Geographic information systems (GIS) predetermine the use of space. This change in the built environment is hidden from the users of most mobile applications. However, it is increasingly apparent in the everyday lives of those who facilitate these apps. The labor geographies of digital platform workers express how algorithmic control reaches beyond the screen.
This paper considers the invisible workers of the so-called »gig economy« as a means to analyze the collective city – the commons both digital and physical – and the design of everyday things in keeping with Rudofsky’s argument against architecture »of merchant princes and princes of blood.« Labor geographies in the city offer a nonwestern, nonstereotypical approach to spatial injustice and augmented reality as a redress to »White Monopoly Capital« and the colonizing gaze of the »Dot-Com City,« which perpetuates historic land appropriation, discrimination, displacement, and containment. Thereby magnifying Henry Lefebvre’s notion of »the Right to the City« and bidding »farewell to an idea« of benign capitalism, modernism, or utopia as defined by neoliberalism (neocolonialism).
In »The Order of the City,« Diana Agrest states, »a design practice must take the city as a point of departure for the development of new critical concepts, which reveal the limits and weaknesses of both the urban ideology of the Modern movement and the simple reversal of this ideology. The city is the source of a new vocabulary, and a more powerful syntax of architecture.« However, whether power remains in the hands of established systems is an important consideration in developing any new concepts. As such, how the spatial implications of digital technology in urbanism is seen: that is to say distributed, networked, fragmented, or splintered (to borrow the nomenclature put forward by Steve Graham and Simon Marvin), it reproduces feudalistic divisions that separate the haves and the have-nots. The city is experienced via separate digital dashboards as well as segregated spaces.
The fact that digital technologies have significantly impacted the way in which urban placemaking has developed is not in question, particularly regarding digital platforms that redefine the choreography of daily life and labor geographies. Platform urbanism is a direct
result of the increased distribution of internet-enabled mobile telephones, so-called smartphones, and the proliferation of digital infrastructure. Both have changed the way communities engage with established forms of transit, and commercial or recreational spaces in cities. As Susan Leigh Star points out, digital platforms also reflect how digital technology is built on top of existing foundations. For example, when you perform a Google search, its algorithm sits upon an existing archive of electronic information. Equally, we cannot use food delivery platforms like Uber Eats or Deliveroo without there being an established network of restaurants in a pre-existing community. Nevertheless, the city today is increasingly dominated by Silicon Valley corporations, such as the e-commerce website Amazon, which together with the use of mobile technology in communities, delimit everyday places in new ways. Platform urbanism – the collective name given to this new hegemony of private enterprise – is nevertheless not immune to the Imperial Gaze or »structural violence« that has thus far defined the inequality of the urban condition or human settlement in large part due to the price of smartphones or an internet connection. As the digital systems that we rely on multiply, proliferate, and become increasingly ubiquitous, the built environment in turn becomes increasingly connected to an augmented reality: as e-commerce adoption in communities rises, footfall in shopping malls decreases, leading to vacancies and eventual dereliction; as ride-hailing proliferates, public transit system usage readjusts while road congestion increases; and as the use of transnational »home-sharing« via platforms like Airbnb, or flexible workspaces like WeWork increases, so too do the disruptions to local real estate and housing markets. In other words, every individual user on a digital platform is a participant in urban planning. For better or worse, through the collective decision-making or wisdom of the crowd generated online, communities are upvoting urban design changes with every click-to-buy on platforms.