Code and the City workshop videos: Session 1

We had a wonderful Code and the City workshop in September and we will be making the video recording of the presentations available from today, and on the following Fridays!

Today, we will be sharing videos from the Opening talk and First session: Code, coding and interfaces

Opening talk

Code and the city: Reframing the conceptual terrain
Rob Kitchin, NIRSA, National University of Ireland Maynooth

Software has become essential to the functioning of cities. It is deeply and pervasively embedded into the systems and infrastructure of the built environment and in the management and governance of urban societies. Software-enabled technologies and services augment and facilitate how we understand and plan cities, how we manage urban services and utilities, and how we live urban lives. This paper will provide an overarching overview of the ways in which software has become an indispensible mediator of urban systems and the consequent implications, and makes the case for the study of computational algorithms and how cities are captured in and processed through code.

Session 1: Code, coding and interfaces

Code-crowd: How software repositories express urban life
Adrian Mackenzie, Sociology, Lancaster University

Is code an expression of urban life? This paper analyses around 10 million software repositories on from the perspective of how they include cities. The methodology here relies on data-intensive work with bodies of code at a number of different levels. It maps the geographies of Github organisations and users to see how location anchors coding work. More experimentally, it tracks how urban spaces, movements and architectures figure in and configure code. The paper’s focus is less on how code shapes cities and more on apprehending code and coding as a way of experientially inhabiting cities. This approach might better highlight how code expresses urban experiences of proximity, mixing, movement, nearness, distance, and location. It might also shed light on the plural forms of spatiality arising from code, particularly as algorithmic processes become more entangled with each other.

Encountering the city at hackathons
Sophia Maalsen and Sung-Yueh Perng, National University of Ireland, Maynooth

The growing significance of hackathons is currently developing in a mutually informing way. On the one hand, there is an increasing use of hackathons to address issues of city governance – Chris Vein, US CTO for government innovation has described them as ‘sensemaking’ tools for government, encouraging agencies to make use of hackathons and “let the collective energy of the people in the room come together and really take that data and solve things in creative and imaginative ways” (Llewellyn 2012). On the other, regular hack nights appear as creative urban space for citizens to discuss problems they encounter and which are not necessarily considered by government, and produce solutions to tackle these issues.

In this paper, we explore potential opportunities and tensions, as well as excitement and inattentiveness, emerging as solutions are proposed and pursued. Through this, we reflect upon how such processes translate the city and transform ways of living in places where the solutions are applied. We further ask whether the positive discourse surrounding hackathons is justified or whether there are limits to their ability to deal with the complexity of urban issues.

Interfacing urban intelligence
Shannon Mattern, Media Studies, New School NY

Technology companies, city governments, and design firms – the entities teaming up to construct our highly-networked cities of the future – have prototyped interfaces through which citizens can engage with the smart city. But those prototypes, almost always envisioned as screens of some sort, embody institutional values that aren’t always aligned with those of citizens who rightfully claim a “right to the city.” Based on promotional materials from Cisco, Siemens, IBM, Microsoft, and their smart-city-making counterparts, it seems that one of the chief preoccupations of our future-cities is to reflect their data consumption and hyper-efficient (often “widgetized”) activity back to themselves. We thus see city “control centers” lined with screens that serve in part to visualize, and celebrate, the city’s own supposedly hyper-rational operation. Public-facing interfaces, meanwhile, are typically rendered via schematic mock-ups, with little consideration given to interface design. They’re portrayed as conduits for transit information, commercial and service locations and reviews, and information about cultural resources and tourist attractions; and as portals for gathering user-generated data. Across the board, these interfacing platforms tend to frame their users as sources of data that feed the urban algorithmic machines, and as consumers of data concerned primarily with their own efficient navigation and consumption of the city.

In this talk, I’ll consider how we might we design urban interfaces for urban citizens, who have a right to know what’s going on inside “’black boxed’ [urban] control systems” – and even engage with the operating system as more than mere data-generators or reporters-of-potholes-and-power-outages. In considering what constitutes an ideal urban interface, we need to examine those platforms that are already in existence, and those that are proposed for future cities. Even the purely hypothetical, the speculative – the “design fiction” – can illuminate what’s possible, technologically, aesthetically, and ideologically; and can allow us to ask ourselves what kind of a “public face” we want to front our cities, and, even more important, what kinds of intelligence and agency – technological and human – we want our cities to embody.

Do come back next Friday! The next session awaits!