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Boundary Cities . Cities as individual and non-local options

What is a MegaMarket doing right next to a farmhouse? The old city centers are specializing and the periphery is booming. Are the new media also partially responsible for this change of centrality?

The abstract model of ‘Boundary Cities’ is dedicated to this up-to-date question. It is an abstract model of fields of possibility relating to the cities inhabitants; individual alternatives for action in order to achieve an urban infrastructure. Do we order a video by phone, visit a virtual film presentation or do we go ‘really’ into the nearest cinema? Unable to detect and evaluate all the possible alternatives at the same time, we often choose randomly or according to habit.

Depending on the individually available information, the city becomes a situative ambience; a subjective domain of possibility between ‘information peak’ and ‘information outback’. The distribution of the municipal infrastructure changes.

Susan Leigh Star describes the relationships between space and function as unclear and variable. Spaces can be assigned different functions. A unique assignment of function appears to be impossible. For these ambiguous constellations, Leigh Star uses the expression ‘Boundary Object’. Such an object is ambivalent, open and flexible but, at the same time, precisely defined.

Does this also apply to urban centrality? Of course. Ambiguity is the essence of today’s cities. Antonino Saggio has a term for this: ‘new subjectivity’. His corresponding wish is that interactivity contributes towards creating an environment which “addresses the subjectivity of our wishes”.

Centrality is usually described as an impersonal excess of meaning attached to a specific location, apparently firmly entrenched in a local network of ‘central facilities’. With the growing possibilities of transport and communication, however, our individual possibilities of choice are increasing as well. What is locally on offer is supplementing itself more intensively with the non-local. The individual field of possibility is gaining in significance. One’s own location is becoming clearly more perceptible in relation to the situative ‘boundary object’. Can centrality now be understood as an individual, non-local excess of information as well?

”Boundary Cities’ are abstract city sets which, in this context, model different possible cases. There are two polar extremes. Either we are able to reach all the possible facilities with all means of transport or we do not reach any of these facilities with any means of transport. In the first case, we are in the ‘information peak’; in the second case, in the ‘information outback’. Somewhere in between, an enormous number of individual possibilities unfold. If we decide – purely randomly – in favor of one possible alternative, there is normal distribution. Exactly half of all possible cases are the most frequent; we are in a state of ‘information balance’. This distribution is astonishingly similar to the present picture of our cities.

This scenario simulates the free and situation-related formation of centrality, comparable with a purely market-economy development. If one prefers the social market economy, however, the question arises as to what are the future perspectives regarding the general satisfaction of our needs.


HÖHL, Wolfgang (2000): Cities of the Media – City Planning and Communication Theory, Passagen Editors, Vienna / Austria. With a preface by VALIE EXPORT

STAR, Susan Leigh (1989): The Structure of III-Structured Solutions – Boundary Objects and Heterogenous Distributed Problem Solving . Distributed Artificial Intelligence; London 1989, pp. 37 – 54.

SAGGIO, Antonino (2001): Neue Subjektivität. Architektur zwischen Kommunikation und Information in: digital / real. Blobmeister. erste gebaute Projekte; Hrsg. P.C. Schmal. Birkhäuser 2001, S. 28f.

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