Tag Archives: smart cities

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:

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



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.

Post advertised: Postdoc on ProgCity project

We are seeking a postdoctoral researcher (14 month contract) to join the Programmable City project.  The researcher will critically examine:

  • the political economy of smart city technologies and initiatives; the creation of smart city markets; the inter-relation of urban (re)development and smart city initiatives; the relationship between vendors, business lobby groups, economic development agencies, and city administrations; financialization and new business models; and/or,
  • the relationship between the political geography of city administration, governance arrangements, and smart city initiatives; political and legal geographies of testbed urbanism and smart city initiatives; smart city technologies and governmentality.

There will be some latitude to negotiate with the principal investigator the exact focus of the research undertaken. While some of the research will require primary fieldwork (Dublin/Boston), it is anticipated it will also involve the secondary analysis of data already generated by the project.

More details on the post and how to apply can be found on the university HR website.  Closing date: 5th December.

Impressions of Songdo, an urban growth machine in progress

On September 30th/October 1st, while on a trip to South Korea, I visited Songdo, the much discussed smart city development built in the Incheon Free Economic Zone (IFEZ) at the edge of the Seoul metropolitan area.  The IFEZ, initiated in 2003, consists of three large-scale developments – Songdo (international business district, with a focus on research, education, bio-tech, conferencing), Yeongjong (aviation and logistics hub, tourism), and Cheongna (finance, component manufacturing, robotics, shopping and tourism), much of it built on reclaimed land.

My exploration mainly consisted of a long wander around Songdo and a visit to the IFEZ Promotion Centre on 33rd floor of G-tower.  Unfortunately, the exhibition in the Compact Smart City museum was ‘closed for construction’ and I also failed to see the U-City Vision at Tomorrow City as the entire complex seemed to be closed (I have a feeling that it might be permanently closed as the website was last updated in May 2010).


While Songdo is perhaps best known in the urban studies literature as model smart city and an example of testbed urbanism on a grand scale, my sense is that its creation really has to be contextualised with respect to IFEZ as it is predominately an economic development initiative aimed at driving domestic growth and establishing South Korea as a North East Asian hub for particular industries and thus consolidating its position as a key player in the global economy.
Seen from this perspective, the focus on creating a smart city is an implementation strategy designed to attract investment capital, anchor tenants, and global workers, with a side benefit of creating a potential exportable model of development.  Indeed, the smart city is one of four such implementation strategies used by IFEZ to bring the vision of being a ‘global business frontier’ to life, the others being: creating ‘a global economic platform’, becoming a ‘hub of service industries’ and a ‘hub of convergence’.

These strategies have been quite successful in attracting Korean and global investment, with over $US 8.3 billion being invested in the IFEZ by June 2016.  This has led to rapid growth.  In 2003 the population of the IFEZ (3 areas) was 25,778; by June 2016 it stood at 253,465.  Of these, 4,281 were international residents.  Songdo’s population exceed 100,000 in early 2016.  In the same period the number of companies operating in the IFEZ had grown to 1,737, of which 80 were foreign-owned, and there were 4 international universities and 14 international organizations who had opened campuses/offices in the IFEZ, including branches of the United Nations.  The plan is that by 2030 investment will have reached $US 15 billion, the number of foreign invested companies will have reached 150, the number of international organizations 150, the number of international universities 10, and the population will have grown to 536,000, of which 60,000 will be international residents.

Songdo 2

To aid such growth, the IFEZ has a number of development, planning and social policies.  For example, each district has their own design theme, with Songdo specializing in ‘night landscape, high end architecture landscape, mountainous skyline and waterside network’, along with the theme of being a smart city, or what they have termed ‘U-City’, an intelligent city that utilizes ubiquitous computing to manage urban infrastructures and city services.  In the IFEZ case, the U-City seeks to provide the coordinated management of transportation, environment, crime prevention, fire prevention, and facility management in an integrated manner across the three areas from a single control room.  In terms of social policies this includes trying to produce a ‘trouble free life for foreign residents’, including a ‘real-estate investment immigration system’, in which non-Korean investors are given resident status and after five years permanent residence status.

ucity centre

Recently they have established a plan to develop the IFEZ U-City model into what they term ‘the K-Smart City model’ to ‘more aggressively reinforce its presence in the overseas market.’  Utilising a public cloud system to ‘to securely store the massive amount of information flowing in from the CCTVs and sensors installed across the city’ and an approach to ‘drastically reducing construction and maintenance costs’, this model, it is anticipated, will not only ‘enhance the quality of life of citizens but also serve as a new growth engine as an added-value industry.’  In other words, the IFEZ wants to firmly establish itself as a model of smart city development and governance and to export this model, their expertise and new technologies globally, as made clear by Government official Kim Jong-won of the IFEZ U-City Division: “We plan to develop the knowhow, technology, and expertise regarding the construction of IFEZ and U-City into a brand and commercialize it on a global level.” Songdo is thus a means to showcase top-tier infrastructure and to create an exportable set of knowledges and technologies.

So, what were my impressions of the Songdo?  Having been led to believe that the place is half-built and mostly empty, it is clear that while one section is under-construction a substantial chunk is complete and occupied and all the major infrastructure (in terms of roads, rail, air, energy) are in place.  The part that is complete while quite quiet during the day is reasonably busy during the night with lots of people on the street and in the park, loads of kids playing in courtyards of tower blocks, and there are hundreds of restaurants and shops.  As the empty lots attest it’s a project in development, but far from being a ghost town.  Indeed, 13 years ago there was little but reclaimed land, but now there are over 100,000 people living in Songdo and in the areas that are complete the built environment feels relatively mature.

However, my sense was that it’s all very new, clean and wealthy, and there was little organic about the city – it has clearly been planned and developed to a masterplan, with centrally managed clustering of shops, restaurants and services, and some signature architecture around Central Park.  Moreover, the nascent city is a gated community at city-scale.  Given that the land was reclaimed there was no local community to displace and the cost of living in the private apartment buildings works to exclude lower-income households.  Indeed, Songdo is reputed to be one of the largest privately developed and financed urban developments globally and it aims for a certain degree of exclusivity that will attract additional international investment.

As for the smart city technologies these are difficult to spot, which is no surprise given they are designed to work in the background.  As such, the place does not particularly feel very smart (but rather a newly constructed city district) and since I struggled to get online outside the hotel I couldn’t access what information is made publicly available.  Moreover, what is highlighted in the Promotions Centre might have been pushing the smart city envelope in the mid-2000s but is now pretty middle of the road (real-time passenger information, sensor networks and CCTV, smart parking, traffic and accident information, e-government services, energy-efficient buildings, urban control room).

My overall impression then is that Songdo is more about economic development, free trade, global capitalism, real-estate development, cities as a target market for tech development, and gated community at a city scale, than it is about creating sustainable, diverse and smart communities and citizens.  And despite the global financial crisis it’s making a pretty good fist of the former, having now seemingly gained enough critical mass in terms of investment, infrastructure, companies and population to become an urban growth machine.  I’m not convinced, however, that this is the kind of smart city that other places should seek to emulate given it’s the vision of private interests largely for the benefit of private interests.

Rob Kitchin

A number of the quotes in this blog post are from the IFEZ journal (Sept/Oct 2016, vol 71).

Post-script – I’ve had a search around after I posted this piece.  There are a number of academic articles/book chapters concerning the development of Songdo, including:

Carvalho, L. (2012) Urban competiveness, U-city strategies and the development of technological niches in Songdo, South Korea. In Bulu, M. (ed) City competitiveness and improving urban subsystems. Information Science Reference, Hershey, PA. pp. 197-216.

Halpern, O., LeCavalier, J., Calvillo, N. and Pietsch, W. (2013) Test-Bed Urbanism. Popular Culture 25(2): 272-306.

Kuecker, G.D. (2013) Building the Bridge to the Future: New Songdo City from a Critical Urbanism Perspective. Paper prepared for the workshop: New Songdo City and South Korea’s Green Economy: An Uncertain Future.

Kim, J.I. (2014) Making cities global: the new city development of Songdo, Yujiapu and Lingang. Planning Perspectives 29(3): 329-356

Kim, C. (2010) Place promotion and symbolic characterization of New Songdo City, South Korea. Cities 27(1): 13-19.

Shin, H., Park, S.H. and Sonn, J.W. (2015) The emergence of a multiscalar growth regime and scalar tension: the politics of urban development in Songdo New City, South Korea.  Environment and Planning C 33(6): 1618-1638

Shwayri, S.T. (2013) A Model Korean Ubiquitous Eco-City? The Politics of Making Songdo. Journal of Urban Technology 20(1): 39-55.

Smart Moscow

Last week I visited Moscow to teach a short course and deliver a public lecture on smart cities hosted by the Moscow School of Social and Economic Studies.  In addition, I met some folks from Smart Moscow (part of the Administration of the Mayor and Government of Moscow), Yandex (the Russian Google), Habidatum (urban big data company), Strelka (an institute focusing on media, architecture and design).

smart moscow2The vision of a smart city, as articulated by the city administration, is based on three pillars of smart urban governance: (1) strategic planning using big data to develop and implement real-time adaptive management solutions; (2) sustainable, continuous development based on co-evolution of society and nature aimed at making life better while also reducing the negative impact on the environment; (3) engaging residents in the city’s administration through dialogue and collective decision-making using websites and mobile apps.

The programme has been running for about five years and now consists of suite of different e-government and management services (see Figure below).  These have been developed across a number of departments and agencies and like Dublin the Smart Moscow initiative has drawn these together to create a more coherent narrative, though it is not clear the extent to which they work in any coordinated way or their continued development is being undertaken cooperatively and in alignment.  It also seems that, as yet, there is no fully developed smart city strategy, advisory board or network, or communications programme (for example, the initiative does not appear to have a website in either Russian or English).  There is also a Smart City Lab within the Moscow government that is responsible for an innovation strategy.

My sense was that while the groundwork for Smart Moscow has been laid and there are a number of operational initiatives that Moscovites are familiar with they are largely unaware of Smart Moscow initiative itself.  It will therefore be interesting to see how Smart Moscow unfolds over the next few years and it would certainly be an interesting case study to examine in depth and compare to other European cities.

smart moscow

Rob Kitchin