Dissemination Networks: Are We Reaching Everybody?
The city is a setting, a habitat, and a support. We read about it in articles, news reports and history books, we study it and, above all, we develop theories, projects, and plans for it. The city is a place, but it is also the sum total of a complex imaginary that is experienced, interpreted, and narrated; hence the importance of architectural dissemination and of the instruments which make information accessible to all.
The urban environment invites exploration, research and practice in different fields and specialisations, and in numerous registers. While paper is still the preferred medium for academic and institutional publications, digital formats have evolved rapidly over the last ten years and this, allied to internet, has resulted in a mushrooming of blogs offering directories and links. These blogs, which could be described as a depository of information, have made it possible to build up an open, accessible, diverse knowledge community. Architecture blogs, for example, offering content related to cities and urban planning, are run by architects engaged in research or who use their own work and training experiences to help disseminate that content and “communicate architecture” in the broadest sense of the expression.
However, there is something else that needs to be addressed: the overestimation of the amount of architecture and urban planning material that actually gets to be shared. Here, it’s not so much a question of who writes the material, as of who it is written for. Does the content generated in these knowledge communities reach everybody? Architecture and urban planning blogs are indeed a source of information, but they are read mainly by architects and professionals working in architecture-related fields. For a long time, architecture and urban planning have closeted themselves away as elitist discourses circumscribed to small groups of specialists, avoiding the attention of people in other spheres of activity and shunning exposure to the general public. This is a self-interested attitude that often afflicts the profession and distracts it from its true mission, that of serving society.
So why doesn’t this material reach a larger collective audience? Is it a question of interest? And if so, who generates that interest? The issue was addressed in 2014 in an article called “New Forms of Dissemination in Architecture”, which optimistically focussed on the idea that blogs would change the status quo. But have things changed since then? One sign that urban issues have begun to arouse more widespread interest is the inclusion of opinion sections on the web pages of the some of the big newspapers as a (somewhat limited) response to the success of many blogs.
On the other hand, however complicated it may be to incorporate new ideas into day-to-day discourse, it may be fallacious to say that the difficulty lies in a general lack of interest or that digital media could make the subject more attractive. Personally, therefore, I tend to think that the architectural narrative should be brought down to earth, removed from the realm of egocentric experts, and shared. When we talk about cities, urban planning, and architecture in terms of communication and dissemination, what’s missing is the participation of people from other disciplines. In architecture, dissemination is also a service, and if ideas are to be shared effectively the discourse must be moved into the citizens’ domain, regardless of citizens’ professions and occupations. Perhaps that way we could start talking about a true network.