Video: Data Politics and Internet of Things

In November 2016, CONNECT, The Programmable City and Maynooth University Social Science Institute (MUSSI) invited a panel of international and local experts from different disciplines to explore the broader political, economic and social implications of Internet of Things.

The panel included Linda Doyle (Trinity College Dublin), Anne Helmond (University of Amsterdam), Aphra Kerr (Maynooth University), Rob Kitchin (Maynooth University), Liz McFall (Open University) and Alison Powell (LSE). The video of the presentations by the panel members and also the discussion afterwards are available to view now.

For more details of the event, please see Science Gallery Dublin’s event page here, or here for a workshop organised for earlier in the day.

“Creating Smart Cities” workshop videos: Session 5

We are happy to share the fifth and last (but not least) set of videos from The Programmable City’s recent workshop “Creating Smart Cities”, Session 5: Co-design/co-production of smart cities. [Session 1 here, Session 2 here, Session 3 here, Session 4 here]

The Importance of Enacting Appropriate Legislation to Enable Smart City Governance

Niall Ó Brolcháin, NUI Galway

While the technological and data based aspects of the Smart City discourse and ecosystem in the Republic of Ireland continue to progress at a steady pace, policies, procedures and legislation do not appear to be making progress at quite the same rate. There is a clearly measurable increase in Smart City and Open Data related research funding from the three levels of governance, local, national and European Union. In terms of commercial capacity we have seen a significant increase in Smart City related technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT); however, discussions around legislation and enabling policy frameworks with a few notable exceptions have not made such significant progress.There is also a clear difference to the approach being adopted by each of the three levels of Governance to the Smart City concept and to the sharing of data across the public services. The lack of a co-ordinated approach with joined up thinking at all levels is not consistent with the concept of “Smartness”.
In this talk we will look at examples of legislation and policies relating to Smart Cities and data sharing. We will examine the barriers to progress in these areas while exploring potential solutions and synergies at each of the three levels of governance.

Technical Citizenry and the Realization of Bike Share Design Possibilities

Robert Bradshaw, Maynooth University


Contemporary or “smart” bike share schemes have exploited the capacity of information and communications technologies to effectively automate systems and deliver improved mobility and convenience for citizens in a way that is both sympathetic to the environment and cost effective for service providers. However research in the sector has tended to view schemes as technically homogenous with comparatively little attention paid to the potential of collaborative design processes to deliver on goals which transcend quite narrow definitions of efficiency and sustainability. As the industry evolves and new forms of engagement emerge, collaborative design has the potential to enrol riders in knowledge sharing and decision making practices which frame them, not as passive recipients of information and services, but as active participants in the creation of the systems they appropriate. Using a lens derived from Andrew Feenberg’s critical theory of technology, this paper reports on a case study conducted in Hamilton, Canada, which explored these themes through an analysis of the design and implementations strategies used to realize their bike share scheme in the real world. The findings reveal the system be integral to, and reflective of, a new liberatory and inclusive politics emerging within the city. The scheme was seen to embody Feenberg’s notions of democratic rationalization and technical citizenry, with institutional expertise and lay experience combining in imaginative and mutually coherent ways to create a technology which embodies a diverse and complementary set of goals and ideologies.

The political and economic realities of introducing a smart lighting system

Darach MacDonncha, Maynooth University


Existing studies on the proliferation of ‘Smart City’ associated technologies have often sought to identify the patterns or models of such initiatives. In addition, the implementation of such schemes is often portrayed in the literature in a manner that fails to account for the political and economic realities necessary for their initial conceptualisation and subsequent introduction. In reality the roll-out of such schemes is often far more contested politically and ad-hoc in nature due to a variety of factors. The effective rollout of such initiatives is often contingent on the technologies, motivations, and various stakeholders involved. This paper addresses this misconception by focusing on the practicality of implementing an initiative of this nature. The paper details one project that reflects the political and economic realities of introducing a smart lighting system and seeks to provide critical reflections on the feasibility of the concept and a review of the accompanying institutional regime and the project’s development. The paper also reviews the suitability of a re-conceptualisation of regime and regulation theory together to provide greater insights into the local actors and institutions of the project with recognition of their wider contextual meaning.

Smart for a reason: sustainability and social inclusion in the sharing city

Duncan McLaren, Lancaster Environment Centre – Julian Agyeman, Tufts University

This paper explores the overlap between concepts and discourses of smart cities and sharing cities. It identifies common roles for modern technologies (such as Web2, mobile internet, RFID and connected devices), but contrasts the goals and motivations involved. It highlights the complementary value of low-tech sharing – from public spaces to libraries – in supporting social inclusion, and the harmful impacts of economic motivations on sustainability. It argues for a broad social, cultural and political understanding of the logics of urban sharing and urban commoning, in which technological smartness can be harnessed to social transformation of values and behavior. It suggests that cities should embed smart city activities within broadly defined sharing city objectives and programmes, co-produced with citizens.


Seminar video: Revealing experimental smart cities

Dr. Federico Cugurullo gave a seminar on October 26th, 2016 entitled Revealing experimental smart cities: The Frankenstein city and the sustainability challenges of de-composed urbanism. Dr. Cugurullo is Assistant Professor in Smart and Sustainable Urbanism, Department of Geography, Trinity College Dublin. If you missed the seminar, here is the video for his talk:

“Creating Smart Cities” workshop videos: Session 4

We are happy to share the fourth set of videos from The Programmable City’s recent workshop “Creating Smart Cities”, Session 4: Smart districts and living labs. [Session 1 here, Session 2 here, Session 3 here]

Surveilling the “smart” city to secure economic development in Camden, New Jersey

Alan Wiig, University of Massachusetts, Boston

Smart city agendas are often aligned with the creation of new urban districts to attract or retain information and innovation-focused firms. While many of these areas are greenfield sites in the global South, these areas are also emerging in industrial-era cities in the global North. To wit, this essay charts the evolution of Camden, New Jersey’s zones of globalized enterprise. Nearly $2 billion is or will soon be invested in the city. I argue that securing this investment first necessitated implementing “smart” policies around security, surveillance, and policing. As these smart city, free enterprise zones become common styles of urban-economic development worldwide (Easterling 2014), critically engaging with the development strategies underlying said zones is necessary to situate the smart city within the ongoing, evolving relationship between the global economy and cities themselves. Contrasting the emerging geography of global capitalism with the installation of a citywide, digital surveillance apparatus presents an opportunity to investigate the spatial and infrastructural context within which the discourse of and technologies of the smart city are deployed.

Building Smart City Partnerships in the ‘Silicon Docks’

Liam Heaphy, Maynooth University – Réka Pétercsák, Maynooth University


The regeneration of the Dublin Docklands as a Smart Port and a place in which to work and live brings about a renewed debate on urban form, function and heritage. Steps have also been taken to characterise the Docklands as a smart district for trialling new urban technologies in collaboration with private enterprise and the start-up community, for which infrastructure is now being put in place across the city. Even in the Smart City realm, local authorities are regarded as the main responsible providers of urban social functions, but the present platform of engagement proves to be more complex: it is influenced by the changing roles of planning agencies, the transformation of the financial services industry, SME alliances and local demographics. The relations of stakeholders are underpinned by their perceived and real ownership of city assets, but are also constantly framed by the future projection of their sovereignty in the area. This paper, therefore, aims to contribute to the conversation on the smart development of the Dublin Docklands by uncovering the local characteristics of engagement. We argue that the collaboration network among heterogeneous stakeholders forms a critical infrastructure, and shapes and enables the transformation of an urban region. Although tied to a global context of deepening globalisation and synergies between investment capital and elected governments, of special interest is the means by which this work is shaped by local context and national priorities.

University Campuses as Bounded Sites of Smart City Co-Production

Andy Karvonen, University of Manchester


Universities are significant actors in the co-production of smart cities. Academics provide expertise on the technical, economic, and social aspects of smart technologies and systems as well as serve as evaluators of smart project performance. However, universities also play a significant role in the spatialisation of smart cities by serving as physical sites for innovation activities. Urban university campuses provide an ideal space for experimentation because they are 1) comprised of a large, single-owner estate; 2) include a collection of buildings and infrastructure networks that are managed in-house; 3) provide opportunities for applied research and teaching; and 4) leverage innovation activities as a means to enhance the institution’s reputation in the higher education sector. This paper focuses on the spatial aspects of smart city co-production and the role of university campuses as targeted sites of urban experiments. The work is based on Triangulum, a Horizon 2020-funded project that is targeting two university campuses in Manchester to trial an integrated suite of energy, transport, and ICT technologies. The project frames the campuses as testbeds of innovation with stakeholders including the university estates departments, academic researchers, the local authority, a public-private urban development partnership, and two technical consultants. The project draws the universities into Manchester’s larger knowledge economy agenda while providing a protected space of innovation to trial particular interventions in the heart of the city. Using ideas from laboratory studies and sustainable transitions, this paper suggests that university campuses play a significant role in the co-production of smart cities.

Algorhythmic governance: regulating the city heartbeat with sensing infrastructures

Claudio Coletta, Maynooth University


I will address actual forms of “algorhythmic governance” in cities, intended as the way of shaping urban temporality through digital infrastructures to order urban life. Looking at cases and practices of configuring, deploying and retrieving data from sensing devices for sound and air quality monitoring in Dublin, the study will explore how the rhythm of the city is regulated and tuned in order to enact specific forms of governance. In particular, the attention will be directed to the frequency rate of data capture as a crucial aspect in making sensing devices accountable for urban management: on the one hand, producing and maintaining constant the heartbeat of the city allows to generate predictable models for managing urban settings and act upon them; on the other hand, however, setting the frequency and the right measure requires continuous adjustments and balances depending on the historical and situated dimension of city life, related for example to mutable mobility and planning aspects. In order to be effective, governance needs to combine different rhythms given the interconnected and multifarious kind of rhythms and measures. Nonetheless, setting the rhythm makes important distinction between what is noise and what is signal, what is relevant for governance and what is not, what can be predictable and included and what cannot. In emphasizing the role of rhythms in urban governance, the study intends to critically address the debate on anticipatory governance and speculative design considering the multiple, coexisting and conflicting space-time dimensions of the city.

New paper: Algorhythmic governance: Regulating the ‘heartbeat’ of a city using the Internet of Things

Claudio Coletta and Rob Kitchin have published a new Programmable City working paper (No. 22) – Algorhythmic governance: Regulating the ‘heartbeat’ of a city using the Internet of Things – which is due to be delivered at the Algorithms in Culture workshop at the University of California Berkeley, 1-2 December 2016.

It can be downloaded from: OSF, ResearchGate, Academia


To date, research examining the socio-spatial effects of smart city technologies have charted how they are reconfiguring the production of space, spatiality and mobility, and how urban space is governed, but have paid little attention to how the temporality of cities is being reshaped by systems and infrastructure that capture, process and act on real-time data. In this paper, we map out the ways in which city-scale Internet of Things infrastructures, and their associated networks of sensors, meters, transponders, actuators and algorithms, are used to measure, monitor and regulate the polymorphic temporal rhythms of urban life. Drawing on Lefebvre (1992[2004]), and subsequent research, we employ rhythmanalysis in conjunction with Miyazaki’s (2012, 2013a/b) notion of ‘algorhythm’ and nascent work on algorithmic governance, to develop a concept of ‘algorhythmic governance’. We then use this framing to make sense of two empirical case studies: a traffic management system and sound monitoring and modelling. Our analysis reveals: (1) how smart city technologies computationally perform rhythmanalysis and undertake rhythm-work that intervenes in space-time processes; (2) three distinct forms of algorhythmic governance, varying on the basis of adaptiveness, immediacy of action, and whether humans are in, on-, of-, off-the-loop; (3) and a number of factors that shape how algorhythmic governance works in practice.

Key words: algorhythm, algorithmic governance, rhythmanalysis, Internet of Things, smart cities, time geography



Emerging Technological Responses in Emergency Management Systems

The advent of discourses around the ‘smart city’, big data, open data, urban analytics, the introduction of ‘smarter technology’ within cities, the  sharing of real-time information, and the emergence of social media platforms has had a number of outcomes on emergency services worldwide. Together they provide opportunities and promises for emergency services regarding efficiency, community engagement and better real-time coordination.  Thus, we are seeing a growth in technologically based emergency response. However, such developments are also riddled with broad concerns, ranging from privacy, ethics, reliability, accessibility, staff reluctance and fear.

This post considers one recent technological push for the re-invention of the emergency call system (911bot) and another for the sharing of real-time information during a major event (Smartphone Terror Alert).


In recent years, there has been a significant move away from voice calls towards texting and internet based platforms (eg.WhatsApp and Twitter)(see figure 1), this is tracked regularly by the International Smartphone Mobility Report conducted across 12 countries by the data tracking company Infomate. In 2015, they found that in America the average time spent on voice calls was 6 minutes as opposed to 26 minutes texting, and worldwide,  internet based platforms were the main form of communication (Infomate, 2015 and Shrapshire, 2015).


cell phone communication

Figure 1: Cell phone Communication. Source: Russell (2015).

In light of this, there is a push by both the private sector and entrepreneurs to utilise mobile phones and  social media platforms in new ways such as within the emergency call system. Within my own field research, I have questioned first responders in Ireland and the US regarding the use of social media and apps as alternative means to the current telephone system.  For the most part, this was met with disdain and confusion from first responders.  Strong arguments were made against a move away from a call-dominated response system. These included:

a)      Difficulty in obtaining relevant and accurate information regarding the event, including changing conditions and situations.

b)      Not able to provide the victim or caller with accurate instructions and information.

c)      Restrictions in contacting the caller.

d)     The system would need an overhaul for it to work, i.e. a dedicated team ensuring that these messages are not missed, and require staff training.

e)      Call systems are established mechanisms for contacting the emergency services, why change it when it works?

f)       If you use something like Twitter or Facebook to report an emergency how do we ensure that it is reported correctly and not just tweeted or messaged to an interface which is not monitored 24/7?

And as can be seen through the following conversation with two operational first responders in Dublin, Ireland, they want new technology but are also highly hesitant as to its ability to ensure a quick response.

Conversation between researcher and two first responders

R1: See the problem with a tweet and a text, I can’t get any information out of that, like I could tweet and back and then you are waiting for them to send something back, when I have you on the phone, I can question you, “What is it?”, “What is wrong?”, “What is the problem?”.

R2: If you did go with something like [social media platform for emergency call intake], you would have to have the likes of, if you are the tweet man then you would have to be 100% on the phone looking at it

R2: It probably would work if it wasn’t an emergency as such, not a full emergency

R1: I think people need tobe re-assured that someone has seen it and really knows what is happening.

R1: Jesus you could have everyone tweeting saying I have a sore stomach and that would register as a call for us so the calls would just get worse and worse. [...] I think if you ring Domino Pizza now, it will know who you are, where you are and your order

R2: They can read the caller ID coming

R1:We haven’t got that

All of these are understandable concerns, but they also illustrate a resistance to innovative change that may result in cultural and institutional change which they oppose due to highly legitimate fears of effectiveness and reliability. Even so, they are welcoming of technology which has obvious benefits for them such as the “Domino’s Pizza” caller ID system, but are more reluctant towards innovations such as the 911bot whose value is overshadowed by fears of inefficiency, information gaps and reliability. However, the 911bot does potentially address some of these issues within its design.

The 911bot (figure 2) was developed during TechCrunch’s Disrupt Hackathon in New York in 2016.  It works through Facebook Messenger, which had a reported 1 billion users in July 2016 (Costine, 2016), to allow users to report an emergency.  Initially, one would be forgiven for immediately thinking of the arguments made against a transformation of the current system as presented above. However, the messenger app already offers location services based on the phones GPS thus, when reporting an incident, your exact location is immediately sent (although you can turn off your GPS signal and restrict your location being sent, when using this bot there is potential for that to be overridden).  The person reporting the incident can also send pictures or videos and the bot can provide information on what you should and shouldn’t do in that situation such as, how to do CPR during a cardiac arrest (Westlake, 2016).

Further, this bot has potential to feedback the location of the first responders to the reporter. It provides the control room with more accurate information coming from real-time videos and pictures meaning that they are not relying wholly on information from untrained and scared people.  And, most importantly, this system doesn’t take away from the control room interacting with the caller. From the information provided by the developers, it appears that once the messenger sends the request, the control room calls the phone and resumes their role but with more information.   Possibly, going forward this could even be done through Facetime so that the control room has live interaction with the event prior to the arrival of the first responders.  Although, the 911bot has only been developed and not deployed, in time and after much consultation and experimentation, it could prove very beneficial within emergency response.  For instance, if the control room operator can actually see how the person is conducting CPR, can see and hear their breathing, see the extent of the injury, fire, or road traffic collision in real time, it would inform decision-making that could create better and more efficient responses.  However, it would be remiss to discuss this without noting that there are potential privacy issues with the mass use of this type of technology outside of the remit of this post, that would need to be considered.


Figure 2: 911bot. Source: 911bot online.

Smartphone Terror Alert

Another new use of mobile technology was the mass terror alert issued on September 17th 2016, after Chelsea, Manhattan was hit with an explosion.  The alert (figure 3) was issued by the Office of Emergency Management, New York Police Department and the FBI through all phone networks. It was received by an unknown number of people and provided information about the key suspect – Ahmed Khan Rahami.  The Press secretary for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio stated that it was the first use of this alert at a “mass scale” and as the suspect was caught within 3 hours, it presented the appearance that this alert was effective, with New York’s Police Commissioner stating “it was the future”(Fiegerman, 2016). Yet there is no evidence that the alert had anything to do with the catching of the suspect; these two factors could be circumstantial.


Figure 3: Smart phone terror Alert. Source: published in Fiegerman (2016).

Further, as illustrated by Anil Dash in Fiegerman (2016) how effective was it actually?  “Is there evidence that low-information untargeted push notifications help with any kind of crime? Seems they’re more optimised for panic”.  This is compounded by the lack of an all-clear alert, which would work to ease tensions and potential panic.  We live in a socially constructed risk society (Beck, 1992; 2009) and with innovations such as this, even if the intention is good, the potential for mass panic is created, which raises questions regarding the appropriateness of this mechanism. In this instance, sending an alert with little information, using just a name, makes everyone who could fit that name a potential target, and is an action that could create panic, fear and racial attacks under the illusion of “citizen arrest”.  However, this system has potential especially if it were utilised during severe weather events to provide information on evacuation centres and resources rather than during more sensitive events such as a manhunt.  Essentially, though, before it can be deemed thoroughly effective and safe there needs to be stringent supportive policy and agency and community training to ensure that response from agencies as well as communities is coordinated and effective rather than panicked and uninformed. So, I wonder, is this really the future, and indeed, does it need to be the future? Is it already the present with no sense of reflection on the potential consequences of such a system by the lead federal and local emergency agencies and institutions?  I don’t have the answers to these questions but examining the operational use of this alert even, at its small scale of use, provides opportunities to begin to tease out the danger of a dichotomy between effectiveness and panic and to explore issues around privacy, fear, reliability and usefulness.

In conclusion, this post has provided two different innovations within emergency management, one being experimented with and one which has been implemented. But what is clear is that changes in how we engage with control centres and emergency services are taking place, albeit slowly. But, one can only hope, especially in relation to the alert system, that lobbied criticisms will be engaged with and solutions sought.


911bot (2016) 911bot. [Online]. Available at: (Accessed 9th November 2016).

Beck, U., (1992). Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. London: Sage.

Beck, U., (2009). World of Risk. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Costine, J. (2016) How Facebook Messenger clawed its way to 1 billion users. [Online].  Available at: (Accessed 8th November 2016).

Fiegerman, S.(2016) The story behind the Smartphone Terror Alert in NYC. [Online].  Available at: (Accessed 9th November 2016).

Infomate (2015) The International Smartphone Mobility Report [Online]. Available for download at: the International Smartphone Mobility Report (Accessed 7th November 2016).

Russell, D. (2015) We just don’t speak anymore. But we’re ‘talking’ more than ever. [Online].  Available at: (Accessed 9th November 2016).

Shropshire, C. (2015) Americans prefer texting to talking, report says. Chicago Tribune [Online].  Available at: (Accessed 9th November 2016).

Westlake, A. (2016) Finally, there’s a chat bot for calling 911. [Online].  Available at: (Accessed 7th November 2016).