Author Archives: Jim Merricks White

Seminar: “Revealing experimental smart cities: 
The Frankenstein city and the sustainability challenges of De-composed Urbanism” by Federico Cugurullo

We are pleased to announce that that Dr Federico Cugurullo will be delivering the second Programmable City Seminar for the 2016/17 academic year on October 26th, 3.30pm, in room 1.31 of the Iontas Building, Maynooth University.

Dr Cugurullo recently joined the Department of Geography at Trinity College Dublin as Assistant Professor in Smart and Sustainable Urbanism. He previously worked as a lecturer in Human Geography at Manchester University. His research is positioned at the intersection of urban geography and political philosophy, and explores how ideas of sustainability are cultivated and implemented across geographical spaces and scales, with a focus on projects for eco-cities.

The seminar will explore the smart city through the example of Hong Kong.

ProgCity_Seminar_4_2_ FedericoCugurullo

Data and the City workshop, Session 5 videos

The final set of papers in the Data and the City workshop were a great way to end to a fantastic event. The full catalogue of videos are listed on our Project Videos page and can be found through our Vimeo account. Thanks again for all the attendees for making this year’s workshop such a resounding success.

Data Issues

Smart City, Surveillance City: human flourishing in a data-driven urban world

David Murakami Wood, Associate Professor, Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Surveillance Studies, Department of Sociology and Cross-Appointed in the Department of Geography, Member of the Surveillance Studies Centre, Queens University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

‘Smart cities’ are characterized by pervasive and distributed sensor networks generating big data for forms of centralized urban management, drawing together such previously unconnected infrastructural systems as video surveillance, meteorological stations, traffic lights and sewage systems. Although presented as largely civic, corporate and managerial, these schemes have a parallel history in military strategic thinking and policing, from crime mapping and predictive policing models, to new forms of urban warfare involving forms of distributed sensor platforms, and computer analytics, to enable forces to get a ‘clear picture’ of the complexities of the urban landscape and its inhabitants. In some cases, these have come together in overt ways, for example in the new ‘Domain Awareness’ initiatives in Oakland, California, and in New York which extends existing port security projects way beyond the military maritime ‘domain’ into the surrounding city and its governance.

Drawing on work in philosophy, science and technology studies, geography and surveillance studies, this paper considers the smart city as the archetypical urban form of the data-driven ubiquitous surveillance society. The paper considers the place of human rights in a broad sense, not simply privacy but also equity, access to services and justice, and ultimately, after Spinoza and Deleuze, the capacity of diverse human beings to flourish, in cities in which people are increasingly monitored, categorized and managed as logistical flows. It suggests some directions from the practices of bottom-up, citizen-centered city hacking initiatives and maker-spaces, but cautions that such practices are already subject to corporate capture and rebranding. The paper concludes that if smart cities are to be a way that big data can serve human flourishing, they need to be detached from narrow techno-economistic purposes and more truly refounded in social-ecological thinking, and this means dismantling many of the surveillance logics that underpin smart cities.

Michel Foucault and the smart city: power dynamics inherent in contemporary governing through code

Francisco Klauser, Assistant Professor, Faculté des lettres et sciences humaines Institut de géographie, Neuchâtel University

Drawing upon Michel Foucault’s approach to power and governmentality, the paper explores the regulatory dynamics inherent in contemporary data-driven forms of regulation and management-at-a-distance of urban systems. More specifically, channelled through Michel Foucault’s concept of ‘security’, the paper portrays ‘governing through data’ not only as fundamentally reality-derived, relative and plural in scope and scale, but also as inherently flexible and fluid in aim and functioning. This in turn raises a series of critical questions with regard to the novel possibilities of differentiation and prioritisation, the actual adequateness, and the very implications of contemporary governing through data.

Empirically speaking, the paper focuses on the study of two high-profile pilot projects in Switzerland in the field of smart electricity management: iSMART and Flexlast. Both projects rely on massive efforts of data generation, interconnection and analysis, thus allowing the critical investigation of the rationales and problems inherent in the management of urban systems through data.

Crime Data and Analytics: Accounting for Crime in the City

Teresa Scassa, Canada Research Chair in Information Law, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa

Crime data are a record of incidents of crime. Such data are routinely compiled by police forces and feed into regional and national crime statistics. Crime data are relied upon in various narratives of crime in society. They are made selectively publicly available as open data and are also increasingly used in visualizations such as urban crime maps. Yet the nature of these data makes uncritical reliance upon them problematic. This paper explores the limits of crime data 21 the constraints on open data as crime data, and the deficiencies of visualizations of crime based on this data. It considers some of the practical, legal and institutional challenges of both expanding and improving these data.

Data and the City workshop, Session 4 videos

We’re back again with another set of papers from The Programmable City’s Data and the City workshop. These videos formed a wonderfuld opening session for the second day of the event.

Data Models and the City

Service Oriented Design and Polyglot Binding for Efficient Sharing and Analysing of Data in Cities

Pouria Amirian, Big Data Project Manager and Data Science Research Associate, University of Oxford

Nowadays successful and efficient management of a city depends on how data are collected, shared and transferred within and between various organizations in the city and how data analytics are used for extracting actionable insights for decision making. Since each organization use different platforms, operating systems and software for the above mentioned tasks, data sharing mechanisms should be provided as platform independent services. This platform independent services can then utilized by various users for different purposes. For example for research purpose of universities, for business purposes of industry and commercial companies, for improving the existing services by city council and related organizations and even for facilitating communication between people and policy makers. Platform independency is necessary quality of services for providing interoperability from technical point of view. The interoperability at various levels is an important requirement and vision for public services and it is well defined in initiatives like European Interoperability Framework (EIF) and many national interoperability frameworks. Based on the mentioned frameworks, exchange of data is an ultimate enabler for sharing information and knowledge between organizations.

In addition to platform independency, in order to make the services as resourceful as possible the services need to be designed based on certain principles. The principles for designing services are dependent on the type of applications and users of those services. This paper first describes the concept of service orientation and then explains three different approaches for sharing data and analysis in a city. Finally the paper suggest an architecture (Organizational Service Layer) to implement polyglot binding for flexible, scalable and interoperable implementation of services in a city.

Data About Cities: Redefining Big, Recasting Small

Michael Batty, Professor, Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA), University College London

In this paper, we argue that the development of data with respect to its use in understanding and planning cities is intimately bound up with the development of methods for manipulating such data, in particular digital computation. We argue that although data volumes have dramatically increased as has their variety in urban contexts largely due to the development of micro devices that enable all kinds of human and physical phenomena to be sensed in real time, big data is not peculiar to contemporary times. It essentially goes back to basic notions of how we deal with relationships and functions in cities that relate to interactions. Big data is thus generated by concatenating smaller data sets and in particular if we change our focus from locations to interactions and flows, then data has faced the challenges of bigness for many years. This should make us more careful about defining what is ‘big data’ and to illustrate these points, we first look at traditional interaction patterns – flows of traffic in cities and show some of the problems of searching for pattern in such data. We then augment this discussion of big data by examining much more routine travel data which is sensed from using smart cards for fare-charging and relating this to questions of matching demand and supply in the context of understanding the routine operation of transit. This gives us some sense of the variety of big data and the challenges that are increasingly necessary in dealing with this kind of data in the face of advances in digital computation.

Putting Out Data Fires; life with the OpenStreetMap DWG

Jo Walsh, Registers of Scotland

OpenStreetMap is a collaborative map of the world, being made on a voluntary basis, and the Data Working Group is its dispute resolution service. Edit wars and tagging conflicts are not frequent, and are often dealt with on a community basis, but when they escalate unbearably, someone calls in the DWG. The DWG operates simultaneously as a kind of police force and as the social work arm of the voluntary fire service for OpenStreetMap. I have had the honour of serving on the DWG since November 2014, and will discuss how consideration several cases of active conflict in different cities worldwide, sheds some light on the different forces at work involved in putting together a collaborative map, and the ways in which people are personally affected. The tone of the paper will owe a little to Bruno Latour’s classic infrastructure detective story, “Aramis”.

Data and the City workshop, Session 3 videos

This set of videos make up the final session from the first day of the Data and City workshop. All of the videos from the event are available through our Vimeo account.

Data Analytics and the City

Improving the Veracity of Open and Real-Time Urban Data

Gavin McArdle, Researcher, National Centre for Geocomputation, Maynooth University, Maynooth, Co. Kildare, Ireland

Within the context of the smart city, data are an integral part of the digital economy and are used as input for decision making, policy formation, and to inform citizens, city managers and commercial organisations. Reflecting on our experience of developing real-world software applications which rely heavily on urban data, this article critically examines the veracity of such data (their authenticity and the extent to which they accurately (precision) and faithfully (fidelity, reliability) represent what they are meant to) and how it can be assessed in the absence of quality reports from data providers. While data quality needs to be considered at all aspects of the data lifecycle and in the development and use of applications, open data are often provided ‘as-is’ with no guarantees about their veracity, continuity or lineage (documentation that establishes provenance and fit for use). This allows data providers to share data with undocumented errors, absences, and biases. If left unchecked these data quality issues can propagate through multiple systems and lead to poor smart city applications and unreliable ‘evidence-based’ decisions. This leads to a danger that open government data portals will come to be seen as untrusted, unverified and uncurated data-dumps by users and critics. Drawing on our own experiences we highlight the process we used to detect and handle errors. This work highlights the necessary janitorial role carried out by data scientists and developers to ensure that data are cleaned, parsed, validated and transformed for use. This important process requires effort, knowledge, skill and time and is often hidden in the resulting application and is not shared with other data users. In this paper, we propose that rather than lose this knowledge, in the absence of data providers documenting them in metadata and user guides, data portals should provide a crowdsourcing mechanism to generate and record user observations and fixes for improving the quality of urban data and open government portals.

Blockchain City: Spatial, Social and Cognitive Ledgers

Chris Speed, Chair of Design Informatics, University of Edinburgh

City dashboards are typically representations of a city’s accounts, manifest according to values set by the stakeholders. The currency of the data within a dashboard is typically reduced to an assessment of the performance of services largely derived from quantitative sources. As a consequence, dashboards cannot describe many of the transactions that take place between people, nor can they make explicit the values that are brokered between the myriad of city occupants. Whilst such information displays may be useful for mayors to report on the performance of a local government, or use it to set targets that lead to penalties or bonuses, the city dwellers that are complicit in the production of data are not able to convert the information back into a currency that can inform their actions and transactions.
This paper explores the barriers that current representations of data present for building new currencies through which value may be mediated at the level of the city dweller. By reflecting on the potential of technologies such as a ‘block chain’, the paper asks: if you change the representation of value, can it change the values that you can represent?

The blockchain is a public ledger of all of the transactions that have ever taken place using the Bitcoin currency. The ledger is constantly growing in a linear manner as ‘blocks’ are completed through the recording of transactions. A copy of the blockchain exists not in one place like the transactions of a traditional bank, but across the network of nodes in the Bitcoin system. This decentralised framework offers not only a form of transparency to prevent fraud but also a potential platform through which different values can be represented.

This paper speculates on the implications for the city of the near future as services begin to adopt blockchain technology. The paper reflects on the activities of the technology startup community who have an understanding of the principles of blockchain technologies through their adoption of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. Via studies of various applications of blockchain technology across these groups, the paper will examine how emerging practices could transform our existing conceptions of value and money. The paper foresees the opportunities for the blockchain to change the way that value flows across the city, and hence lead to new economic and social models for city services.

Beyond quantification: a role for citizen science

Muki Haklay, Professor of Geographic Information Science, Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering, University College London

When approaching the issue of Smart Cities, there is a need to question the underlying assumptions at the basis of Smart Cities discourse, and especially to challenge the prevailing thought that only efficiency, costs and productivity are the most important values. We need to ensure that human and environmental values are taken into account in the design and implementation of systems that will influence the way cities operate and governed. While we can accept science as the least worst method to accumulate human knowledge about the natural world, and appreciate its power to explain and act in the world, we need to consider how it is applied within the city in a way that does leave space for cultural, environmental and religious values. The paper will argue that a specific form of collaborative science – citizen science and community science – are especially suitable for making smart cities meaningful and democratic.

Data and the City workshop, Session 2 videos

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.

Data and the City workshop, Session 1 videos

Thank you to everyone who attended our 2015 workshop Data and the City in early September. It was a fantastic event. Over the next few days we will make the video recordings of the presentations available online.

Here is the introduction to the workshop and the first session, Critically Framing Data.

Opening talk

Data-driven, networked urbanism

Rob Kitchin, NIRSA, Maynooth University

For as long as data have been generated about cities various kinds of data-informed urbanism have been occurring. In this paper, I argue that a new era is presently unfolding wherein data-informed urbanism is increasingly being complemented and replaced by data-driven, networked urbanism. Cities are becoming ever more instrumented and networked, their systems interlinked and integrated, and vast troves of big urban data are being generated and used to manage and control urban life in real-time. Data-driven, networked urbanism, I contend, is the key mode of production for what have widely been termed smart cities. In this paper I provide a critical overview of data-driven, networked urbanism and smart cities focusing in particular on the relationship between data and the city (rather than network infrastructure or computational or urban issues), and critically examine a number of urban data issues including: the politics of urban data; data ownership, data control, data coverage and access; data security and data integrity; data protection and privacy, dataveillance, and data uses such as social sorting and anticipatory governance; and technical data issues such as data quality, veracity of data models and data analytics, and data integration and interoperability. I conclude that whilst data-driven, networked urbanism purports to produce a commonsensical, pragmatic, neutral, apolitical, evidence-based form of responsive urban governance, it is nonetheless selective, crafted, flawed, normative and politically-inflected. Consequently, whilst data-driven, networked urbanism provides a set of solutions for urban problems, it does so within limitations and in the service of particular interests.

Session 1: Critically Framing Data

Provenance and Possibility: Critically Framing Data

Jim Thatcher, ssistant Professor, Division of Urban Studies, University of Washington – Tacoma

‘Big data’s’ boosters present a mythology wherein it is perpetually new, pushing ever-forwards towards bigger and better representations of the world. Similarly, the vision of the “smart city” is inevitably an ahistorical imaginary of data-intense urban planning and coordination. Data sources, actually existing data, appear in the literature as uncritical, pre-existing, and decontextualized representations of the world to be exploited in service to a techno-utopian urban. The sources of data, its provenance, recede into a technical issue: one in a litany of hurdles to be overcome through austere, computational methodologies. Such technical approaches to provenance efface the intentionality of data creators. They leave out the inscription of meaning that goes into data objects as socio-technical, emergent indicators at urban scales and instead seats them as objective reality. Using a critical data studies approach, this paper connects and contextualizes the conditions of data’s production with its potential uses in the world. Data provenance, the where, how, and from whom data is produced, is intrinsically linked to how it comes to (re)present the world. This exploration serves as the first steps in developing a schema that includes mobile devices, municipal services, and other categories and tie that to the historical ideologies through which these technologies emerged in urban contexts.

Where are data citizens?

Evelyn Ruppert, Professor, Department of Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London

If we increasingly know, experience and enact cities through data then we need to understand who are the subjects of that data and the space of relations they occupy. The development of the Internet of Things (IoT) means phones, watches, dishwashers, fridges, cars, and many other devices are always already connected to the Internet and generating enormous volumes of data about movements, locations, activities, interests, encounters, and private and public relationships. It also means that conduct is being governed through myriad arrangements and conventions of the Internet. What does this mean for how data subjects become data citizens? If indeed through the act of making claims data subjects become citizens how do we understand the spaces of this becoming? Challenging a separation between ‘real’ space and ‘virtual’ space, I define cyberspace as a space of social struggles: a space of transactions and interactions between and among bodies acting through the Internet. How these struggles are part-and-parcel of the constitution of the programmable city is the critical framing that I take up in this paper.

Unfortunately no video recording of this paper was made. Audio should be made available shortly.

Data cultures, power and the city

Jo Bates, Lecturer in Information Politics and Policy, Information School, University of Sheffield

How might we come to know a city through data? As citizens, policy makers, academics and businesses turn increasingly to data analytics in an effort to gain insight into and manage cities, this paper argues that rather than seeking to find the truth of cities in their data, we might better illuminate the flows of power and influence in the contemporary urban environment through close critical examination of these emerging, intersecting local data cultures and practices.

What value and relevance do local data cultures see in emergent data practices? How do they come to influence and shape them? What are their hopes, aspirations, concerns and fears? What tensions and struggles are emerging? Where and how do these local practices intersect with one another? How are they embedded within and responding to developments in national and transnational data practices, infrastructures and flows?

Through focusing on the complex and contested “assemblages” of political, economic, social and cultural processes that data production and flow are embedded in, and recognising local data practices as specific articulations of social relations situated within time and space, what can we learn about our cities and how they are situated within the global flows of capital and power in the early 21st century?

This paper will begin to address these questions using illustrative examples drawn from empirical research findings.

The remainder of the videos will be released on our website in coming weeks. If you just can’t wait, you can check them out now on our Vimeo account.