The second set of videos from The Programmable City’s recent workshop, Data and the City focus on Data Infrastructures and Platforms.
Situating Data Infrastructures
Till Straube, Researcher, Workgroup Boeckler, Department of Human Geography, Goethe University Frankfurt
In this paper I seek to critically engage with ICT – specifically digital infrastructures (like programming languages, database software, data formats, protocols, APIs, etc.) – on their own terms: by closely reading documentation materials, technical specifications, and code. I will outline a possible mode of inquiry that avoids relegating digital technologies to mere mediators of the social, or resorting to other grand abstractions. The entry point here is the problem of space: how can we account for the overflowing of spatial frames of reference by digital technologies without resorting to notions of immateriality? The approach set out insists on the metaphysical nature of the digital/physical dichotomy (among others) and proposes a radically materialist first analysis of ICT. In a next step, the problems of space and context are explored through an analytic lens building on assemblage theory, following the methodological principles of symmetry and free association. Taking further cues from science and technology studies (STS), the possibility of a topological reading of digital phenomena is explored, and in a final step extended by reading it against a diverse set of additional texts and brief examples.
Understanding the City through Urban Data
Martijn De Waal, Researcher ‘Citizen Empowerment’ Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences; Assistant professor Media Studies University of Amsterdam
The data revolution (Kitchin, 2014) has brought us an enormous increase in the production of all sorts of data about all kinds of aspects of urban life, assembled, reworked and published (or kept secret) by various actors, from state bureaucracies and companies to citizens. One of the promises of the potential availability of these data is that they are to empower citizens in the process of ‘city making’. Data about all kinds of urban processes, so goes the rationale, will give citizens more insight into salient issues. These insights can lead to either knowledge about opportunities to act upon or they can be used in political negotiations with other actors, e.g. local governments or companies in for instance debates about air or noise pollution. As such it could lead to an increase of ‘ownership’ (De Lange & De Waal, 2013), a sense of belonging to and responsibility for one’s social and spatial structures. Alternatively, these data can be understood as a new public sphere, or at least as ‘accountability technologies’, instruments to be used in the process of urban governance by both citizens and institutions (Offenhuber & Schechtner, 2012;2013).
However, as amongst others Bates (2012) and Dawes and Helbig (2010) have pointed out, data by itself doesn’t automatically produce such a new public sphere. Accessibility of data is an issue, but also the organization and structure of the data are important aspects, as well as issues of data literacy.
In this contribution I would like to explore the relationship between urban data and the urban public sphere further. To what extent and under what circumstances can we understand urban data as a contribution to the urban public sphere? I will explore this question from a theoretical perspective, illustrated by the experiences in our own currently running research through design project The Hackable City. Collaborative Citymaking in Urban Living Lab Buiksloterham.
Ontologizing the City, From Old School National Cartographic Infrastructure toward a Rules Based Real-World Object Oriented National Database
Tracey P. Lauriault, Assistant Professor, Critical Media and Big Data, Communication Studies, Department of Journalism and Communications, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
A Programmable City case study is ongoing and being conducted with Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSi) as part of Work Package 2 which is about How are digital data (and software) materially and discursively supported and processed about cities and their citizens?
OSi is undergoing a revolutionary technological transformation. OSi is discontinuing its tile or layer based digital cartographic mapping infrastructure and is moving toward and is operationalizing a seamless, scale independent object oriented model. It is also moving toward developing a national real-world spatial data platform. The nation’s framework geography has been re-engineered, ‘databased’, reclassified and re-modelled. A new infrastructure is being deployed, new capture data work flows are being institutionalized, new maps will soon be generated and clients, which include utilities, private sector companies and government departments at all levels will be interoperating with this new technology as the old process is phased out.
This paper will therefore discuss the methodology by which this case study is being conducted, the two frameworks structuring the research, namely the Kitchin Assemblage Framework which guides the study of the OSi’s national mapping infrastructure, the Modified Hacking Framework of Making up Spaces which provides an approach to interrogate the material implications of the data model, and a method to assess if the change from the cartographic mapping classification system to the real-world feature objected oriented database transforms how space is conceptualized and imagined and if so what are the material outcomes, not only operationally and procedurally with the actors involved, but assessing if this changes spatial practices?
In addition, a specific set of iconic ‘things’ in the city of Dublin were selected in consultation with member of the OSi, and these ‘things’ will be examined across time and space within the Prime cartographic classification system and the new Prime2 data model, and across old and new software systems. These ‘things’ will be situated within their specific socio-technical contexts and assemblage. The re-modelling of the nation’s mapping infrastructure did not happen overnight and the data-model was not constructed in vacuum. Data modelling can be said to have started in the late 1960s, while specific discussions for the OSi began in the mid to late 1990s with Ordnance Survey UK and NI, and potentially the technological trajectory may have been set with the long term adoption Oracle databases. For the OSi and official starting point can be said to be just prior to the launch of the competitive bidding process which started somewhere in early 2001.
In order to better understand the evolution and the construction of the data modelling process, a genealogy of the constructed real-world feature database will also be carried out. It is thought, that the mixed method approach to this case study will allow for a multi-scalar and a nested analysis of the infrastructure, the knowledge and space producing aspects of the classification systems and the data modelling process itself.
Preliminary and intensive data collection began in the spring of 2015, interviews have just been transcribed, documents have been assembled and are being recorded to facilitate qualitative analysis, and the collection of digital objects for Dublin has begun. Analytical work is scheduled to begin in the fall and winter of 2015-2016. An iterative approach to this research will be ongoing in collaboration and consultation with the OSi and the Programmable City PI for the next three years. This paper will not be able to discuss results, however it is hoped that an engaged discussion about the methodology and the preliminary description of the research can be had with participants.