A City Is Not a Computer: Other Urban Intelligences.

AuthorWang, Xun

Mattern, Shannon. A City Is Not a Computer: Other Urban Intelligences. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2021. xxi + 187 pages. Paperback, $14.99.

Built on her previous research and publications in the past two decades, in this book, Shannon Mattern tries to challenge the city-as-computer metaphor that has emerged in recent years in urban planning and urban governance. She not only traces the roots of the concept but also explores the limitations as well as the potential negative consequences of the metaphor.

The book is divided into five chapters. In Chapter 1, Mattern first points out that dashboard governance has become very popular locally and globally. Then she provides a brief review of the dashboard approach historically, showing that this mechanistic approach is nothing new. Although she acknowledges that dashboard approach is useful for data representation, contextualization and decision-making for particular targeted audiences, she argues that it "does little to educate those users about where the data come from and about whose interests they serve" (p. 48). In addition, she reminds us that too many dashboards may confuse users and make them skeptical of their value. Finally, she warns us that creating and using dashboards may reflect/reinforce existing prejudice, discrimination and inequalities embedded in the current system.

In Chapter 2, Mattern addresses the fundamental question of what makes a city a city. As a historian, again, she traces the historical roots of the city-as-computer metaphor. She argues that it is very important to debunk this false metaphor because it provides the epistemological foundation for recent urban planning and governance. She explains the city-as-computer model is appealing because "it frames the messiness of urban life as programmable and subject to rational order," thus, it is easier for bureaucrats to accept and to use (p. 65). She cautions that we should not "let the totalizing idea of city-as-computer blind you to the countless of other forms of data and sites of intelligence-generation in the city such as municipal archive, library, museum and environment" (p. 67). She concludes that city-as-computer metaphor is the product of an oversimplification which will hinder the development of heathy, just and resilient cities, and calls for new models for thinking about cities that do not compute.

Mattern believes that city-making is based on city-knowing, thus she discusses the public...

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