Code and the City workshop videos: Session 5

Session 5 is our last session of the Code and the City workshop. Video of the previous sessions are here: Session 1, Session 2, Session 3 and Session 4.

Session 5: Cities, code and governance

Coding alternative modes of governance: ‘Smart cities’ to ‘data cities’
Alison Powell, Media & Communications, LSE

Within the last twenty years the concept of the “smart city” has emerged and re-emerged, focusing on various ways that technology layers new capacities over existing urban infrastructures. These “smart cities” are changing. The “smart city” of the early 2000s was a communicative city, while the smart city of the 2010s is a data city. The dynamics of these are different: a communicative city promises representation through voice – the ability to speak and listen – while a data city promises representation through information – information collected about individuals is fed back to civic decision makers who enact decisions based upon it. Data is thus a product flowing from citizen to government. In data cities governance is also different: both communicative and data cities could be the result of top-down governance decisions or subject to bottom-up reconfigurations, the ways that those decisions are enacted are quite different. A communicative city promises a democratic value to citizens of greater access to information, while a data city promises a value to governments of greater access to data about citizens. This structural inequity is particularly evident when we consider what must happen to data in a data city – it must be calculated.

Within a macro-political perspective, centralized calculation of data gathered from citizens is essential for developing visions of responsive, data-rich, centrally controlled smart cities. This seems to close off the potential for an alternative mode of governance for the contemporary data city. However, the expansion of participatory culture has created efforts to democratize collection of data about cities, through citizen science projects including air quality and noise mapping. In these projects, the legitimacy of the hierarchical city is challenged by the oppositional data collected by citizens, taken as evidence of an opposition between the “constituted knowledge” of institutions like city governance and the “adaptive knowledge” of loosely organized communities of practice (see Mansell, 2013). This contest of knowledge contrasts the two modes of combining citizenship, technology and space, the ‘hierarchical city’ and the ‘peer to peer’ city. Participatory data collection does seem to enact an alternative to centralized authority, but it is not clear whether data – without calculation – is really shifting governance.

Building upon the central contrast between hierarchical and peer to peer cities, this paper considers how the “micro politics” of cities are altered as calculation is integrated into civic participation. Drawing on historical and contemporary examples of peer to peer cities including community networks, citizen science, it argues that peer to peer calculation is the most significant yet most difficult activation of alternative governance of urban space.

Big data and stratification urban futures
Agnieszka Leszczynski, Geography and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham

Code has been recognized as intimately implicated in the socio-­spatial stratification of cities. Big data in particular are underwriting a sweeping intensification of practices of socio-­spatial sorting, which refers to the organization of city spaces into social and economic categories so as to categorize and effectively manage the individuals who inhabit them. These practices directly shape and reinforce material urban geographies of social disparity. One of the primary areas where we find evidence of this is in the increasing leveraging of big data towards the prefiguring of urban spatial pre-­futures of deviance. Big data and attendant analytics are reproducing and reifying disenfranchisement alog axes of race, class, socioeconomic status, and geography at scales from the city as a whole to individual neighbourhoods so as to create material spaces for specific kinds of vertical surveillance interventions (e.g., increased police presence), and to justify the targeting of particular neighborhoods and neighbourhood populations for these practices (e.g., by prefiguring them as criminalized a priori). The ways in which this is enacted in practice is
discussed with reference to, amongst others, the EMOTIVE Twitter analytics software program designed as a riot prevention system in the UK, and the Chicago Police Department’s turn to big data analytics as a predictive policing measure.

The cryptographic city
David M. Berry, Media & Communication, University of Sussex

Questions about opacity and transparency have been turned upside down in the post-Snowden era. With the certainty of tracking technologies, surveillance and monitoring, a new turn towards anonymity, opaque presence and crypto-identity has emerged in digital networks. This paper looks to examine questions of cryptography and encryption in relation to the city, particularly in relation to the increasing mediation of life through algorithms, software and code. Key questions are the relationship between opacity and opaque presence and notions of publicness and city space, but also the way in which the city as a programmable city will increasingly rely upon the cryptographic layers. Through an engagement with the notion of ‘capture’ the paper seeks to think through the limits of what we might call plaintext code/space and reflect on the crypto code/spaces and their materialities.

Additional Videos from previous sessions

Session 4 – Cultural curation and urban Interfaces: Locative media as experimental platforms for cultural data
Nanna Verhoeff, Department of Media and Culture Studies, Utrecht University

My contribution is concerned with the way in which urban interfaces are used for access to cultural collections – whether institutionally embedded, or bottom-up, participatory collections. Designed in code and exploring affordances of new location-based and/or mobile technologies for urban space-making, these interfaces are thought to be powerful tools for ideals of participatory urban culture. I propose to approach these “projects” as curatorial machines, as urban experimental laboratories for cultural data. This entails a threefold perspective, on curation, on code, and on principles of creative (sometimes artistic or playful) experimentation.

For this, we may remind ourselves of the curatorial project of museal and archival institutions, of preserving, and “caring” for the object, as well as creating new contexts for the object and providing access for an urban public – a field which is very much in transition as a result of current ambitions for new public engagement and ideals of participation, pervasive in all socio-economic and political regions of contemporary culture. Simultaneously we witness the current interest in the principles of data curation as the care for, interaction with, interpretation and visualisation of digital data, as the datafication and codification of culture invades all corners of urban life. Design of interfaces is central in how we can access, work with, and make meaning with digital culture. Departing from the concept of dispositif in the analysis of interfaces, I propose to bring together the fact that the interfaces are coded and designed, to (playfully) experiment with their affordances.

In my approach to this intersection of datafication of, and the proliferation of interfaces for “culture”, I aim to develop heuristic tools for critical evaluation of this phenomenon, broadly bracketed as [urban interfaces] as interfaces of cultural curation.

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