A picture’s worth a thousand words – Part 1
"A single photo is a not a 'data point' but a whole world, rich in meanings, emotions and visual patterns." Moritz Stefaner, Selfiecity as shared by Lev Manovich (2015).
What started out as an innocent little blog idea has somehow morphed into the equivalent of a master’s thesis, so I'm going to break it down into a few blogs to keep it a little easier to digest.
Part 1a: Introduction to Digital Images and the City
As we move from ‘the modern city’ of Moses’ time into the city of authenticity, the media is undoubtedly informing our social imagery of place and is continually showing us how quickly it can reinvent our imagery through language and images (Zukin, 2009). Through topophilia, digital media platforms are becoming branding platforms for cities (Tuan, 1990) at the same time our post-modern life is oversaturated with signs (Baudrillard, 2016).
We are experiencing a pastichization of cities, a combining of past and present, simulation and imitation, instigated by the transient nature of ideas through digital media (Baudrillard, 2016). Sometimes these fleeting moments are captured and frozen in digital time, creating a social imaginary of what once was - to be used for what could be – such as shopping for a neighbourhood by counting Subarus in the driveways on Google Maps (Williams, 2013) possibly leading to a simulacratization of urban realities (Baudrillard, 2016). In doing so, neighbourhoods that can offer opportunities for cultural consumption, or at least can appear to through digital imagery and symbolic reproduction, become or can become, marketable brands directly through a bricolage of what the growth machines want (Harvey, 1989b; Nayak & Jeffrey, 2013; Zukin, 2009).
The simulacrum of Paris, which highlights affluence, romance, and culture, versus the extremes of both violence and poverty present throughout the city, is a poignant example of what little we know about cities around the globe in general—our perceptions and the realities are misaligned (Nayak & Jeffrey, 2013). Orientalism as theorized by Said (1995), extends beyond just the Orient and gives us a framework for how fictional representation becomes fact through repetition over time (Nayak & Jeffrey, 2013). In Canada, this imagineering also occurs with regions such as ‘Japantown’ in Vancouver, a community designed by governments that is more an exercise in neoliberal urban planning than it is about cultural expression (Masuda, 2018). These constructs of new signs and imagery are symptomatic of the current post-modern condition with the ability to accelerate capital processes over space and time, however, there is still a glimmer of Massey’s position that cities are ‘wild’, non-fixative forms if you look in the right place (Allen, Massey, & Pile, 2005; Baudrillard, 2002; Harvey, 1989a).
Part1b: Looking in the Right Place
The next few blogs will dive into the rich data of Google Images. Using a comparative analysis of four Google search terms, 50 images each, for a total of 200 images, a form of neighbourhood brand emerges. Each search term represents a neighbourhood in Kingston, Ontario, with one being city-specific: Mcburney Kingston Ontario, Williamsville Kingston Ontario, Portsmouth Kingston Ontario, and Kingston Ontario. Each photo has three distinct areas for analysis – the image itself, the title, the source. Each one is coded by target audience (tourism attraction, student attraction, resident attraction, resident support, business attraction, generic), sentiment (positive, neutral, negative), type (photo, rendering, map, graphic), overall theme (family, history, culture, crime and safety, commerce, green/outdoor spaces, activism, real estate, services, gentrification, politics) categories (park, recreation, green space, water, housing, construction, events, politics, playgrounds, activism, non-profit, public art, food and beverage, shopping, monument, education, city hall, cemetery, not in the area), source (media, government, realtor, resident, tourism promotion, subject-specific organizations, social media, commercial, general info sites). Analysis, at this time, has focused on (and what will be the future blog posts):
The City vs the Neighbourhood: Who’s stuck in the past and who’s moving forward.
Growth Coalition vs the Commons: Who owns the brand?
Williamsville: The neighbourhood in transition.
McBurney: A Right to the City brand in the making.
Portsmouth: Bluewashing the past.
A student town: No one would know.
Changing the brand – where to start by looking at image sentiment.
For now, feel free to do your own Google image search for each neighbourhood and see what stories you see emerging.
PS: For now, this isn’t a temporal study – but wouldn’t that be fascinating, too?
Allen, J., Massey, D., & Pile, S. (2005). City worlds. Routledge.
Baudrillard, J. (2002). Screened out. Verso.
Baudrillard, J. (2016). The consumer society: Myths and structures. Sage.
Harvey, D. (1989a). From managerialism to entrepreneurialism: the transformation in urban governance in late capitalism. Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography, 71(1), 3-17.
Harvey, D. (1989b). The condition of postmodernity (Vol. 14). Oxford: Blackwell.
Manovich, L. (2015). Exploring urban social media: Selfiecity and On Broadway. Online: Manovich.
Masuda, J. (2018). Right to Remain and Dublin Homelessness. [Research Seminar: Queen’s University, October 31]. Kingston, On.
Nayak, A., & Jeffrey, A. (2013). Geographical thought: An introduction to ideas in human geography. Routledge.
Said, E. W. (1995). Orientalism: western conceptions of the Orient. 1978. Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin.
Tuan, Y. F. (1990). Topophilia: A study of environmental perceptions, attitudes, and values. Columbia University Press.
Williams, A. (2013). Creating hipsturbia. Style desk. New York Times.
Zukin, S. (2009). Naked city: The death and life of authentic urban places. Oxford University Press.
 Robert Moses was the City Parks Commissioner for New York City and a ‘master builder’ during the Ford era (1930s-1960s).  Topophilia refers to a strong sense of place.  Simulcratization is based on simulacrum which refers to an image or representation of someone or something, often consider an unsatisfactory imitation.  Bricolage refers to a construction or creation from a diverse range of available things.