Welcome to the Polygon: Contested Digital Representations of Urban Neighborhoods – Will Payne

February 14, 2017

Simple decisions about how to represent the everyday idea of “neighborhood" in geospatial software (tag or object, point or polygon, user-contributed or hard-coded, overlapping or discrete, public or private) have profound consequences for how the people using these services navigate and understand their world. Digitally defined neighborhoods can become sites of political struggle through contested boundaries, contested names (from “Dumbo” to "Nopa”), and the social effects of neighborhood scale, the way that services like local social network Nextdoor's programmed delineations of neighborhood affect the way their products function. A patchwork of fixed polygonal boundaries, the dominant paradigm in contemporary location-based services, is only one of many possible ways to depict neighborhoods in code, one which reflects an organicist understanding of urban space that was already under attack in mid-20th century social science. Speaker: Will Payne, Geography PHD Student, UC Berkeley

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