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Relatório d
e Conteúdo: INTERFACES TELEMÁTICAS E INTERATIVAS PARA OS SERVIÇOS URBANOS.

Relatório Técnico CNPq Proc 350706 /1999
-
9


Fevereiro 2006
-

período 03/2003 à 02/2006.

Produtividade em Pesquisa PQ realizada pelo
Grupo e
-
urb

Coordenador: Liv
re Docente.
Azael Rangel Camargo
.

3.3.2


“Not just Portal”: Virtual cities as complex socio technical
phenomena.



















Texto publicado no Journal of Urban

Technologies, em 12/2003

Dr
. Rodrigo Firmino, pesquisador

do e
-
urb e da School of Architecture,

Planning and Landscape

Uni
versity of Newcastle upon Tyne.













Observação:

O texto está apresentado em sua forma de edição original,

pois, optamos em não transformar o seu conteúdo infográfico,

isto é, conserva a sua numeração de página, quadros, figuras e notas
.


Este Tr
abalho e outras informações sobre

o trabalho Grupo de Pesquisa e
-
urb, coordenado pelo

Prof. Associado Azael Rangel Camargo estão no site

http://www.eesc.usp.br/sap/grupos/e
-
urb/pesquisas.htm


2


NOT JUST A PORTAL



VIRTUAL

CIT
IES AS A COMPLEX
SOCIOTECHNIC
AL PHENOMENON
1



Rodrigo José Firmino

Rodrigo.Firmino@ncl.ac.uk

School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape

University of Newcastle upon Tyne






INTRODUCTION

It is becoming commonplace for communities, cities and regions to create their own counterpar
t in the
virtual world. Most of these initiatives have been called ‘virtual’ or ‘digital’ cities due to the fact that they
are, in some aspects, virtual representations of

real


physical communities, cities or regions via the use of
Information and Commun
ication Technologies (ICT).

However, t
he whole concept of the virtual city is not clear yet. Most of the attempts to describe this
phenomenon are speculative, extremely metaphorical and deal only partially with its complex impacts,
ignoring important aspec
ts. For instance, the overwhelming majority of research on virtual cities
approaches this
phenomenon only looking at design aspects of cities’ websites on the Internet, while
many others are concerned only with VR (virtual reality) or 3D
modeling

possibili
ties for urban simulation.
There is no methodological or theoretical mistake in
such
generalization

in

these particular cases, as long
as the context and extent of such works are made clear
, by saying, for example, that the concept of virtual
cities is not

limited to websites and VR experiments
.
Consequently
,
there is an evident epistemological
confusion around this theme which needs further clarifications
.

The v
irtual cities

phenomenon as a whole seems to be more complicated than these simplistic
technolog
ical applications

for computer simulations

(
mainly led by the development of CAD


computer
-
aided design


systems)

and web
-
design on the Internet. Virtual cities
are
, in fact,

driven by different

community, private and public

interests
, which target and i
nvolve
distinct

kinds of

users.

They also have
diverse
forms of representation

in cyberspace

(web design,
intra
nets architecture, urban simulations, etc.)

and affect

various

aspects of urban reality,
including spatial aspects related to location,
land
occu
pation,
transportation,

infrastructure, and so
on
.

The challenge of this

multifaceted view of the virtual city
is to find the answers for

questions like: w
hat
types

of
community, private and public
interests are shaping

the

virtual cities? What kind of vir
tual cities
are being built?

What are the physical references for virtual cities? And most importantly,
how are all
these
elements
put

together to form a comprehensive concept of virtual cities

that goes beyond pure
technical and web
-
centered

explanations
?

This paper
contends

that a virtual city
should be seen as

more

than just
isolated aspects such as

web
-
representation
s

or

website
s
on the Internet; that this

is in fact, a complex concept involving
commercial
and civic
interests, users, infrastructure,
and

also

web
-
design and physical spaces.
Drawing, therefore, on
the argument that a virtual city is the city of ICTs


enabled and empowered by ICTs


and u
sing the most
influential literature available, this is a review of a concept where I investigate
a pos
sible typology

of virtual



1

P
ublished in Journal of Urban Technology (JUT), volume 10, number 2
,

December, 2003.


3

cities shaped both virtually and physically
to be
this

parallel urban reality that overlaps the traditional
physical city
.


Figure
1

-

The
traditional

and the Virtual Cities.

This

theoretical review

is co
mpleted in
two ma
in

parts. Firstly,
I

address the importance of building a more
comprehensive typology for virtual cities and
the importance
of using a more accurate concept

that would

also
help us understand the ‘actual’ city (contemporary cities)
.
Most i
mportantly, t
he second part
describes
three
possible
dimensions of the virtual cities concept


the people and/or institutions; the virtual
representations in cyberspace; and the physical manifestations


together with their main elements.
Finally, the con
clusion ties up th
is

thr
ee
fold structure

proposing a
comprehensive

typology for the concept
of the virtual cities phenomenon.


IMAGINARY FRAGMENT O
R COMPLEX URBAN SPAC
E?

The principal structural argument of this paper assumes that a virtual city is an impo
rtant part of
contemporary cities. In this sense, a virtual city is seen as a new element that joins others (which I am
calling traditional elements) to form the complex structure of the contemporary urban reality (territory,
landscape, space and place).

A
ccording to Santos’ (
40
) concept of
flecha do tempo

(
arrow of time
)
, virtual cities
are part of technological
innovations which affect the space and provoke (
social and
economic) transformations as a
mark of a

specific
e
po
ch
.

Throughout urban history, many

have been the
facts responsible for the introduction of
new elements that then became part of our cities. Thus, cities are already naturally overlapped by many
different elements
representative of

many different ages, and I am arguing that the virtual cit
y (if seen as a
conjunct of aspects triggered by ICT as I will demonstrate) is another one of these elements which
, in this
case,

marks the so
-
called information age.

In short, virtual cities are
one of
the
land
mark
s

of the
information age within our citie
s.

It is clear (and exhaustively explained by many commentators. See, for instance, Castells (
7 and 8
), Hall
(
22
), Bijker and Law (
5
), and Graham and Marvin (
20
)) that information and communication technologies
have recently been challeng
ing

relative
estab
lished

concepts of space and time, by the simple fact that
they change our perception of the friction of distance
, and therefore, allow changes in the way we allocate
ourselves
,

our buildings and infrastructures
across

the
territory
.

As Castells (
8
) argues
, “both space and
time are being transformed under the combined effect of the information technology paradigm, and the
social forms and processes induced by the current process of historical change”.
This ‘paradigm
challenge’ is what shows us that importan
t changes are happening or about to happen,
and
that tells us
that crucial new elements have been introduced into
the everyday processes that constitute life and
society
.


4

So, t
he first obvious reason
for

defin
ing

a broader concept
of

virtual cities is to e
nable us to understand
the
western
contemporary cit
y

as a whole
.
Furthermore
, i
f we consider that the immaterial cities overlap
and, in fact, are part of the physical cit
ies
, it is important to know exactly what constitute them.

To
summarize

the importance

of studying the virtual city, figure 2 illustrates that if we were able to
recognize

and comprehend virtual cities

(the cities of ICTs)

in the same
depth as
we do with many
aspects of our (traditional) cities, we will be able to understand an important fa
ctor that forms the city of
the information age or
,

as Castells (
7
)
prefers

to call it, the “informational city”.

Yet in
The Rise of the
Network Society
, Castells

(
8
)

describes a whole range of

social and economic

transformations
(also
implying profound cu
ltural changes), brought about by the advent of new technologies (including ICT) and
their insertion into several aspects of our everyday life.
He

articulates these impacts to argue that among
different spatial effects
such as simultaneous locational dispe
rsion and concentration

the “information age
is ushering in a new urban form, the informational city” (
8
).

What I am arguing is that the virtual city (the
ICT city, or the imaginary city and its material support) is a fundamental part of Castells’ informat
ional city


yet together with
his

“space of flows”

or “the material organization of time
-
sharing social practices that
work through flows” (
8
). So, the virtual city acts and inter
play
s with the space of flows and the traditional
structures of the traditio
nal city to finally form the informational city.


Figure
2

-

Virtual cities as part of contemporary cities.

A
s

a

collective imaginary urban space enabled and empowered by ICTs, the
virtual city is made of
transactions, communicati
on, information, services, feelings, interpretations, exclusions, expectations,
wires, satellites, and ‘bits and bytes’, which

constantly interact with the traditional physical

city and its
citizens.

As formed by such multitude of variables (many of which
fragmented, contradictory and
divergent), a virtual city is unlikely to present a single and unified form, being rather a constantly changing
and
active

space.

Therefore, any vision or concept that deals with virtual cities ignoring
their

complexity
and mu
ltifaceted structure is

partial.

Such

concept should be linked up to the essential notion of space
itself, as a dynamic and complex social structure.

According to

Santos’ (
40
) i
n
A Natureza do Espaço

(the nature of the space), space

is

as an indissociable,

solidary and also contradictory conjunct of ‘systems of objects’ and ‘systems of actions’. In other words,
this is what makes the space a
multiple and heterogeneous

entity: objec
ts and actions, fixes and flows;


5

which means that the space is not only physi
cal neither only social, but the two always together.

This is to
deny the geometrical and Cartesian notion of space that sees it as a singular unit, a
n aseptic

physical
container
for

social interactions.


Systems of objects and systems of actions interplay

between each other. On one side, systems of
objects drive the way in which actions are done and, on the other side, the systems of actions lead
to the creation of new objects or affect pre
-
existent objects. That is the way the space finds its
dynamism and

changes itself.


(
40 p.

52)
1

Whittaker (
43
) also points to the fact that many cyberspace theorists
increasingly often
“remove space
from being simply the geometricisation of symbolic mathematics and resituate it within structures or webs
of political and
economic power”.

In that sense,
these notions of space as a social and dynamic entity help us to also understand
virtual
cit
ies as such.

T
his is why we should deny partial and unilateral definitions that point virtual or digital cities
simply as the result

of technical interventions (web or VR
-
centered

models). We should look at virtual
cities
as

a
combination

of different physical, cultural and social elements
together

in a complex structure
that makes it a parallel city.
As a result of this broader view
,
we should look at

virtual cit
ies

as

urban
space
s in
their
essence
,
which have

as much complexity, objects and actions as
their

traditional
physical
counterpart.

To understand the virtual city, though, we need to understand its parts or its fundamental elem
ents.
Thus,
it is possible to d
raw

a typology
whe
re

we might find

different types of users
,

different types of design
and
representations

on the
Internet

or in cyberspace
,

and

different types of physical space
s

related to the
virtual city. Some
commentator
s
have already
made some efforts to establish a

typology
for

virtual cities in
different ways. However
,

th
e
s
e

contribution
s

are

almost
totally
restricted to the
Internet or web
-
design

aspect
.

Just a
small amount of the research has looked

at different aspe
cts such as
, for instance,

the
physical dimension of virtual cities.

This paper aims to
shed new

light on those typologies and bring
them

together to describe the virtual city
as a whole. It is done by defining three strands of a more comprehensive typolog
y: users or
people/institutions involved; the city in cyberspace; and the physical dimension of the virtual city.


SO, WHAT IS THE VIRT
UAL CITY MADE OF?

Due to the importance of a more precise definition for virtual cities as an inherent element of the act
ual
cities, I shall propose to do so by finding a typology for such phenomenon. What is paramount here is to
discover what the main parts of these virtual cities can be and to structure them following an integrated
and dynamic model capable of representing

a
generalization

for the typology of virtual cities. In this model,
the parts constitute relative independent elements that interplay
to each other.

Such ‘flexibility’ would allow these elements to be different for each different context of historical, so
cial
and economic arrangements of the space and would, therefore
, r
esult in different combinations, in distinct
virtual cities
.

Thus, the virtual city of Manchester (UK) can and will be completely different from the virtual
city of São Paulo (Brazil), alth
ough they still made of the same categories of elements as I will describe.

I draw on many commentators’ empirical and theoretical research to argue that the virtual city can be seen
and
analyzed

according to three major independent
components
.

First, ther
e are the people and/or institutions (users) involved with the deployment and use of ICT across
cities. The way the virtual city is shaped to attend these users is heavily influenced by the type of interests

(commercial and/or civic)

that
governments and p
rivate institutions use to
de
fine

cities’ urban ICT
strategies
.

Secondly,
virtual representations in cyberspace are
the
flagship of virtual cities. These representations
can assume different forms and use several kinds of technologies. The most well
-
known
examples are
public, private and non
-
government websites, which in some way,
can
become the representatives of a
city or region.

Three dimensional virtual reality models
,

which reproduce

the physical shape of certain
urban territories
a
s computer
-
generated

environments
,

are also

an

emblematic symbol of
how cities can
be represented in cyberspace
.

Intranets (particularly governmental intranets) are also part of the
digital


6

dimension of virtual cities.
It is reasonable to state that the overwhelming majority
of
efforts to define the
concept of virtual city have been enormously dominated by some of these fascinating aspects of virtual
representations.

Finally,
we should also take physical spaces and ICTs’ infrastructures into account and as an essential
part of

virtual cities. Due to certain misconceptions around what ‘real’, ‘virtual’, ‘digital’, and ‘physical’
might be, there is a subsequent neglect of physical spaces in discourses about the virtual or digital city; as
real is normally associated to physical a
nd, in turn, assumed to be the opposite of virtual. Indeed, as I
assume, virtual cities depend on certain materiality to even exist. Their constitution is concurrently
dependent on material and physical spaces and structures and, therefore, might be
organi
zed

in many
different ways

(according to distinct historical contexts)
.

Following, I describe these three elements of the virtual city’s typology into more detail.


Who is involved?

As an important part of the space as a whole, a virtual city is always for
ged by different interests, and has
also different goals. Two major contrasting interests seem to be
crucial
driving the shape

of a virtual city
,

while

three different layers of social extracts (people and/or institutions) are involved with the ICT
-
based
s
ociety.

Regarding the interests that are shaping virtual cities, it is clear that most of the websites referring to cities
as well as infrastructure plans, access points, etc., tend to follow two different directions (not necessarily
one at a time). First,

when there are non
-
profit
organizations

or governmental institutions running the main
elements of the virtual city, it is more likely to assume a public configuration,
and is
therefore driven by
civic interests
. On the other hand, when those elements are
shaped according to the market in an attempt
to make any sort of profit out of it, then the virtual city assumes a marketing configuration driven by
commercial interests
.

Obviously, these two distinct interests can
coexist and

influence the s
hape of a virt
ual city together

and at
the same time
. Indeed, this
is the most normal
situation. This is where planners and policy
-
makers should
be playing an important role towards a more balanced situation where commercial and civic interests
could coexist and act
in

the same direction for a more lively and democratic virtual city.

This idea of combining ICT policies with traditional urban planning and city administration to
keep a
balance

between commercial and civic interests can be called ‘recombinant planning’ or r
ecombinant
administration. This concept comes from recombinant architecture (
31 and 32
), which basically

sustains

that architecture has been recently (notably from the 1970s with the advent of the so
-
called information
age) recombined with ICT elements in
a way that it is now an important part of architectural projects.

Unfortunately,
in

reality city makers (planners, policy
-
makers, etc.) are
mostly
unaware about the
possibilities of a recombinant approach to run
ning

cities and virtual cities
al
together. Th
ere are just a few
cases in which a virtual city is seen as an important instrument helping the publi
c administration to better
deal

with the physical reality (see
2

for an European perspective, and
37

for the specific case of Antwerp).
Yet, alongside
thes
e

interests, there is the social impact of virtual cities. Different groups of people
and

institutions are using
or in contact with the elements that make
the virtual city, some more effectively than
others.

In some cases, following technological determini
stic

scenarios, cities in cyberspace are seen as a strong
opportunity
for

the empowerment of public places and as
a ‘new public realm’. In this sense, virtual
communities on the Internet ‘are seen to be safe, inclusionary, non
-
threatening, and space
-
transc
ending’
(
18
).

On the contrary
,
and yet regarding public participation,
the virtual cities phenomenon
is

also seen as even
more exclu
ding

than 20
th

century industrial cities. For Robins (
39
), the
city is itself a spatializ
ation of
capitalist inequalities an
d exclusions, and ICT only makes these problems worse. In this sense,
due to the
fact the
telematics

technologies are

highly
commercialized
,

virtual cities
is said to be

a
very selective city.

Graham (
17
) warns us that information and communication technol
ogies are increasingly being used for

7

the construction of socially differentiated consumption practices and, as a result, creating highly
polarized

societies.

Building on
this idea

of a
polarized

networked society
, Graham and Aurigi (
18
) point
for

three m
ain groups
‘within the emerging urban social architecture of the cyberspace’,
or the people and institutions involved
with the virtual cities phenomenon
.

The first group is mainly made of those who are literally controlling the production of ICT and more d
irectly
operating the global economy. They are an elite group with complete access to new telematics
technologies.

This group
is

often
made of
executives directly linked to market

and commercial forces.
People i
n this group have access to the most sophisti
cated innovations and, usually, depend on and rely
very much
on technology. They are what Dordick, Bradley and Narris (1988 quoted
in

18
) call
information
users
by their proactive
attitude regarding ICT. Figure 3

shows the very typical and ‘basic’ infrastr
ucture
for the information users.


Figure
3

-

High
-
speed optical network in a planned gated community in Las Vegas (USA). Source: Newsweek, 1999.

The second group
acts rather like if it was the

middle class of the ICT
-
based societ
y. It is usually formed
by wage earners and people more
recognized

by their curiosity and passive consumption. They are called
information used

(Dordick, Bradley and Narris, 1988 quoted
in

18
), because of their passive nature o
f

using ICT. On the Internet,

they are often guided by ‘press no
w to purchase’ buttons. Figure 4

shows a
typical advertisem
ent made to explore the commercial potential inherent to

this ‘ICT middle class’.


Figure
4

-

E
-
everything; typical advertisement to att
ract passive consumers. Source: Newsweek, 1999.

The third group can hardly be defined as users,
simply because

they are very unlikely to have any access
to telecommunication or information apparatus. Sometimes called unplugged, they are in fact part of a
n
on
-
plugged

population, most of them living in poverty where telephones, modems,
and
Internet and are

8

still part of a Sci
-
fi story. Thrift (
41
) refers to the places where th
is

excluded and marginalized
group

live as
‘information ghettoes’ (figure
5
), as tho
se are
normally
the l
ast places to be reached by ICT.



Figure
5

-

Information ghettoes and the non
-
plugged group: Xalapa (Mexico). Photo: Mauricio H. Bonilla.

This divided structure shows in general how society is being affected
by ICT and
what

the population of
virtual cities is like
ly to be
. Th
us
, the way city
-
makers deal with ICT and build their virtual cities in terms of
interests and goals



meaning how they articulate the local strategies for technological development
(based

on ICT)


determine
s

how rigid or flexible will be the social division
of

its population.

The extent of access to the virtual city and the way the content is available for its population are very
complex issues in terms of planning and social as well as p
olitical economic strategies. Thus, as
mentioned before, this is where city
-
makers (from planners to policy
-
makers and politicians) have a
decisive role.

The
future

of the ICT
-
based society is

yet

to be
determined
. This is

where key and strategic positions

such
as city
-
makers
have a great potential as t
he responsible for the spatial or physical
-
social shape of the
cities.
There is a need for them to

comprehend

the

challenge posed by new technologies

in order to
di
minish social and economic gaps

using

the vi
rtual city
as an

instrument
to make

information more
accessible, administration more transparent and the whole physical city more democratic
.


Immateriality/virtuality

Another important aspect to consider about the typology for virtual cities, which
receiv
es

far more
attention

than others, is the design or the structure for the city in the cyberspace. In general this is restricted to
types of websites on the Internet and the sort of data and tools that can be accessed online.

In this case,
urban metaphors a
re

commonly

used to identify

virtual cities, disregard their origin and
ultimate targets (government websites, institutions, agencies, commercial websites, and so on)
. The
reason is either because it literally represents a real physical
locality
, or
to mak
e the interface and
navigation on the website friendlier (as we tend to easily
recognize

urban icons as reference points
)
.

Besides, there is also the importance of intranet systems as part of the virtual representations of the
virtual city.

The constructio
n of urban
intra
nets, especially public ones, is a growing aspect of virtual cities
as it

represents a space where huge amounts of information are exchanged every minute; usually relevant
information for the public administration
. Thus,
different public de
partments talking to each other and
using information and applications through a city’s internal network are

also
one type of virtual
manifestation to be taken into account as part of the overall virtual cities phenomenon
.

These internal networks can be a
single public
intra
net connecting different departments and public
institutions, or it can be made of independent public and private
intra
nets. It often contains databases for

9

the public services as well as applications commonly used by different departmen
ts and/or institutions like
for instance, Geographic Information Systems (
GIS). The contents of an urban i
ntranet are usually
exclusive to civil servants, and
are

unlikely to become fully

available for

public access.

In sum
, elements
such as urban i
ntranet
s cannot be ignored when talking about virtual cities, though cities
’ websites

on the
Internet
are

a far bigger and more visible aspect, deserving

perhaps

more attention and more precise

definition
.

T
here
have been many attempts

to identify different types

of design for virtual cities on the Internet in
terms of contents and structure (for different views about the virtual city in the cyberspace see
3,

27,

11
,
42,

4,

and
29
).

Amongst the commentators
interested in the cities in

cyberspace there

is, though,

a
consensus about at
least one main division of two types of virtual citie
s on the web

according to thei
r relation to a real physical
loc
ality. Graham and Aurigi (
18
) classify these two broader types of initiatives (especially in Europe) as
non
-
grounded

an
d
grounded

virtual
cities.

The first case simply uses the
urban
metaphor
, as mentioned before,

to name the website adopting the
urban reference to provide an easier navigation and make a more
recognizable

interface. It is usually
done to better inform user
s and to put together a range of online facilities (commercial or not), but most
importantly, without any relation to a specific physical city or region. Most of these initiatives are
concerned
to create

a virtual community based
o
n common interests (figur
e
6
), what is known as
community of interests (
25
) instead of being a community of place, necessarily linked to a physical
location.

Communities of interest transcend specific locations. People form such communities around a common
interest, such as politi
cs or art or parenting issues. Such communities may or may not be link
ed to a
place
; their distinguishing feature is that they do not require a physical location to exist. (
25 p.
62)


Figure
6

-

Cybertown, a classic example of a no
n
-
grounded virtual city. Source: http://www.cybertown.com

On the other hand, the grounded virtual city is directly linked to a particular physical location. In this case a
city or a region usually gives its name to the website, which becomes a representati
ve of the physical
place in the cyberspace (figure
7
). It is common to see grounded cities on the Internet like Virtual
Manchester, Digital City Amsterdam, Digital City Bristol, and Lewisham Online, just to name a few.


10


Figure
7

-

Iperbole Bologna as an authentic grounded virtual cities. Source: http://www.nettuno.it/bologna

According to Aurigi and Graham (
3
), v
irtual cities on the web can yet be distinguished by their content and
the way
they are

available online. Beyond being gro
unded or non
-
grounded, the virtual design can also be
defined according to its provision of information and participation.

Therefore, some informative websites can work
as ‘advertising and promotional space, with a little or no
useful information for resid
ents’ (
18
), while a participative virtual design can offer ‘civic services

providing
‘public’ electronic spaces supporting political, social and cultural discourses about the city itself’ (
18
).

In this way, different types of
informative
,
participative

or
holistic

virtual

cities

on the web (the latter
providing both information and participation)

can be defined according to the relevance of the information
provided online or whether single or dual ways of communication are available, or even whether this
co
mmunication is synchronous or asynchronous.

Thus, yet according to

Aurigi and Graham’s (
3
)
w
ebsites
that provide

predominantly
information are called ‘information desk’, being yet named ‘tourists’/investors’
kiosk’
if

non
-
grounded cases and ‘civic database
’ for grounded initiatives.

Accordingly
, ‘electronic place’ is
the name for websites open for participation, while ‘cyber mall’ is

a

non
-
grounded participative website
and ‘cybersquare’ a grounded participative initiative.

Finally, the two previous groups
(information desk and electronic place) are embodied in a third type
called ‘holistic
-
urban analogy’,
involving

higher levels of information and participation at the same time.
Yet, a non
-
grounded holistic website is called ‘global cybercity’ while the g
rounded
informative/participative initiative is positively seen as a ‘holistic virtual city’.

There are other slightly different classifications for virtual cities on the Internet. In
development models for
virtual cities
, for instance, Lobet
-
Maris and Bas
telaer (
29
)
suggested

another way of naming and defining
the design for virtual cities on the web. According to them, two sorts of people can be related to the virtual
cities phenomenon, namely actors of the public sphere (public administration, citizens,
associations and
voluntary bodies), and the private sector. They also talk about grounded and non
-
grounded virtual cities.

Lobet
-
Maris and Bastelaer
also
take into account features like whether the virtual city design is more
suitable for real inhabitants
or for any Internet user, as well as problems with access, the sort of metaphor
the virtual city is making use

of
, or its content and services. According to levels of information and
participation provided, together with the control exercised by the design
ers or administrators of the
websites, they established what is called ‘three development models: the blueprint model, the
experimental model and, lastly, the open model’ (
29 p.
61).

Although other
efforts

also
have
a
recognized

importance
i
n defining types

of virtual cities in cyberspace,
Aurigi and Graham’s model seems to be more appropriate
to fit in the typology which is being developed
here, due to its emphasis on the contents and structure of the websites. The other aspects considered by

11

other commenta
tors are being taken into account here as not only related to the web initiatives.
Thus,
I
will draw on Aurigi and Graham’s model to define what is being called the virtual representations of virtual
cities.


Materiality/physicality

Physical spaces are ver
y often ignored when the main issue is the virtual cities phenomenon. This is due
to the fact that
,

as generally perceived
, virtual
seems to have

nothing to do with physical. What this paper
is trying to demonstrate is that physical spaces and places are a

very relevant part of the virtual city.
A
ny
digital
-
based initiative dramatically depends on and relies on physicality

to exist;

simply because there is
no telematics without all the invisible
infrastructure

of cables and satellites.


We need to consider
the diverse, and interlinked, physical infrastructures of information
technologies (cable, public switched telephone networks, satellite, mobile, microwave, Internet
grids, transoceanic optic
fibers
, etc.), and how they support the vast panoply of continge
nt actor
-
network
.


(
17 p.
178
)

Thus, as part of the whole virtual city, physical spaces interplay with virtual spaces in very specific ways.
In other words, the phenomenon of virtual cities has been promoting deep changes in the urban physical
space. Some c
hanges are related to the creation of ‘access points’ to the virtual city. These access points
are generally assumed to be the most powerful solution
for general public access to information
technologies
.

So,

traditional public spaces and/or public buildin
gs (e.g. libraries) are being re
-
designed to
provide public access and to serve as a gateway to the virtual city in cyberspace. This reformulation
requires physical,
organizational

and
behavioral

changes of the space and its use.

Another possibility in ter
ms of spatial changes is the emergence of a completely new space conceived
and built exclusively to work as such gateway. This also implies in new physical,
organizational

and
behavioral

practices, perhaps deeper than in the previous case.

In this way, one

of the most important aspects of a virtual city is how digital spaces and physical places
relate to

each other

or how a ‘bridge’ between these two parallel worlds is shaped in terms of access,
usage, architecture, planning and so on. Once again, it leads
us to a more accurate definition of types, in
this case, types of places that are being reformulated or created

from scratch

to serve as an entering point
to the virtual city in cyberspace.

T
he concept of recombinant architecture (
31 and 32
) is important t
o explain why and how physical spaces
have been changed or created in order to incorporate ICT. As Horan (
25
) points out, ‘the concept of
recombinant design focuses attention on how digital technology can be incorporated into this complicated
yet important

placemaking process’.

R
ecombinant architecture is

so, related to the creation of

new types of places, spaces, buildings, designs,
strategies, policies and so on. In
digital places: building our city of bits
, Horan (
25
)
pushes the
recombinant concept even
further and
discriminates

between

the spaces related to telematics into three
main categories, according to
the

levels

of

integration between traditional
architectural
elements and ICT.
Horan uses the recombinant concept and the penetration of ICT elements

into the conception,
construction, aesthetic, and use of the space to name it as
unplugged
,
adaptive
, or
transformative

spaces.

Firstly, Horan
calls

‘unplugged’ those places that are totally apart from the digital revolution.
This

relate
s

to
spaces defici
ent in telematics deployment, which usually have, at the most
,

a telephone line. Perhaps a
more suitable name would be non
-
plugged spaces as most of them are excluded even from the
basic
telematics infrastructure, being close to Thrift’s (
41
) idea of ‘info
rmation ghettoes’.

It is not a coincidence that this
is the
space
related to

the
non
-
plugged
population

and usually refers to
poor suburbs in cities where there are no market interests

(the so
-
called last mile)
. A common way to
tackle access problems by pu
blic initiatives is providing infrastructure directly for
un
plugged places. Those
simple ‘technical’ actions
usually disregard

that
the problem of
access

is
not
limited

to
physical access,
but
should mean
a series of social and cultural conditions (such as

education) to
make people closer to
and more literate in
ICT.


12

There is a natural tendency pointing to a decreasing number of non
-
plugged places, as ICT becomes
common and part of
the
basic infrastructure
,

such as water and sewer
age facilities
, repeating w
hat
has
happened in the past with the
introduction

of television or the telephone.

This is not to say that poor
population will have equal opportunities with regards to access to information technology (which, as we
saw before, tends to be highly economic
selective).

Secondly, Horan calls ‘adaptive’, traditional existent spaces refurbished and adapted to shelter and use
new telematics technologies such as libraries, schools, city halls, etc. Libraries (figure 8) are a strong
example of recombinant adaptive
design to reach a community profile in the digital age, in
the
sense that
many libraries around the world have become place
s

where

many

communities of places and
communities of interests

coexist,

by linking physical and electronic spaces.


Figure
8

-

Newcastle University: recombinant adaptive design for libraries. Photo: Fuad Al
-
Ansari.

Adaptive spaces are seen by city
-
makers as a natural first step
to

tackling access problems to telematics
technologies and virtual cities
; as

place
s like libraries, schools, city halls, etc., are already public space
s,

and therefore

provide

an obvious and easier way
to

public access.

Since adaptive spaces are usually
existent places that need to be technically, logistically and architecturally adapte
d, they are also the most
common places from which virtual cities are physically accessed. Thus, the easiest way to find information
about cities as well as having access to services and commu
nication channels provided via i
ntranets is
through public space
s such as city libraries or local schools, or even through community services
located
at civic
centers

and city halls.

On the Internet, most of grounded virtual city initiatives are using, at least, city libraries as their main
public gateway to the physic
al city. Schools, for their educational role, have also a huge potential to
provide access and
to
disseminate the us
e

of
virtual cities as
the physical

city extension
.

Drawing on Horan’s adaptive space, t
here are

yet two other classifications considering
t
he level of
penetration of ICT into traditional architecture and practices
(
or the level of integration between these two
elements of the space
).

T
here will be cases in which ICT is more or less
apparent

within traditional layouts
and architecture.

Bearin
g in mind the example of libraries, there are
cases in which the architecture

and internal
procedures
of the library

as well as the use of Internet are easily
recognized

and distinguished from each other.
This
might

happen in cas
es where networks (Internet

or i
ntranets) are somehow

physically

isolated from the
traditional activities. There may be
, for instance,

a booth (figure 9
)
separating

external network

activities

and
traditional internal library procedures
, which
can be called
partially integrated

adap
tive space.


13


Figure
9

-

booths as an isolating architecture element. Source: http://www.lasipalatsi.fi

On the other hand, there are cases where ICT is perfectly integrated with the rest of the space in terms of
architecture, logis
tic, procedures and functions. Therefore, these
can be

called
totally integrated

adaptive
spaces where
,

usually, both sorts of activities and elements (traditional and ICT
-
related) are disseminated
through the building

and
,

consequently
,

more difficult

to
be
differentiate
d (figure 10)


making the level of
recombination (the new integration between the elements of the space) higher.


Figure
10

-

Newcastle University Library: shelves and networks as integrated activities. Photo: Fua
d Al
-
Ansari.

The third type of physical space described by Horan,
labeled

‘transformative’, is effectively a new space
conceived and designed exclusively to shelter digital technologies as an authentic gateway to the
cyberspace. Booths, kiosks, and places
or buildings specifically designed to provide access to the virtual
city or to make it mor
e inclusive are common examples
. In other words:

‘These are comprehensive designs that interweave electronic and physical components specifically
in response to ongoi
ng and emerging social interests and market demands for a more unified
physical and electronic interface.’ (
25 p.
09)

From small access points in the street level to civic
centers

providing

all kinds of information and services
to

common citizens including
access to the virtual city, these spaces
are usually

new in terms of
technology, architecture program and, especially, in terms of functions.

Among the options
for

places
conceived to act as this new public gateway, street kiosks (figure 1
1
) with multimedi
a information and

14

services are the most common examples. They are usually small, easy
-
to
-
set, easily
recognized

and
represent

another kind of

urban

equipment on the streets.


Figure
11

-

street level public gateways. Source: ‘Smar
t Street Concept’ at

http://www.cooper.edu/engineering/projects/gateway/eid/smstreet/smstreet.html

It is also possible to look at Horan’s transformative spaces in a more detailed way and
recognize

other two
sub
-
groups. Considering the relationship between
physical and virtual spaces and their complexity in
terms of architecture and urban design changes, transformative spaces can be discriminated into simple
access points

and
deep gateways
.

The former refers to places poorly developed in terms of building sp
ace and architectural resources.
Although they form a new kind of public space (usually embedded with the newest telecommunication
technologies), access points

are commonly
described

simply
as
another
kind of
urban

equipment (such as
benches, telephone boo
ths, postal boxes, etc.). Telephone booths with Internet access, multimedia
totems,
and information

pillars are the most common examples
of access points
(figure 1
2
).


Figure
12

-

Internet access point at Stirling train station: n
ew urban equipments. Source: personal file.


15

The latter type, deep gateways, are
part of
a more complex space sheltering several related activities and
involving a more sophisticated architectural project
,

sometimes

even requiring

urban design changes.
This

sort of space tends to involve
more complex buildings to all
ow
other activities related to the virtual cities
rather than just physical access to computer and networks.

In many cases, for instance, it is normal to find
deep gateways providing courses on
I
T skills

as an attempt to fight back ICT illiteracy. This kind of activity
would never be possible inside a street kiosk.

Deep gateways are yet

rarely f
ou
nd in operation
, due to its novelty and complexity
. In the city of Antwerp
there is a building called
ABC Centre (originally named as Antwerpen.be Centre) where the city ICT
-
agency (Telepolis) provide
s

free access to the Internet through public cyber
-
cafes as well as free courses
on informatics and telecommunication, as an attempt to
bridge

the so
-
called d
igital divide (‘have
s
’ and
‘have nots’). They a
lso have spaces for expositions and

meetings
,

and are planning to have the same
services in district houses across the city. The ABC Centre (figure 1
3
) is a new space built exclusively to
deal with ICT access
and to provide electronic services for common citizens.
Following this idea and
drawing on Horan’s recombinant designs
, this building can be considered a transformative deep gateway
for the virtual city of Antwerp.


Figure
13

-

AB
C Centre in Antwerp, a transformative deep gateway. Source: Antwerpen.be Magazine, 2001.

Public initiatives involving transformative spaces are particularly interesting from the planning point of view
as
these spaces

represent a powerful new tool to boost
information and service delivery and to serve as a
gateway to the virtual city.

However, only a few initiatives
recognize

this great potential of virtual cities and
proactively

approach new urban strategies for ICT and
physical spaces within the urban real
m. The
possibilities are enormous but still underdeveloped by city
-
makers.

Finally, it is important to
re
mind that physical places are just a part of the whole phenomenon,
but an
essential part that

has been ignored by most
of the work done on

virtual cit
ies.
Physical space need

to be
seen as a fundamental aspect of the whole virtual city

phenomenon, as

its characteristics shape the way
citizens access the virtual counterpart
s

of their cities.


CONCLUSIONS: THE VIR
TUAL CITY AS A COMPL
EX SPATIAL PHENOMENO
N

There are basically three important remarks from the issues discussed in this paper and that should be
considered for further studies about the phenomenon of virtual cities.

First, and perhaps the most important from the theoretical point of view, the conc
ept of virtual cities has to
overcome the incomplete and simplistic notion of websites on the Internet. Cities on the Internet are no

16

more than a fundamental part of the whole phenomenon of virtual cities, which includes other economic,
political, cultural

and social aspects of contemporary urban life such
,

as different interests and goals,
the
people and institutions involved, physical spaces, and also the design and structure in the cyberspace. In
this sense, a virtual city is a real parallel city that mo
ves together with the physical city and presents the
same sort of problems and spatial, cultural and social complexities.

Towards this more comprehensive understanding about the phenomenon of virtual cities, the second point
to be highlighted is
a typology

for the elements of the

virtual city, in accordance with the concept of
recombinant architecture/design/planning (figure 1
4
).

This typology considers the three strands of the
phenomenon of virtual cities discussed in this paper being ‘users’ (information
users; information used,
and non
-
plugged), ‘virtual representations’ (grounded or non
-
grounded; informative, participative or
holistic; and public intranets), and the ‘physical dimension’ (adaptive, transformative or unplugged; and
infrastructure). Without

all these aspects together, any attempt to
analyze

the virtual city may fail

for not
taking

its complexity into account
.

Finally, the third remark
concerns

the fact that only a few cities have been proactively addressing the
virtual city potential as a pl
anning tool. However, at the same time, although civic
-
based virtual cities have
predominantly been developed without deep references to the ‘real’ physical city, some new ideas are
starting to change this situation as recombinant concepts start to break d
own paradigm barriers between
the world of traditional urban planning and the world of ICT policies.


Figure
14

-

a comprehensive typology for virtual cities.


17


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I would like to express my gratitude to Professor Ste
phen Graham and Alessandro Aurigi both from
Newcastle University for their valuable comments and encouragements. Special thanks to CAPES
foundation for sponsoring the research of which this paper is a small part. I also must thank Mauricio
Bonilla and Fuad

Al
-
Ansari for kindly allowing their photographs to be published here.


NOTES

1.

Translated by the author from the original text in Portuguese. Although a translation can rarely be as
e
ffective as the original it was not considered practical to include the

original text as well as the
translation.


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