Coding Community: Interdigitations in the city street

Matthew W. Wilson, PhD
Assistant Professor of Geography
Ball State University

Coding Community is an inductive study of the relationships between technological innovation, urban neighborhood revitalization, government performance measurement, and quality-of-life indicators. It is a recognition that cities are increasingly being geocoded, that the urban and code-work are co-constitutive. As public and private spaces are being 'linked up' to expansive data networks through sophisticated mobile and wireless geographic information technologies, this research analyzes particular, everyday moments of mapping occurring in ten neighborhoods within Seattle, Washington. Between the years 2004 and 2007, the nonprofit organization Sustainable Seattle conducted over 25 participatory street surveys in a program called the "Sustainable Urban Neighborhoods Initiative" (SUNI). Participants in these street-level surveys collected geographic data about community "deficits" and "assets" using handheld devices, while walking around their local neighborhoods. Collaboratively geocoding their urban landscapes, these residents marked graffiti, litter, vacant buildings, abandoned automobiles, and sidewalk obstructions, as well as, 'friendly' business districts, appropriate building facades, peopled sidewalks, and healthy vegetation -- all among their categories of interest, initially borrowed from a New York City foundation responsible for developing the handheld devices. The Fund for the City of New York created the software for the handheld devices and developed a protocol for getting citizens involved in measuring government performance. This research asks, how do mobile spatial technologies constitute subjects and objects in everyday urban practices? Its findings contribute to the existing literature in urban political geography and GIScience, by discussing the implications of the increasingly individualized ways that bodies are coded and given digital form in the governing of city spaces.