“The city, the city, my Dear Brutus – stick to that and live in its full light. Residence elsewhere, as I made up my mind in early life, is mere eclipse and obscurity to those whose energy is capable of shining in Rome.”
– Marcus Tullius Cicero
Cities in the Midst of Change
The city of today would surely shake Cicero to his core.
The city is a marvelous, intriguing place of surprise and stimulation: a place for people who work, play, live, and require a dynamic environment. But many cities have fallen on hard times. In 1900, only 10% of the human population lived in cities. Today it is 50%. The expectation is that it will reach 75% by 2050. There is just cause for a thorough and urgent re-evaluation of our urban environments.
The detrimental impact of suburban sprawl and urban blight can be seen on the economic, environmental, and vibrancy of social life in cities. Cities struggle with a variety of complex issues: the rise of privatization of formerly public spaces including shopping districts, streets, and parks; increasing technological surveillance; the demise of public space; a decreasing tax base; aging infrastructures; the loss of small businesses and the rise of the global retailer. Yet at the same time many cities are thriving. Old neighborhoods are being revitalized. Decaying industrial zones are being turned to new uses. Abandoned rail yards and tracks have become parks and recreation areas. Positive change is not only possible but necessary.
What is “Urban Communication”?
While cities have been viewed traditionally as financial, commercial, and industrial entities, a growing body of scholarship is examining cities from the perspective of communication theory. What exactly do we mean by “communication” in this context? We start from the premise that cities themselves function as a medium of communication, arguably among the world’s oldest forms of media and communication. Cities are places where messages are created, carried, and exchanged by structures, infrastructures, and people. “Urban communication” is the meshing, for better or worse, of technology and social interaction.
“Urban communication” reflects both an emergent and interdisciplinary field. It provides a fresh perspective from which to view the city and its transformation. Economists, geographers, sociologists, urban planners, environmental psychologists, artists, and others, are scrutinizing urban messages, the technologies that create and disseminate them, their interrelationships, and their far-reaching effects on the lived experience within our urban environments. The communication lens offers valuable perspectives and methodologies for the examination of the urban and suburban life. It conceptualizes the city as:
- a complex environment of interpersonal interaction,
- a landscape of spaces and places that shape human behavior; and
- an intricate technological environment.
To foreground communication in the study of urban landscapes is not new. The essence of the city is community, the relationship to communication underscored by the shared root of these words. What is new is the increased urgency for the need to harness the passions and work of all those engaged in communication research and public action.
Urban communication research is interdisciplinary and collaborative with other research and creative disciplines. As such, we invite participation from architects, urban planners, environmental psychologists, geographers, sociologists, political scientists, journalists, and all scholars and practitioners who study, think about, and share our concern for the future of our cities.
Gary Gumpert, President
The Urban Communication Foundation