Architecture, Infrastructure, and Broadband Civic Network Design: An Institutional View
Cultural values frame architectures, and architectures motivate infrastructures-by which we mean the foundational telecommunications and Internet access services that software applications depend on. Design is the social process that realizes architectural elements in an infrastructure. This process is often a conflicted one where transformative visions confront the realities of entrenched power, where innovation confronts pressure from institutionalized interests and practices working to resist change and reproduce the status quo in the design outcome. We use this viewpoint to discuss design aspects of the Urban-net, a broadband civic networking case. Civic networks are embodiments of distinctive technological configurations and forms of social order. In choosing some technological configurations over others, designers are favoring some social structural configurations over alternatives. To the extent that a civic network sets out to reconfigure the prevailing social order (as was the case in the Urban-net project considered here), the design process becomes the arena where challengers of the prevailing order encounter its defenders. In this case the defenders prevailed, and the design that emerged was conservative and reproduced the status quo. What steps can stakeholders take so that the project’s future development is in line with the original aim of structural change? We outline two strategies. We argue the importance of articulating cultural desiderata in an architecture that stakeholders can use to open up the infrastructure to new constituents and incremental change. Next, we argue the importance of designing the conditions of design. The climate in which social interactions occur can powerfully shape design outcomes, but this does not usually figure in stakeholders’ design concerns.