We’ve long conceived of our cities as knowledge repositories and data processors, and they’ve always functioned as such. Lewis Mumford observed that when the wandering rulers of the European Middle Ages settled in capital cities, they installed a “regiment of clerks and permanent officials” and established all manner of paperwork and policies (deeds, tax records, passports, fines, regulations), which necessitated a new urban apparatus, the office building, to house its bureaus and bureaucracy. The classic example is the Uffizi (Offices) in Florence, designed by Giorgio Vasari in the mid-16th century, which provided an architectural template copied in cities around the world. “The repetitions and regimentations of the bureaucratic system” — the work of data processing, formatting, and storage — left a “deep mark,” as Mumford put it, on the early modern city. […]
Why should we care about debunking obviously false metaphors? It matters because the metaphors give rise to technical models, which inform design processes, which in turn shape knowledges and politics, not to mention material cities. The sites and systems where we locate the city’s informational functions — the places where we see information-processing, storage, and transmission “happening” in the urban landscape — shape larger understandings of urban intelligence.