio), and Making the Digital City (Ashgate). He has also written in international journals, including the Journal of Urban Technology, the Journal of Architectural and Planning Research, Urban Design International amongst others. He has given speeches in Brazil, Japan, South Korea, The Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Portugal, Spain, as well as the UK and Italy.


Carole Blair

Rationalizing urban planning: Washington, DC’s monumental core

Urban planning has been a sine qua non of Washington, DC ever since Pierre Charles L’Enfant drew his visionary conception for the capital city of the newly formed U.S. in 1791. Despite major effort, and like a number of other capital cities, Washington finds itself with a high demand for commemorative space and a shortage of it to offer in the central city for new projects. This paper parses and illustrates both the problems of supply and demand, and offers a set of principles of “spatial civility” as an effort to offset these problems.


Carole Blair is Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. She is also Second Vice President of the National Communication Association. Her research focuses on the rhetorical and cultural significance of commemorative places and artworks, focusing most upon US national memory sites. The aim of her research is to account for changes in how the US nation-state commemorates: Who or what is commemorated, during what periods, under what cultural conditions, and with what political and civic consequences? Her current project—with V. William Balthrop and Neil Michel—focuses on US memorials built in Europe during the interwar period and marking US participation in World War I.


Gary Gumpert

Communication scholars as urban advocates

The Urban Communication Foundation is the result of an obsession shared by a group of scholars who met in Boston in 2003 because they believed that the changing urban environment might benefit from their skills and insights as scholars and citizens. The Foundation was formally established in 2005, and by 2013 it has evolved into a worldwide movement seeking to delve into the urban problems of the present and establish plans for the future. 

This keynote by the President of the Foundation seeks to clarify the realm of urban communication by delineating five analytical structures of the urban landscape: foundational, regulatory, material, social, and imagination. In addition, it will address the role of communication scholars in relation to urban issues and, in doing so, will raise a major question: Is the urban scholar an objective researcher or a normative advocate of change and solution?


Gary Gumpert is Emeritus Professor of Communication at Queens College of the City University of New York and President of the Urban Communication Foundation. His creative career as a television director and academic career as a scholar spans over 60 years. In 1960 he directed the Gutenberg Galaxy, in which Marshall McLuhan articulated the premise of his forthcoming book. Among his numerous journal articles are “When is Television Television” (Television Quarterly, 2004); “Cybercrime and Punishment” (CSMC, 2000); “The City and the Two Sides of Reciprocity” in Augmented Urban Spaces (2008); and “Communicative Cities” appearing in the International Communication Gazette (2008). He has authored and edited books include Talking Tombstones and Other Tales of the Media Age (Oxford University Press), The Urban Communication Reader (Hampton Press) and Regulating Convergence (Peter Lang). His edited volume Regulating Social Media: Legal and Ethics Implications will be published by Peter Lang in 2013. He is a recipient of the Franklyn S. Haiman Award for distinguished scholarship in freedom of expression (National Communication Association), the Louis Forsdale Award for Outstanding Educator in the Field of Media Ecology (Media Ecology Association), and in 2011 received The Neil Postman Award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity. His primary research and theory agenda focuses on the impact of communication technology upon social and urban space.


Cees J. Hamelink

The art of making peace: The role of urban diplomacy

Global diplomacy should be exercised by the communities of people that worldwide have an essential stake in peaceful relations. The habitat of these communities will be the global cities. Saskia Sassen wrote that the global city has emerged as a site for the formation of new claims. Among those could be the claim to contribute to the decline of lethal conflict in the world. Urban space could become a frontier zone for a new type of “glocal” communicative engagement with global peaceful relations. Conventional diplomatic communication is mainly communication between states. There are some serious problems with this the state-centric perspective. States are no longer the only actors in world politics and they tend to defend primarily the interests of their own geo-political administrative unit: they are more provincialist than cosmopolitan. Therefore the “art of making peace” demands new forms of diplomatic communication that are initiated by the locations where people lead most of their daily lives: the global cities. Networks of urban communities could be the new “nations” for global diplomacy.


Cees J. Hamelink is Emeritus Professor of International Communication at the University of Amsterdam. He is currently Professor of Management of Information and Knowledge for Development at the University of Aruba, and Professor of Human Rights and Public Health at the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam. He is the editor-in-chief of the International Communication Gazette, past president of the International Association for Media and Communication Research, and founder of the People’s Communication Charter. Professor Hamelink has guest-lectured in over 40 countries, has published over 250 articles, papers and chapters in academic publications, and received many awards for his work. He is author of 18 monographs on communication and culture. He is also a jazz musician.

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