The Virtual Dimension

Global City Challenges: Debating a Concept, Improving the Practice, M. Acuto and W. Steele, 2013. London: Palgrave. 117-139.

20 Pages Posted: 7 Feb 2013 Last revised: 16 Jul 2014

Mark Graham

University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute

Date Written: February 6, 2013


Cities are comprised of bricks and mortar, concrete and glass, roads, rails, pipes and cables, people, plants and animals. The layers of cities also include the many histories, memories, legends, and stories that people ascribe to place (Crang 1996; Graham 2009). Yet cities have been going through two important transitions that have brought into being new dimensions that profoundly matter for the ways that we interact with our urban environments. Cities are no longer just confined to their material presences: they have become both digital and digitised.

Within the Global City literature, much has been written about the ways that both social/business and material/infrastructural networks crucially matter to the development of cities (e.g. Acuto 2011). But this chapter focuses on another component of our urban environments: the many, often invisible and ephemeral, digital layers of cities. The virtual elements of cities are immensely significant. Cities ooze data; they are structured by code and software; they cast innumerable digital shadows.

The goal of this chapter is to interrogate these virtual layers of the city. By asking what they are, where they are, and why they matter, we can then explore their significance for global cities. Specifically, with a case study of user-generated content about the city of Jerusalem, we can ask whether contemporary ICTs are reinforcing dual urbanisms and splintering cities or if their potentially open nature allows for a bypassing of concentrations of power that have always been found between and within global cities (Sassen 2005).

The rest of this section now reviews some of the key ways in which the virtual dimensions of cities influence the social, economic, and political characteristics, experiences, and interpretations of cities. Four concepts are particularly useful in describing the intersections between the digital and the material: palimpsests, augmented reality, code/space, and digiplace.

Suggested Citation

Graham, Mark, The Virtual Dimension (February 6, 2013). Global City Challenges: Debating a Concept, Improving the Practice, M. Acuto and W. Steele, 2013. London: Palgrave. 117-139.. Available at SSRN:

Mark Graham (Contact Author)

University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute ( email )

1 St. Giles
University of Oxford
Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 3JS
United Kingdom


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