Dr Agnieszka Leszczynski

Agnieszka Leszczynski is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography & Environment at Western University in Canada. She is an editor of Dialogues in Human Geography, Environment and Planning F: Philosophy, Theory, Models, Methods, and Practice, and a former editor of Big Data & Society. Her current work focuses on the intensifying integration of digitality and cities.

Platforms transforming urban place

This talk considers how platforms are transforming places in cities. It does so by engaging with how traces of platfomization materially ‘show up’ and ‘touch down’ in cities, and where. Drawing on a range of empirical instances from North American cities, I situate and trace urban platform materialities in three registers: aesthetics, glitchy spatialities, and amenitization. Docked bikesharing infrastructure in Vancouver comprises a serialized aesthetics increasingly coimplicated with what gentrification ‘looks like’ in place at the sub-neighbourhood scale in cities. An e-bike sited above a tent encampment in San Jose and the ‘emoji house’ in Manhattan Beach, California, appear as aesthetic ‘glitches’ in our conditioned desires for orderly city places and Instagrammable architectures. And finally, informed by the results of a spatial analysis of the locations of platform-based presences in Canadian cities, I draw on collaborative work to position platforms as a novel urban amenity class, establishing how and why this matters for our understandings of place-making in cities. Read across these registers, platform materialities emerge as vectors of significant urban platial transformation foregrounding where platforms locate in cities – an aspect of platform urbanism as yet unexamined in the key literatures beyond short term rentals. Drawing on a geocoded dataset of visible, material traces of platformization collected across a random sample of neighbourhoods in three Canadian cities (Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal), we consider the influences that characteristics of urban environments – including existing amenities (e.g., restaurants and bars, parks and green spaces, public transit stations/stops, etc.), urban morphology (e.g., street type and density), and area-level socioeconomic factors (education, household income, and racial/ethnic diversity) – have on platforms’ material locations. On the basis of a Poisson regression of these covariates, we find that it is the presence of existing urban amenities that most strongly explains the presences of material traces of urban platformization on the cityscape at the city block scale. Positioning platforms themselves as a novel amenity class that extends emplaced (site-specific) utility and lifestyle functions to urban denizens, we contend that the platformization of urban landscapes constitutes a form of ‘splintering amenitization’, wherein (platformized) urban amenities co-locate with other (traditional, existing) urban amenities, to the exclusion of amenity-poor areas. This, we argue, is important, as city neighbourhoods’ abilities to attract amenities are central to how enclaves both position themselves within and compete for status in urban spatial hierarchies.