Platform urbanism: City-making in the age of platforms

Mörtenböck, Peter and Mooshammer, Helge. 2020. Platform urbanism: City-making in the age of platforms. In: Peter Mörtenböck and Helge Mooshammer, eds. DATA PUBLICS: Public Plurality in an Era of Data Determinacy. Routledge, pp. 169-191. ISBN 9780367184728 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

Section III of this book (Platforms) concludes this debate by locating it in a variety of empirical contexts and by exploring the current challenges of data publics through influential platforms in the social media economy today. Mörtenböck and Mooshammer, expanding on the opaque circulations of the city as described by Moreno, turn their attention to new structures of supposedly porous relationalities within the city. The claim to break down debilitating hierarchies of outmoded forms of social and economic organization by allowing for unhindered, direct, relational interaction is frequently promoted as a primary selling point of the rapidly expanding breed of platform-based enterprises. Following the idealized model of “disruptive technologies”, which prioritizes the simple fact of change itself over longterm values, many of these investor-backed so-called start-ups are targeting key components of urban life – from transport infrastructures to the organization of work and from the realignment of government-citizen relations to numerous services that have to do with taking care of oneself, such as housing, food, and leisure.

Mörtenböck and Mooshammer embed their analysis of this kind of “platform urbanism” in a wider genealogy of the role of urban development within the evolution of capitalism. They point out how over the last decades speculation with the building blocks of urban societies has been surpassed by forms of city-making purposely designed for speculative markets, of which platform urbanism can be seen as one of the latest incarnations. Under these conditions, which are deeply entrenched in the competitive mind-sets of financial markets, urban spaces, and the social practices unfolding within and through them, are perceived not just as asset classes but as variables within a larger set of parameters that need to be managed in such a way as to achieve whatever is deemed “best performance” in the eyes of investors. Reflecting on the urban typologies employed in the recent wave of largescale campuses erected by the ruling tech giants in California’s Silicon Valley, Mörtenböck and Mooshammer detect two significant trends through which platform mentalities imprint themselves on urban space: first, a collapse of scale, in which the imaginary of personal happiness is interpolated with a technological, corporate, and governmental restructuring of urban environments of vast dimensions, and second, orchestrated moves to cement these transformations through the modeling of all-encompassing worlds, in which one company takes care of each and every need. Any visions challenging these monopole cities, Mörtenböck and Mooshammer argue, would have to start with reconsidering the structural logics of platforms. If platforms’ key assets are the provision and control of access, then what is at stake is the question of how to organize access to access.

Item Type:

Book Section

Identification Number (DOI):


Platform urbanism, co-working spaces, Silicon Valley, Big Tech HQs, semio-capitalism

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


10 June 2020Published

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Date Deposited:

11 Jan 2021 10:33

Last Modified:

28 Mar 2024 11:33


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