There are many ways to interpret the digital revolution's effect on urbanity, but there is little doubt that what we see today is merely the tip of the iceberg compared to the transformations to come. One question that has been raised recently is whether or not the form of cities will change following this technological revolution. Some have suggested that the recent digital mutations affect the way people live, but not how they use urban space (Wachter, 2010). Others, like architect Bernard Tschumi (Bürklin et Peterek, 2008), contend that the displacement of public space to the virtual realm will make the city increasingly generic, with plenty of neutral spaces – from the suburbs to the city cores – that don’t need to convey a message anymore, not to mention a specific set of functions, or even a unique urban ambiance. In this “Apple stores and Starbucks cafes” scenario, urbanity will surely be impoverished.
A third scenario, which is explored in this research project, is that the form of the city is bound to change when the coming generations of urban designers, planners, and users start to build cities that have similar spatial characteristics to cyberspace. This coming of age will see a new set of problems and solutions expressing our changing conception of urban life. If that cultural transfer form “cyber” to “urban” space indeed happens, a vibrant city will be one where public spaces are intertwined, immersive, and accessible at all times. Hence a satisfying user experience will allow one to move seamlessly from one “content” to the next (i.e., a building, an event, public art), following a set of signals (a light plan, thematic routes, green corridors, bridges and platforms) that indicates you are circulating within the network. I will even suggest that this type of spatial device that facilitate urbanity, identified here as “urban connectors”, have already started to appear in post-fonctionalist planning and are reshaping urbanity. One manifestation of this shifting paradigm is the way in which urban planners, in a constant attempt to reconnect every part of the urban body, insist on piercing monofunctional sectors, like railroad infrastructures or mass housing, with “cultural corridors”.
Looking at different examples in Montreal and elsewhere, this research project aims at opening a discussion on the changing nature of urbanity following the rise of digital culture.