From Place to NonPlace: A Case Study of Social Media and Contemporary Food Trucks

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Published in: Journal of Urban Design, vol. 17, no. 4, 2012.


Street food has contributed to the vitality of urban life across cultures for centuries; however, in recent years, major US cities are witnessing its transformation into a highly mobile service that benefits from online social media platforms. Place, social media and mobility in this food truck phenomenon are the basis for a methodological approach that aims to uncover new social dynamics occurring in cities. The first investigation departs from a social factors analysis of public space in order to reveal the cognitive and behavioural differences among various actors in relation to their direct experience of the environment specifically focusing on users of social media and non-users. The study then addresses the social processes of electronic communication and mobility among food trucks that transcend place. This research approach employs a ‘nonplace’ theoretical framework to visualize a temporal and malleable network of interconnected social and spatial processes. These investigations offer the field of urban design an analytical basis for cities confronted with emerging social processes of electronic communication and a framework to rethink the relational meaning, use, and relevance of contemporary urban place.