Tag Archives: big data

New paper: The ethics of smart cities and urban science

A new paper by Rob Kitchin has been published in Philosophical Transactions A titled ‘The ethics of smart cities and urban science’ in a special issue on ‘The ethical impact of data science’.


Software-enabled technologies and urban big data have become essential to the functioning of cities. Consequently, urban operational governance and city services are becoming highly responsive to a form of data-driven urbanism that is the key mode of production for smart cities. At the heart of data-driven urbanism is a computational understanding of city systems that reduces urban life to logic and calculative rules and procedures, which is underpinned by an instrumental rationality and realist epistemology. This rationality and epistemology are informed by and sustains urban science and urban informatics, which seek to make cities more knowable and controllable. This paper examines the forms, practices and ethics of smart cities and urban science, paying particular attention to: instrumental rationality and realist epistemology; privacy, datafication, dataveillance and geosurveillance; and data uses, such as social sorting and anticipatory governance. It argues that smart city initiatives and urban science need to be re-cast in three ways: a re-orientation in how cities are conceived; a reconfiguring of the underlying epistemology to openly recognize the contingent and relational nature of urban systems, processes and science; and the adoption of ethical principles designed to realize benefits of smart cities and urban science while reducing pernicious effects.

The paper is behind a paywall, so if you don’t have access and you’re interested in reading email Rob (rob.kitchin@nuim.ie) and he’ll send you a copy.

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.


New Paper: Locative media and data-driven computing experiments

Sung-Yueh Perng, Rob Kitchin and Leighton Evans have a new open access paper, Locative media and data-driven computing experiments, published in Big Data & Society today. It examines the staging of locative data and computing experiments to envision urban futures, and its consequences. More details are in the abstract below and the paper can be downloaded at http://bds.sagepub.com/content/3/1/2053951716652161.


Over the past two decades urban social life has undergone a rapid and pervasive geocoding, becoming mediated, augmented and anticipated by location-sensitive technologies and services that generate and utilise big, personal, locative data. The production of these data has prompted the development of exploratory data-driven computing experiments that seek to find ways to extract value and insight from them. These projects often start from the data, rather than from a question or theory, and try to imagine and identify their potential utility. In this paper, we explore the desires and mechanics of data-driven computing experiments. We demonstrate how both locative media data and computing experiments are ‘staged’ to create new values and computing techniques, which in turn are used to try and derive possible futures that are ridden with unintended consequences. We argue that using computing experiments to imagine potential urban futures produces effects that often have little to do with creating new urban practices. Instead, these experiments promote Big Data science and the prospect that data produced for one purpose can be recast for another and act as alternative mechanisms of envisioning urban futures.

New paper in Big Data and Society: What makes big data, big data?

Rob Kitchin and Gavin McArdle have a new paper – What makes big data, big data? Exploring the ontological characteristics of 26 datasets – published in Big Data and Society.


Big Data has been variously defined in the literature. In the main, definitions suggest that Big Data possess a suite of key traits: volume, velocity and variety (the 3Vs), but also exhaustivity, resolution, indexicality, relationality, extensionality and scalability. However, these definitions lack ontological clarity, with the term acting as an amorphous, catch-all label for a wide selection of data. In this paper, we consider the question ‘what makes Big Data, Big Data?’, applying Kitchin’s taxonomy of seven Big Data traits to 26 datasets drawn from seven domains, each of which is considered in the literature to constitute Big Data. The results demonstrate that only a handful of datasets possess all seven traits, and some do not possess either volume and/or variety. Instead, there are multiple forms of Big Data. Our analysis reveals that the key definitional boundary markers are the traits of velocity and exhaustivity. We contend that Big Data as an analytical category needs to be unpacked, with the genus of Big Data further delineated and its various species identified. It is only through such ontological work that we will gain conceptual clarity about what constitutes Big Data, formulate how best to make sense of it, and identify how it might be best used to make sense of the world.

The paper is available for download as a PDF here.

Robinson Crusoe dreams of big data

I’ve just come across a very nice passage from Michael Tournier’s 1967 novel, Friday; or, The Other Island (a retelling of the Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe), which seems to capture perfectly the desire of big data projects and I thought worth sharing:

I demand, I insist, that everything around me shall henceforth be measured, tested, certified, mathematical, and rational. One of my tasks must be to make a full survey of the island, its
distances and its contours, and incorporate all these details in an accurate surveyor’s map. I should like every plant to be labeled, every bird to be ringed, every animal to be branded. I
shall not be content until this opaque and impenetrable place, filled with secret ferments and malignant stirrings, has been transformed into a calculated design, visible and intelligible to
its very depths!

I discovered it in Anne Galloway and Matthew Ward’s piece: Locative Media as Socialising and Spatialising Practices: Learning from Archaeology.