A Study of the Relationship of Digital Media, Urban Space and Urban Experience in Kings Cross Central
The social, experiential, and physical spaces of a city are more and more often defined, navigated, and experienced with data generated by digital devices.
Urban branding, public space design and visual culture are key elements for placemaking in urban regeneration projects. The concept of placemaking was introduced by Jane Jacobs and William H. Whyte calling for urban planners to create ‘human-centered cities’. In this contemporary moment and in the competition for relevancy against other cities, images and perceptions about urban experiences are enhanced through digital media to promote a distinct urban visual culture. This competition between cities is discussed at length in the cultural economy and creative cities discourse, which seeks to mobilize creativity as an urban strategy in development. Along with placemaking, the character of a city is not just set in motion by urban strategies. The urban visual culture is perpetuated by the community where the city is not only constructed through physical materiality but also through mediums of representation. With the ability to document and circulate images about neighborhoods on visual social media platforms, distinct urban imaginaries represent physical spaces, especially neighborhoods that are centered on experience economy.
I propose that digital media not only aid in the visualization of urban life experiences, but also are an infrastructure which produce an online neighborhood, a curated and limited representation of activity in the built environment. It promotes engagement with the urban fabric and acts as a catalyst in the movement of people into urban space. Not only does this paper contribute to the ongoing discourse about digital media, urban life and the built environment, but it also serves as an invitation to architectural and urban scholarship to explore this discourse further and think about the role of digital technologies in the built environment. I have noted a distinct phenomenon, where the development of digital media has changed the way people experience urban space. A term I coined as digital placemaking-the use of digital media to construct an experiential and distinct visual narrative of place. My research examines the relationship between the physical urban space and virtual urban space of the Canalside steps in Kings Cross, as its urban activity is highly circulated through digital media. Germaine Halegoua, communication and media scholar, proposes that digital placemaking ‘re-placeing the city’ a ‘subjective, habitual practice of assessing and combining physical, social, and digital contexts in order to more fully understand one’s embeddedness within urban places and to reproduce a unique sense of place through the use of digital media affordances’.
There are many social media applications that contribute to this phenomena, Facebook, TikTok and WhatsApp, but I will narrow the focus onto the perception of urban space presented by Instagram users, since this application is the most prevalent for image sharing. Instagram has the ability for users to document and circulate their experiences in urban space through photography and videos which curates an experiential view of urban space. Instagram, launched in 2010, is regarded as a communication and social technology which can facilitate image sharing between urban dwellers in the built environment. Images are vital in shaping the perception associated with urban life, these images construct a ‘new urban imaginary’. Instagram users engage in a selective process and are more likely to share certain desired experiences and rule out undesirable ones: ‘Instagram images, in turn, become operative in changing the city’ with a similar position and focus. One hundred thousand postings that tend to not deviate from the curated visual narrative. Who are the gatekeepers perpetuating this narrative? A homogenous representation is constructed even though it has been generated and uploaded by a diverse public.
This research seeks to answer three questions in observation of the digital placemaking phenomena which occur in urban spaces:
How is the online neighborhood created and presented digitally?
How do these projections feed back into how people physically experience urban space?
What or Who is excluded from the online neighborhood?
In this contemporary moment, our social experiences are shifting towards the online neighborhood. Digital media aid in visualization of urban life experiences, and also as an infrastructure which produce a selective representation of urban activity. Digital placemaking is a selective and exclusionary practice, as there is a hierarchy of what gets added to the online neighborhood. Not all tags are created equal, and not all images are represented equally. These are social productions and hold space in the digital world, dependent and independent of the physical space they represent. Halegoua and Polson have noted that these practices help urban dwellers to better ‘understand embeddedness within urban places and to foster a unique sense of place within a rapidly changing urban environment’. When I compared my site observations with the digital observations, I noted there were contesting narratives, the one happening in the urban space and the one represented online. The nuances of urban life are apparent on site, but when you observe the online neighborhood, they are omitted. Maintenance, noise, construction, trash, and workers become invisible figures. The aim of my research was to expand this discourse into our discipline, as these are interesting themes for us to investigate. They have been discussed at length in the communications and media scholarship, should we not engage more with these theories as well?
 ‘Introduction: Seeing The City Digitally’, in Seeing the City Digitally, ed. by Gillian Rose, Processing Urban Space and Time (Amsterdam University Press, 2022), pp. 9–34 (p. 9) <https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv2j6xrs3.4>.
 Monica Degen and Isobel Ward, ‘Future Urban Imaginaries: Placemaking and Digital Visualizations’, in Seeing the City Digitally, ed. by Gillian Rose, Processing Urban Space and Time (Amsterdam University Press, 2022), 112, https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv2j6xrs3.8.
 Charles Landry, The Creative City: A Toolkit for Urban Innovators, 2nd ed. (Bournes Green, Gloucestershire: Comedia, 2008).
 Germaine R. Halegoua, The Digital City: Media and the Social Production of Place (New York: NYU Press, 2019), 5, https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv1jk0hr9.3.
 John D. Boy and Justus Uitermark, ‘Reassembling the City Through Instagram’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 42, no. 4 (2017): 612, https://doi.org/10.1111/tran.12185.
 Degen and Ward, 112.
 Degen and Ward, 130.
 This figure was recorded at the time of research.
 Halegoua and Polson, p. 574.