Eric Gordon


On his book The Urban Spectator: American Concept Cities from Kodak to Google

Cover Interview of March 07, 2010

A close-up

Chapter 7, on the topic of the database city, is probably my favorite chapter.  In it, I examine the development in Hollywood, California known as Hollywood and Highland.  This urban entertainment district is meant to be a representation of Hollywood in Hollywood.  It is not simply filled with images of Hollywood’s past; instead, it functions as a platform from which to consume those images.  It offers a view of the Hollywood sign from every corner, it opens up into the existing streets, and it references the city’s past without having to be explicit.  The development carefully nourishes an active spectator that can assemble and reassemble the city’s references with each turn.  This is the database city—a city with no content other than to grant access to content.  Hollywood and Highland has adopted the formal characteristics of a database.

Hollywood and Highland is a response to a new kind of spectatorship, one that I call the digital possessive.  In digital culture, possession is quite literal—networked media encourage, if not mandate, the possession of thoughts, practices and memories in personal folders, accounts and devices.  Think blogs, Flickr, Twitter, etc.  Just as information online is assembled and ordered in digital aggregators, in Hollywood and Highland, material structures, physical spaces, narratives, imagery, and other people are assembled and ordered as an urban aggregator—a physical space built to construct a sense of possession and control over urban experience and history.

While Hollywood and Highland is a spectacular example of the database city, the logic of the database and the desire for efficient aggregation is influencing much of the contemporary thinking about new urban developments.  To design good urban spaces, we need to consider how technology will be used within those spaces.  But the practices of digital consumption are not only changing how we interact with digital media in urban space; they are changing also what we expect from our spaces.  Media practices do not end when we turn away from the screen – they continue into other aspects of our lives by transferring expectations of usability from the screen to the urban environment.