New paper in Geoforum – The praxis and politics of building urban dashboards

Rob Kitchin, Sophia Maalsen and Gavin McArdle have a new paper published in Geoforum titled ‘The praxis and politics of building urban dashboards’.  It is open access with this link until early Dec.

Abstract: This paper critically reflects on the building of the Dublin Dashboard – a website built by two of the authors that provides citizens, planners, policy makers and companies with an extensive set of data and interactive visualizations about Dublin City, including real-time information – from the perspective of critical data studies. The analysis draws upon participant observation, ethnography, and an archive of correspondence to unpack the building of the dashboard and the emergent politics of data and design. Our findings reveal four main observations. First, a dashboard is a complex socio-technical assemblage of actors and actants that work materially and discursively within a set of social and economic constraints, existing technologies and systems, and power geometries to assemble, produce and maintain the website. Second, the production and maintenance of a dashboard unfolds contextually, contingently and relationally through transduction. Third, the praxis and politics of creating a dashboard has wider recursive effects: just as building the dashboard was shaped by the wider institutional landscape, producing the system inflected that landscape. Fourth, the data, configuration, tools, and modes of presentation of a dashboard produce a particularised set of spatial knowledges about the city. We conclude that rather than frame dashboard development in purely technical terms, it is important to openly recognize their contested and negotiated politics and praxis.

“Creating Smart Cities” workshop videos: Session 1

We had a great Creating Smart Cities Workshop last September and we will be making the video recording of the presentations available from today, and on the following Mondays!


Reframing, reimagining and remaking smart cities
Rob Kitchin, Maynooth University

Over the past decade the concept and development of smart cities has unfolded rapidly, with many city administrations implementing smart city initiatives and strategies and a diverse ecology of companies and researchers producing and deploying smart city technologies. In contrast to those that seek to realise the benefits of a smart city vision, a number of critics have highlighted a number of shortcomings, challenges and risks with such endeavours. This short paper outlines a third path, one that aims to realise the benefits of smart city initiatives while recasting the thinking and ethos underpinning them and addressing their deficiencies and limitations. It argues that smart city thinking and initiatives need to be reframed, reimagined and remade in six ways. Three of these concern normative and conceptual thinking with regards to goals, cities and epistemology, and three concern more practical and political thinking and praxes with regards to management/governance, ethics and security, and stakeholders and working relationships. The paper does not seek to be definitive or comprehensive, but rather to provide conceptual and practical suggestions and stimulate debate about how to productively recast smart urbanism and the creation of smart cities.


1. Governing the City as a System of Systems
James Merricks White, Maynooth University

Vital to the nascent domain of city standards is an understanding of the city as a system of systems. Borrowed from urban cybernetics, this conception imagines and describes the city as comprised of distinct fields of operation and governance. While this might have previously served a pragmatic purpose, allowing a compromise to be found between centralisation and specialisation, critics argue that it has produced institutional path dependencies which, in the era of big and open data, are a source of interruption and inefficiency. Put another way, information, action and responsibility are seen to be bound-up in vertically integrated silo-like structures. By breaking down or reaching across these silos, it is hoped that new synergies in urban governance might be unlocked. In this paper I will explore the mechanisms by which three city standards naturalise and respond to the system-of-systems problematic. First, City Protocol Anatomy offers a conceptual model for thinking, communicating and coordinating action across city systems. The city is reconfigured as a body, each of its systems become that body’s organs, and a whole linguistic framework emerges for talking about the city at all manner of scales and time frames. Second, ISO 37120 enacts an set of verification and certification mechanisms in an effort to build up a database of robust urban indicators. Within cities this translates into greater communication and information exchange between the departments of a city’s authority. Finally, while only a set of policy recommendations PAS 181 is quite explicit in bringing matrix management concepts to urban governance. It imagines small, agile, tactically- specific units capable of acting across legacy governance structures. Although operating in distinct ways, each standard attempts to open up new terrain of and for urban governance. The ramifications of these new state/spaces are only beginning to emerge.

2. Hacking the Smart city and the Challenges of Security
Martin Dodge, Manchester University

AbstractThe ways that technologies are enrolled in practice and come to shape our cities is often paradoxical, bringing promised benefits (such as enhanced convenience, economic prosperity, resilience, safety) but beckoning forth unintended consequences and creating new kinds of problems (including pollution, inequality, risk, criminality). This paradox is very evident when looking back at earlier rounds of transformative urban technologies, particularly in energy supply, transportation, communication and electro-mechanical systems of automation. The paradox is arguably even more pronounced in relation to the development of smart urbanism and will be examined in terms of the trade-offs around security.
This talk will consider how complex software and networked connectivity at the heart of smart cities technologies (both current, near future implementations and imagined scenarios) is opening up new risks and seems inherently to provide threats to established modes of urban management through security concerns and scope for criminal activities. I will examine how cities are becoming more vulnerable to being ‘hacked’ in relation to weaknesses directly in the technologies and infrastructures because of how they are designed, procured, deployed and operated. Then I will look at the cyberattacks against the data generated, stored and being shared across digital technologies and smart urban infrastructures. The second half of the talk considers how to defeat (or at least better defend against) those vandals, criminal and terrorists seeking hacking the smart cities, and will focus on available practical means and management approaches to better secure infrastructure and mitigate the impact of data breaches.

3. Coordinated Management and Emergency Response Systems and the Smart City
Aoife Delaney, Maynooth University


This paper maps out the historic and current organisation of the Irish Emergency Management System and its potential intersections with the Smart Dublin Initiative which could create a truly Coordinated Management and Emergency Response System (CMaERS). It begins with a brief overview of the Framework for Major Emergency Management in Ireland- an unlegislated guidance framework used foremost by the Principal Response Agencies but also by other responding agencies. Further, the paper addresses key barriers which the current Emergency Management System suffers from and which the framework inadequately attempts to overcome, in order to situate the current system. These barriers include: institutional tensions and the historical legacy of agency mandates, organisation, technologies and practices. Finally, the current system is brought into conversation with Smart Dublin to unravel whether the smart city is a barrier or whether it can be an enabler of the current Emergency Management System evolving into a CMaERS. The Smart Dublin initiative is organised across the four local authority agencies which govern Dublin County. This provides four significant opportunities for the merging of the Irish Emergency Management System and the smart city in so far unseen ways. The first opportunity is that the local authorities are, simultaneously, Principal Response Agencies (PRA) for crises and the drivers of Smart Dublin. Secondly, the governance of Smart Dublin could allow for stronger inter-agency collaboration and coordination. Thirdly, there is potential to develop an Incident Command System and finally, the Framework is unlegislated. These opportunities would help to position Dublin to be one of the first smart Emergency Management Systems –a CMaERS which could, potentially, result in better inter-agency coordination, standardised technology across agencies, interlinked control rooms, and a more resilient emergency response system.

4. Dumb Democracy and Smart Politics? Transitions and Alternatives in Smart Urban Governance
Jathan Sadowski – Delft University

First, I will set the stage with an overview of smart urban governance: How is the city managed and administered? What are the policy and development goals? What actors are involved (and benefit)? What ideologies inform implemented and envisioned governance models? While (smart) governance is often touted as pragmatic, neutral, and non-ideological, I will establish that it is in fact thoroughly political, partisan, and value-ladened.
Second, I will argue that the “smart city,” not only as a set of initiatives, but as a political event, is reviving classically important topics in political theory, which, in modern liberal-democratic society, have been largely taken for granted—implicitly operating in the background of political society and life—but are now being resurfaced, reexamined, and redefined. I make this argument by providing a survey of contemporary tensions and transitions occurring at the level of political society. These are not deterministically caused by the smart city, however, urban governance constructs a platform for these tensions and transitions, encouraging and amplifying their effects. They include: 1) consent and legitimacy => terms of service agreements; 2) citizenship => “citizen sensing”; 3) public services => X-as-a-service (or, Uber for X model); 4) political deliberation and discretion => data-driven, algorithmic decision-making; 5) social contract => corporate contract.
Third, I will end by sketching a series of principles and processes that contribute towards alternative arrangements of the smart city. By directly engaging with the above transitions, I aim to push back against neoliberal governance, technocratic pragmatism, and repressive use of technical systems. My goal is not to advocate for a conservative position: a stale maintenance of the status quo that is anti-change, anti-technology, anti-prosperity. Rather, I argue that if we are to embrace the smart city, it should be accompanied with a politics founded on equity, emancipation, and empowerment. As Rob Kitchin said in a recent report from the Irish Government Data Forum, “Ignoring or deliberately avoiding smart city technologies is not a viable approach; nor is developing smart cities that create a range of harms and reinforce power imbalances”.

Do come back next Monday! The next session awaits!

Seminar: “Revealing experimental smart cities: 
The Frankenstein city and the sustainability challenges of De-composed Urbanism” by Federico Cugurullo

We are pleased to announce that that Dr Federico Cugurullo will be delivering the second Programmable City Seminar for the 2016/17 academic year on October 26th, 3.30pm, in room 1.31 of the Iontas Building, Maynooth University.

Dr Cugurullo recently joined the Department of Geography at Trinity College Dublin as Assistant Professor in Smart and Sustainable Urbanism. He previously worked as a lecturer in Human Geography at Manchester University. His research is positioned at the intersection of urban geography and political philosophy, and explores how ideas of sustainability are cultivated and implemented across geographical spaces and scales, with a focus on projects for eco-cities.

The seminar will explore the smart city through the example of Hong Kong.

ProgCity_Seminar_4_2_ FedericoCugurullo

Big data and the city

A special issue of ‘Built Environment’ – Big Data and the City – edited by Mike Batty has just been published and includes a paper by Gavin McArdle and Rob Kitchin on improving the veracity of open and real-time urban data.  Full details of contents below:

  • Editorial: Big Data, Cities and Herodotus by MICHAEL BATTY
  • Big Data and the City by MICHAEL BATTY
  • From Origins to Destinations: The Past, Present and Future of Visualizing Flow Maps by MATTHEW CLAUDEL, TILL NAGEL, and CARLO RATTI
  • Towards a Better Understanding of Cities Using Mobility Data by MAXIME LENORMAND and JOSÉ J. RAMASCO
  • A Classification of Multidimensional Open Data for Urban Morphology by ALEXANDROS ALEXIOU, ALEX SINGLETON, and PAUL A. LONGLEY
  • User-Generated Big Data and Urban Morphology by A.T. CROOKS, A. CROITORU, A. JENKINS, R. MAHABIR, P. AGOURIS and A. STEFANIDIS
  • Sensing Spatiotemporal Patterns in Urban Areas: Analytics and Visualizations Using the Integrated Multimedia City Data Platform by PIYUSHIMITA (VONU) THAKURIAH, KATARZYNA SILA-NOWICKA, and JORGE GONZALEZ PAULE
  • Playful Cities: Crowdsourcing Urban Happiness with Web Games by DANIELE QUERCIA
  • Big Data for Healthy Cities: Using Location-Aware Technologies, Open Data and 3D Urban Models to Design Healthier Built Environment by HARVEY J. MILLER and KRISTIN TOLLE
  • Improving the Veracity of Open and Real-Time Urban Data by GAVIN MCARDLE and ROB KITCHIN
  • Wise Cities: ‘Old’ Big Data and ‘Slow’ Real Time by FABIO CARRERA
  • Collecting and Visualizing Real-Time Urban Data Through City Dash-Boards by STEVEN GRAY, OLIEVER O’BRIEN and STEPHAN HÜGEL

Seminar: “Understanding Human Behavior, the Environment and Our Cities Through Measurement & Analysis” by Marguerite Nyhan

We are delighted to have Dr. Marguerite Nyhan as a guest speaker on Tuesday 11th October at 4pm, Iontas Building, room 2.31 for the first of our Programmable City seminars this academic year 2016/17.

Dr. Marguerite Nyhan is a Post-Doctoral Researcher at Harvard University, based in the Department of Environmental Health. Prior to her current appointment, she led the Urban Environmental Research Team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Senseable City Laboratory. Marguerite holds a PhD in Civil & Environmental Engineering from Trinity College Dublin. During her PhD, she was a Fulbright Scholar at MIT. Marguerite has spoken widely about her research including addressing the United Nations Environment Assembly in Kenya, and TEDx Dublin. She has also lectured in the Department of Urban Studies & Planning at MIT.

Marguerite will be talking about modeling and predicting interactions between human populations, urban systems, the natural environment and the built environment.


Two invited talks in Boston on smart cities

Rob Kitchin gave two invited talks in Boston last week concerning Programmable City research.

The first was at UMass Boston, sponsored by APA-MA, BSA, MAPC, MAPD, MACDC, BRA, Mel King Institute, and was entitled ‘Planning in the era of smart urbanism.  The slides for the talk can be found at:

The second was at the launch of MIT’s new Institute for Data, Systems and Society and was entitled ‘Ethics and risks of urban big data and smart cities’. The slides for the talk can be found at:  A video of the event can be found at: