Date of Award

5-2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Legacy Department

Planning, Design, and the Built Environment

Advisor

Dr. Mickey Lauria

Committee Member

Dr. Matthew Powers

Committee Member

Dr. Cliff Ellis

Committee Member

Dr. Ellen Vincent

Abstract

Public space has served as a central component to human settlement since the ancient Greeks, and a forum for unmediated discussion, communication, and debate (Hénaff & Strong, 2001; Mitchell 2003). During the industrialization of cities, public space continued to transform in form and typology, and has served society in various ways (Carr, Rivlin, Francis, & Stone, 1992). Public space is also a physical environment where interaction with digital environment occurs. Today, in the City of New York there are 503 privately owned public spaces (POPS) (Kayden, 2000); often these spaces provide varying levels of wireless access as public and/or private provisions. The role of new media and technology in physical space has captured the attention of many researchers in recent years (e.g. Manovich, 2001; Forlano, 2009; de Souza e Silva & Frith, 2012). As technology develops and becomes increasingly mobile and integrated within daily life, there is a need for researchers to also understand how this impacts the physical environment (Townsend, 2004; Forlano, 2009). Concurrently, recent literature suggests that urban public space, especially POPS, are increasingly regulated and controlled (Benton-Short, 2002; Miller, 2007; Németh & Schmidt, 2007, 2011); whereas new media technology continues to promote unmediated exchange and interaction (Manovich, 2001). Additionally, scholars have asserted that Internet access, because of its location within public space and the electronic connectivity it offers may have the ability to increase the overall use of public spaces (Hampton, Livio, & Sessions Goulet, 2010). Unfortunately, it is unclear how access to digital space within public space can affect public perception on the nature of these spaces. Forlano (2009) suggests that wireless networks can reconfigure people, places, and information in physical space. However, beyond the analysis of usage patterns there is little empirical research on how wireless technologies in public space can affect human behavior, interactions with the network, and human perceptions of these spaces and networks. Additionally, there is little research that examines the difference between device users and non-users within these environments. This study examines the role of Wi-Fi networks in five public spaces in Lower Manhattan, New York. A mixed methods approach pairs on-site observation with a survey that examines users' perceptions of these spaces. Ultimately, this study contributes to a larger body of literature that discusses the 'publicness' of public space by including the role of new media and users' behaviors in its current assessment. Findings demonstrate how access to digital media affects users' perceptions of public space.

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