Space, place and location in smart cities

Cities of bits and atoms. Smart cities’ ambient intelligence
has led many researchers to question the spatiality of these
new cities especially at the point where physical space and
digital space intersect. Digital space is essentially the byproduct of the ever-growing digital skin. This issue matters
for our analysis insofar as it conditions our understanding
of space and place in commercial real estate and ultimately
property heterogeneity in smart cities.
The concept of location as a place in space has traditionally played a key role in defining heterogeneity in property markets. Indices of commercial real estate are
designed to be granular in terms of both location and property type. Therefore, how does the smart city model which
links buildings and their environments into a real time allencompassing system affect physical space (i.e. location
and buildings’ physical characteristics) as a factor of heterogeneity in real estate analysis?
To address this question, most notable are Mitchell’s
ideas captured in three seminal books published in the late
1990s and early 2000s. Mitchell’s argument focuses on the
nexus between physical and digital in smart cities, and
whether the digital domain overtakes the physical realm,
that is, bits over atoms.
Mitchell (1995) first envisioned that future cities would
be ‘‘cities of bits’’ where urban life is fundamentally
reduced to bits. In a city of bits, physical space, place, and
location do not matter. Life is unrooted to any physicality.
Over the years, Mitchell’s stance evolved, from his initial views about a city of bits and e-topia (1999) to smart
city as the ‘‘points where electronic information flows and
physical spaces intersect’’ (2003). One key factor to
explain his evolution stems from the emergence of wireless
technology which enables radically new relationships
between individuals and the environment. As the city itself
becomes ‘‘the spatial and material of the system,’’ Mitchell
deems that the separation of bits and atoms is over.
The corollary of this evolution is a continuous shift from
enclosures to networks. Boundaries in a traditional city
used to define a space of containers and places whereas
networks establish ‘‘a space of links and flows.’’ The proliferation of networks implies a gradual inversion of the
relationship between barriers and links. Mitchell (2003)
explains: ‘‘Network rather than enclosure is emerging as
the desired and contested object.’’ In other words, value of
commercial real estate in smart cities will derive less from
physical space but increasingly from real estate’s ability to
link with digital space, what industry analysts call access
(Bruelher, 2016).
Although not all researchers agree with Mitchell’s
analysis (e.g. Deakin, 2012), the overwhelming view is
that smart cities redefine the connection between physical
and digital. Ratti and Claudel (2016) talk about a ‘‘powerful collusion of physical and digital that augments
both,’’ by turning cities into ‘‘hybrid spaces of intersection of bits and atoms.’’
The crosslinkage of the physical and digital domains
transforms commercial real estate’s positioning in cities.
Buildings have long been the necessary interfaces between
humans and their environment (Ratti and Claudel, 2014b).
From the primitive hut to a place of worship, physical
structures produced space to enclose human activities and
fulfil needs, be it for protection or spirituality. In smart
cities, as noted by Ash et al. (2018), digital technologies
mediate ‘‘tasks such as work, travel, consumption and leisure,’’ thereby replacing buildings in providing the interface between humans and their every possible needs.
Increasingly, spaces are experienced through digital interfaces, thus generating new spatialities that are beyond the
traditional realm of real estate.
Ubiquitous city versus augmented city. The issue becomes
more complex when one considers that there are two types
of digital skin, each type linked to a different model of
smart city. In a ubiquitous city (or U-city), the skin is all
encompassing and ubiquitous. It delivers homogeneous
services all over the city through a centralized wireless
infrastructure. This is the case presented in Figure 1. Conversely, in an augmented city, the skin is uneven and peaks
at certain places where it produces augmented places,
also known as enhanced locations (Aurigi, 2009), as
shown in Figure 2

Enhanced locations use space and physical location as a
platform to digital. This allows for a discrete and localized
coordination of digital and physical into a new type of
‘‘augmented places.’

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