Marcus Foth


A central notion in urban design, urban interaction design, and placemaking is the user of public space, the occupant, resident, citizen, bystander, passer-by, explorer, or flâneur. When the field of human-computer interaction (HCI) first emerged, the disciplines that represented the “human” aspects of HCI included behavioural psychology, cognitive science and human factors engineering. This situatedness begs the question whether the “user” requires different contextualisations beyond the immediate and traditional HCI concerns of the technical interface, that is, beyond usability.
This article aims to illustrate the need for placemakers and urban interaction designers to be transdisciplinary and agile in order to navigate different levels of granularity. This article seeks to practice granular agile thinking by introducing five possible ways to think about the “urban user” and the implications that follow: the user as city resident; the user as consumer of city services; the user as participant in the city’s community consultations; the user as co-creator in a collaborative approach to citymaking, and finally; the user re-thought as part of a much larger and more complex ecosystem of more-than-human worlds and of cohabitation – a process that decentres the human in the design of collaborative cities.


How to Cite
Foth, M. (2017) “Participation, Co-Creation, and Public Space”, The Journal of Public Space, 2(4), pp. 21–36. doi: 10.5204/jps.v2i4.139.
Author Biography

Marcus Foth, Queensland University of Technology

Marcus Foth is Professor of Urban Informatics in the QUT Design Lab, Creative Industries Faculty at Queensland University of Technology. He is also an Honorary Professor in the School of Communication and Culture at Aarhus University, Denmark.
Professor Foth’s research brings together people, place, and technology. His transdisciplinary work is at the international forefront of human-computer interaction research and development with a focus on smart cities, community engagement, media architecture, internet studies, ubiquitous computing, and sustainability.
Professor Foth founded the Urban Informatics Research Lab at QUT in 2006. Ahead of their time and before the term “smart cities” became popular, the lab pioneered a new field of study and practice: Urban informatics examines people creating, applying and using information and communication technology and data in cities and urban environments.
Professor Foth has authored and co-authored over 180 publications in journals, edited books, and conference proceedings. He received a Queensland Young Tall Poppy Science Award 2013, and was inducted by the planning, design and development site Planetizen to the world’s top 25 leading thinkers and innovators in the field of urban planning and technology.
In 2017, the Australian Computer Society (ACS) made Professor Foth a fellow for “a sustained and distinguished contribution to the field of computer science. Foth is the international thought leader who coined the term urban informatics – now adopted by universities and industry worldwide. Foth’s work makes clear how academic research can successfully respond to societal challenges.”


Amin, A. (2007). Re-thinking the urban social. City, 11(1), 100-114.

Aiginger, K., Schratzenstaller, M., Leoni, T., Schaffartzik, A., Wiedenhofer, D., Fischer-Kowalski, M., … Behrens, A. (2016). Europe’s Path Towards the Socio-Ecological Transition. Intereconomics, 51(4), 184–184.

Alexander, S. (2016). A Prosperous Descent: Telling New Stories as the Old Book Closes. Griffith Review, 52.

Aoki, P. M., Honicky, R. J., Mainwaring, A., Myers, C., Paulos, E., Subramanian, S., & Woodruff, A. (2009). A vehicle for research: using street sweepers to explore the landscape of environmental community action. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 375–384). ACM.

Bannon, L. (1992). From human factors to human actors: the role of psychology and human-computer interaction studies in system design. In Design at work (pp. 25–44). L. Erlbaum Associates Inc.

Bassoli, A., Brewer, J., Martin, K., Dourish, P., & Mainwaring, S. (2007). Underground Aesthetics: Rethinking Urban Computing. IEEE Pervasive Computing / IEEE Computer Society [and] IEEE Communications Society, 6(3), 39–45.

Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Finkenauer, C., & Vohs, K. D. (2001). Bad is stronger than good. Review of General Psychology: Journal of Division 1, of the American Psychological Association, 5(4), 323–370.

Beer, D., & Burrows, R. (2007). Sociology and, of and in Web 2.0: Some Initial Considerations. Sociological Research Online, 12(5). Retrieved from http://www.socresonline.org.uk/12/5/17.html

Bilandzic, M., & Foth, M. (2012). A review of locative media, mobile and embodied spatial interaction. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 70(1), 66–71.

Björgvinsson, E., Ehn, P., & Hillgren, P.-A. (2010). Participatory design and democratizing innovation. In Proceedings of the 11th Biennial Participatory Design Conference (pp. 41–50). ACM.

Björgvinsson, E., Ehn, P., & Hillgren, P.-A. (2012). Agonistic participatory design: working with marginalised social movements. CoDesign, 8(2-3), 127–144.

Blomkvist, S. (2002). The User as a Personality-Using Personas as a Tool for Design. KTH-Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm Www. Nada. Kth. Se/ tessy/Blomkvist. Pdf.

Bradbury, H. (2015). The SAGE Handbook of Action Research. SAGE.

Brody, S. D., Godschalk, D. R., & Burby, R. J. (2003). Mandating Citizen Participation in Plan Making: Six Strategic Planning Choices. Journal of the American Planning Association. American Planning Association, 69(3), 245–264.

Burby, R. J. (2003). Making Plans that Matter: Citizen Involvement and Government Action. Journal of the American Planning Association. American Planning Association, 69(1), 33–49.

Caldwell, G. A., & Foth, M. (2014). DIY media architecture: open and participatory approaches to community engagement. In Proceedings of the 2nd Media Architecture Biennale Conference: World Cities (pp. 1–10). ACM.

Caldwell, G. A., & Foth, M. (2017). Media Architecture: Using Information and Media as Construction Material. In A. Wiethoff & H. Hussmann (Eds.), DIY/DIWO Media Architecture: The InstaBooth (pp. 61–80). Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG.

Caldwell, G. A., Osborne, L., Mewburn, I., & Crowther, P. (2015). Guerrillas in the [Urban] Midst: Developing and Using Creative Research Methods—Guerrilla Research Tactics. Journal of Urban Technology, 22(3), 21–36.

Calzada, I. (2013). Critical Social Innovation in the Smart City Era for a City-Regional European Horizon 2020. Retrieved from https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2506952

Camacho, T., Foth, M., & Rakotonirainy, A. (2013). Pervasive Technology and Public Transport: Opportunities Beyond Telematics. IEEE Pervasive Computing / IEEE Computer Society [and] IEEE Communications Society, 12(1), 18–25.

Camacho, T., Foth, M., Rakotonirainy, A., & Rittenbruch, M. (2017/4). Understanding urban rail in-vehicle activities: An activity theory approach. Transportation Research. Part F, Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, 46, Part A, 70–86.

Camacho, T., Foth, M., Rakotonirainy, A., Rittenbruch, M., & Bunker, J. (2016). The role of passenger-centric innovation in the future of public transport. Public Transport, 8(3), 453–475.

Camacho, T., Foth, M., Rittenbruch, M., & Rakotonirainy, A. (2015). TrainYarn: Probing Perceptions of Social Space in Urban Commuter Trains. In Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Australian Special Interest Group for Computer Human Interaction (pp. 455–464). ACM.

Carayannis, E. G., Barth, T. D., & Campbell, D. F. J. (2012). The Quintuple Helix innovation model: global warming as a challenge and driver for innovation. Journal of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, 1(1), 2.

Cicada. (2016). Cicada: A Distributed Direct Democracy and Decentralized Application Platform. Retrieved from https://github.com/the-laughing-monkey/cicada-platform/blob/master/Cicada-WhitePaper-2016-10.13.GA.1.pdf

Cox, A. L., Gould, S. J. J., Cecchinato, M. E., Iacovides, I., & Renfree, I. (2016). Design Frictions for Mindful Interactions: The Case for Microboundaries. In Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 1389–1397). ACM.

Dick, B. (2002). Building agreement from disagreement: the anatomy of dialectical processes. Chapel Hill, QLD: Interchange.

DiSalvo, C. (2012). Adversarial Design. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

DiSalvo, C., & Lukens, J. (2011). Nonanthropocentrism and the Nonhuman in Design: Possibilities for Designing New Forms of Engagement with and through Technology. From Social Butterfly to Engaged Citizen: Urban Informatics, Social Media, Ubiquitous Computing, and Mobile Technology to Support Citizen Engagement, 421.

Finn, D. (2014). DIY urbanism: implications for cities. Journal of Urbanism: International Research on Placemaking and Urban Sustainability, 7(4), 381–398.

Forlano, L. (2009). Codespaces: Community Wireless Networks and the Reconfiguration of Cities. In M. Foth (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Urban Informatics (pp. 292–309). IGI Global.

Forlano, L. (2016). Decentering the Human in the Design of Collaborative Cities. Design Issues, 32(3), 42–54.

Foth, M. (2016). Why we should design smart cities for getting lost. In J. Watson (Ed.), The Conversation Yearbook 2016: 50 Standout Articles from Australia’s Top Thinkers (pp. 109–113). Melbourne, Australia: Melbourne University Press.

Foth, M., & Adkins, B. (2006). A Research Design to Build Effective Partnerships between City Planners, Developers, Government and Urban Neighbourhood Communities. The Journal of Community Informatics, 2(2). Retrieved from http://ci-journal.net/index.php/ciej/article/viewArticle/292

Foth, M., & Axup, J. (2006). Participatory Design and Action Research: Identical Twins or Synergetic Pair? Presented at the Participatory Design Conference (PDC), Trento, Italy.

Foth, M., Brynskov, M., & Ojala, T. (2015). Citizen’s Right to the Digital City: Urban Interfaces, Activism, and Placemaking. Springer.

Foth, M., Forlano, L., Satchell, C., & Gibbs, M. (2011). From Social Butterfly to Engaged Citizen: Urban Informatics, Social Media, Ubiquitous Computing, and Mobile Technology to Support Citizen Engagement. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Foth, M., Parra Agudelo, L., & Palleis, R. (2013). Digital soapboxes: towards an interaction design agenda for situated civic innovation. In Proceedings of the 2013 ACM conference on Pervasive and ubiquitous computing adjunct publication (pp. 725–728). ACM.

Foth, M., Schroeter, R., & Ti, J. (2013). Opportunities of Public Transport Experience Enhancements with Mobile Services and Urban Screens. International Journal of Ambient Computing and Intelligence (IJACI), 5(1), 1–18.

Foth, M., Tomitsch, M., Satchell, C., & Haeusler, M. H. (2015). From Users to Citizens: Some Thoughts on Designing for Polity and Civics. In Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Australian Special Interest Group for Computer Human Interaction (pp. 623–633). ACM.

Fredericks, J., Caldwell, G. A., & Tomitsch, M. (2016). Middle-out design: collaborative community engagement in urban HCI. In Proceedings of the 28th Australian Conference on Computer-Human Interaction (pp. 200–204). ACM.

Fredericks, J., & Foth, M. (2013). Augmenting public participation: enhancing planning outcomes through the use of social media and web 2.0. Australian Planner, 50(3), 244–256.

Fry, T. (2003). The Dialectic of Sustainment. Design Philosophy Papers, 1(5), 289–297.

Fry, T. (2009). Design Futuring: Sustainability, Ethics and New Practice. Bloomsbury Academic.

Fry, T. (2011). Time and the Political: Post-Urban Futures, Chronophobia and Unsettlement. Design Philosophy Papers, 9(2), 93–101.

Giaccardi, E., Cila, N., Speed, C., & Caldwell, M. (2016). Thing Ethnography: Doing Design Research with Non-Humans. In Proceedings of the 2016 ACM Conference on Designing Interactive Systems (pp. 377–387). ACM.

Giaccardi, E., Speed, C., Cila, N., & Caldwell, M. L. (2016). Design Anthropological Futures. In R. C. Smith, K. T. Vangkilde, M. G. Kjærsgaard, T. Otto, J. Halse, & T. Binder (Eds.), Things as Co-Ethnographers: Implications of a Thing Perspective for Design and Anthropology (pp. 235–248). Bloomsbury Academic.

Goffman, E. (2009). Relations in Public. Transaction Publishers.

Gordon, E., & de Souza e Silva, A. (2011). Net Locality: Why Location Matters in a Networked World. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons.

Graham, S. (2004). Beyond the “dazzling light”: from dreams of transcendence to the “remediation” of urban life. New Media & Society, 6(1), 16–25.

Greenbaum, J. M., & Kyng, M. (1991). Design at Work: Cooperative Design of Computer Systems (pp. x, 294). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Guest, D. (1991). The hunt is on for the Renaissance Man of computing. The Independent (London), 17.

Hakken, D., Teli, M., & Andrews, B. (2015). Beyond Capital: Values, Commons, Computing, and the Search for a Viable Future. Routledge.

Hampton, K. N., Livio, O., & Sessions, L. (2010). The Social Life of Wireless Urban Spaces: Internet Use, Social Networks, and the Public Realm. The Journal of Communication, 60(4), 701–722.

Hardey, M. (2007). The city in the age of Web 2.0: A new synergistic relationship between place and people. Information, Communication and Society, 10(6), 867–884.

Harrison, S., Tatar, D., & Sengers, P. (2007). The Three Paradigms of HCI. In Proceedings of CHI, alt.chi. New York: ACM.

Harvey, D. (2012). Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution. Verso Books.

Healey, P. (1992). Planning through debate: the communicative turn in planning theory. The Town Planning Review, 63(2), 143.

Healey, P. (1996). The Communicative Turn in Planning Theory and its Implications for Spatial Strategy Formation. Environment and Planning. B, Planning & Design, 23(2), 217–234.

Hearn, G., & Foth, M. (2005). Action Research in the Design of New Media and ICT Systems. In K. Kwansah-Aidoo (Ed.), Topical Issues in Communications and Media Research (pp. 79–94). New York, NY: Nova Science.

Hearn, G., & Foth, M. (2007). Communicative Ecologies: Editorial Preface. Electronic Journal of Communication, 17(1-2). Retrieved from http://eprints.qut.edu.au/8171/

Hornecker, E., Halloran, J., Fitzpatrick, G., Weal, M., Millard, D., Michaelides, D., … De Roure, D. (2006). UbiComp in opportunity spaces: challenges for participatory design. In Proceedings of the ninth conference on Participatory design: Expanding boundaries in design - Volume 1 (pp. 47–56). ACM.

Houghton, K., Foth, M., & Miller, E. (2015). Urban Acupuncture: Hybrid Social and Technological Practices for Hyperlocal Placemaking. Journal of Urban Technology, 22(3), 3–19.

Houghton, K., Miller, E., & Foth, M. (2014). Integrating ICT into the planning process: impacts, opportunities and challenges. Australian Planner, 51(1), 24–33.

Huh, J., Ackerman, M. S., Erickson, T., Harrison, S., & Sengers, P. (2007). Beyond usability: taking social, situational, cultural, and other contextual factors into account. In CHI ’07 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 2113–2116). ACM.

Irwin, T. (2015). Transition Design: A Proposal for a New Area of Design Practice, Study, and Research. Design and Culture, 7(2), 229–246.

Irwin, T., Kossoff, G., & Tonkinwise, C. (2015). Transition Design Provocation. Design Philosophy Papers, 13(1), 3–11.

Ishida, T., & Isbister, K. (2000). Digital Cities: Technologies, Experiences, and Future Perspectives. In Lecture notes in computer science; 1765. (Vol. LNCS 1765, pp. ix, 444). Heidelberg, Germany: Springer.

Iveson, K. (2010). The wars on graffiti and the new military urbanism. Cityscape , 14(1-2), 115–134.

Iveson, K. (2013). Cities within the City: Do-It-Yourself Urbanism and the Right to the City. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 37(3), 941–956.

Jacobs, J. (1961). The death and life of great American cities. New York: Vintage Books.

Jeremijenko, N. (2016). Creative Agency and the Space Race of the 21st Century: Towards a Museum of Natural Futures. In Proceedings of the 2016 ACM Conference on Designing Interactive

Systems (pp. 3–4). ACM.

Kidder, J. L. (2012). Parkour, The Affective Appropriation of Urban Space, and the Real/Virtual Dialectic. City & Community, 11(3), 229–253.

Kindberg, T., Chalmers, M., & Paulos, E. (2007). Guest Editors’ Introduction: Urban Computing. IEEE Pervasive Computing / IEEE Computer Society [and] IEEE Communications Society, 6(3), 18–20.

Laurian, L., & Shaw, M. M. (2009). Evaluation of public participation: the practices of certified planners. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 28(3), 293–309.

Lefebvre, H. (1996). The right to the city. Writings on Cities, 63–181.

Leydesdorff, L. (2012). The Triple Helix, Quadruple Helix, …, and an N-Tuple of Helices: Explanatory Models for Analyzing the Knowledge-Based Economy? Journal of the Knowledge Economy, 3(1), 25–35.

Manzini, E. (2009). A cosmopolitan localism: Prospects for a sustainable local development and the possible role of design. In H. Clark & D. Brody (Eds.), Design Studies: A Reader (p. 448). New York: Berg.

Milgram, S. (1992). The Individual in a Social World: Essays and Experiments. McGraw-Hill.

Monk, A., & Howard, S. (1998). The Rich Picture: A Tool for Reasoning About Work Context. ACM SIGCHI Interactions, 5(2), 21–30.

Paulos, E., & Goodman, E. (2004). The familiar stranger: anxiety, comfort, and play in public places. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 223–230). ACM.

Paulos, E., Honicky, R. J., & Hooker, B. (2009). Citizen Science: Enabling Participatory Urbanism. In M. Foth (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Urban Informatics: The Practice and Promise of the Real-Time City (pp. 414–436). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Reason, P. (1998). Political, Epistemological, Ecological and Spiritual Dimensions of Participation. Studies in Cultures, Organizations and Societies, 4(2), 147–167.

Reynolds, R. (2014). On Guerrilla Gardening: A Handbook for Gardening without Boundaries. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Rogers, Y. (2009). The Changing Face of Human-Computer Interaction in the Age of Ubiquitous Computing. In A. Holzinger & K. Miesenberger (Eds.), HCI and Usability for e-Inclusion (Vol. 5889, pp. 1–19). Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Sager, T. (2009). Planners’ Role: Torn between Dialogical Ideals and Neo-liberal Realities. European Planning Studies, 17(1), 65–84.

Scharl, A., & Tochtermann, K. (2007). The geospatial web how geobrowsers, social software and the Web 2.0 are shaping the network society. London: Springer.

Schroeter, R., & Foth, M. (2009). Discussions in space. In Proceedings of the 21st Annual Conference of the Australian Computer-Human Interaction Special Interest Group: Design: Open 24/7 (pp. 381–384). ACM.

Schroeter, R., Foth, M., & Satchell, C. (2012). People, content, location: sweet spotting urban screens for situated engagement. In Proceedings of the Designing Interactive Systems Conference (pp. 146–155). ACM.

Schuler, D. (2013). Creating the world citizen parliament: seven challenges for interaction designers. Interactions, 20(3), 38–47.

Schuler, D., & Namioka, A. (1993). Participatory Design: Principles and Practices (p. xiii, 319 p.). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Seeburger, J., Foth, M., & Tjondronegoro, D. (2010). Capital music: personal expression with a public display of song choice. In Proceedings of the 6th Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction: Extending Boundaries (pp. 777–780). ACM.

Seeburger, J., Foth, M., & Tjondronegoro, D. (2015). Digital Design Interventions for Creating New Presentations of Self in Public Urban Places. In M. Foth, M. Brynskov, & T. Ojala (Eds.), Citizen’s Right to the Digital City (pp. 3–21). Springer Singapore.

Shaw, J., & Graham, M. (Eds.). (2016). Our Digital Rights to the City. Meatspace Press.

Shepard, M. (2011). Sentient City: Ubiquitous Computing, Architecture, and the Future of Urban Space. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Shklovski, I., & Chang, M. F. (2006). Guest Editors’ Introduction: Urban Computing--Navigating Space and Context. Computer, 39(9), 36–37.

Sliwa, M., & Cairns, G. (2007). Exploring Narratives and Antenarratives of Graffiti Artists: Beyond Dichotomies of Commitment and Detachment. Culture and Organization, 13(1), 73–82.

Smith, N., Bardzell, S., & Bardzell, J. (2017). Designing for Cohabitation: Naturecultures, Hybrids, and Decentering the Human in Design. In Proceedings of the 35th Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. Denver, CO: ACM.

Ti, J. T. H. (2014). Urban Informatics and Public Transport. In N. Gardner, M. H. Haeusler, & B. Mahar (Eds.), INTERchanging: Future Scenarios for Responsive Transport Infrastructure Design (pp. 91–95). Baunach, Germany: Spurbuchverlag.

Toprak, C., Platt, J., Ho, H. Y., & Mueller, F. (2013). Cart-load-o-fun: designing digital games for trams. In CHI ’13 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 2877–2878). ACM.

Traunmueller, M., Fatah gen. Schieck, A., Schöning, J., & Brumby, D. P. (2013). The path is the reward: considering social networks to contribute to the pleasure of urban strolling. In CHI ’13 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 919–924). ACM.

Wallace, J. (2013). Yarn bombing, knit graffiti and underground brigades: a study of craftivism and mobility. Journal of Mobile Media: Sound Moves, 7(1).

Wallin, S., Horelli, L., & Saad-Sulonen, J. (2010). Digital Tools in Participatory Planning. Espoo, Finland: Centre for Urban and Regional Studies, Aalto University.

Whyte, W. H. (1980). The social life of small urban spaces.

Ylipulli, J., Suopajärvi, T., Ojala, T., Kostakos, V., & Kukka, H. (2014). Municipal WiFi and interactive displays: Appropriation of new technologies in public urban spaces. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 89, 145–160.

Zuckerman, E. (2011). Desparately Seeking Serendipity. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM. https://doi.org/10.1145/1978942.2167183.