Considerations on applying empirical research methods to infrastructural urban technology projects
Keywords:digital infrastructures, interactive urban technologies
Urban technologies are increasingly designed to support ubiquitous computing, which now includes different forms of digitally-augmented interactions in public space. This shift is underpinned by the development and management of digital infrastructures in metropolitan cities – a paradigm often rhetorically dubbed ‘smart cities’. Because the cityscape is uneven and characterized by diversity, this reconfiguration could be seen as a welcome opportunity to renegotiate the issue of agency in relation to the new technologies embedded in the built environment. Since the Urban Screen project was launched in 2005, digital art installations commissioned for public space have offered propitious terrain for rethinking this issue. Developing appropriate research methodologies, which could better support democratic practices within the infrastructural approach to urban technology design still stands out as pressing and necessary to facilitate the engagement of all concerned. This essay argues in favour of multidimensional approaches over unidimensional ones. To ground this discussion, it first describes the results of a unidimensional study carried out in 2015 in Montréal’s Quartier des Spectacles and then highlights some of the salient differences it presents with a multi-sited field study conducted on the same site from 2012-15. It finally concludes that a multidimensional approach seems more robust.