Data-driven cities? Digital urbanism and its proxies
Location 122
Date and Start Time 01 September, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 3


  • Claudio Coletta (Maynooth University) email
  • Laurie Waller (Technical University of Munich) email
  • Liam Heaphy (Maynooth University) email
  • Sung-Yueh Perng (Tunghai University) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

The track explores the digital, data-driven and networked making of urban environment. We welcome contributions in various formats: presentations, audio, video and photographic accounts, as well as performances and live demonstrations of public interfaces and software tools for urban analysis.

Long Abstract

How do software and space work in urban everyday life and urban management? How do data and policies actually shape each other? What forms of delegation, enrollment and appropriation take place?

Contemporary urban environments are characterised by dense arrangements of data, algorithms, mobile device, networked infrastructures. Multiple technologies (such as smart metering, sensing networks, GPS, CCTV, induction loops, mobile apps) are connected with multiple processes (such as institutional data management, data brokering, crowdsourcing, workflow management), aiming to provide sustainable, efficient, integrated city governance and services.

Within this context, vested interests interact in a multi-billion global market where corporations, companies and start-ups propose data-driven urban solutions, while public administrations increasingly delegate control over citizens' data. Also, public institutions and private companies leverage the efforts of open data movements, engaged civic communities and citizen-minded initiatives to find new ways to create public and economic value from urban data.

However, the making of digital and data-driven urbanism is uncertain, fragile, contested, conflicting.

The track intends to stimulate the debate on: the different forms of performing and making sense of the urban environment through data and algorithms; the different ways to approach the relationship between data, software and cities.

We welcome theoretical and empirical contributions critically addressing the following (non-exhaustive-list-of) topics:

- urban big data, dashboards, data analytics and brokering;

- IoT based urban services and governance;

- civic hacking, open data movements;

- privacy, security and surveillance in data-driven cities;

- crowd, mobility and traffic management;

- sensors, monitoring, mapping and modelling for urban facilities;

- digitization of built environment.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.


One Country, Two Datasets: Smart City Politics in Hong Kong

Author: Rolien Hoyng (Chinese University of Hong Kong)  email

Short Abstract

Discussing Hong Kong, this paper integrates the politics of data—including critical issues regarding connectivity, computation, access, re-use, surveillance —with a politics of knowledge involving struggles around distributions of the visible, knowable, sayable, and actionable.

Long Abstract

This paper addresses the conceptual and methodological problems encountered in formulating a critique of Asian smart urbanism, and more particularly the informational and infrastructural politics of Hong Kong as an aspiring, non-Western smart city. Smart-city critique in the West often foregrounds a Deleuze-inspired thesis on the operation of networked, microphysical power in neoliberalized societies of control. What generates power as control are "the connections and processes of everyday urban inhabitations within computational modalities" (Gabrys 2014, 38). Yet this paper argues that in order not to mimic the universalizing tendencies of smart city capitalism, the critique of the smart city ought to be contextual. It proposes to integrate the politics of data—including critical issues regarding connectivity, computation, access, re-use, surveillance —with a politics of knowledge involving struggles around distributions of the visible, knowable, sayable, and actionable. In Hong Kong specifically, diverse collectivities that are more or less loosely connected utilize data applications to produce knowledge about their city and the political will of citizens. The articulation between the politics of data and the politics of knowledge indicates the return as well as remediation of concepts such as sovereignty, political will, and identity—all of which have to do with the current erosion of the "One Country, Two Systems" agreement between China and Hong Kong. While informational flow and architectures are articulated to discourses of the "free society" in techno-centric apparatuses of smart city governance, the freedoms and entitlements data-producing and -processing citizens are looking for are of a different order.

ISO 37210:2014: Making city data commensurable

Author: James White (Maynooth University)  email

Short Abstract

ISO 37120, a set of 100 indicators representing a range of urban systems and practices, makes cities more amenable to circulating policies and technical systems. In order to achieve this the standard's certifying body must act to draw the spatial and temporal extent of city data towards an ideal.

Long Abstract

Despite the difficulties involved, there is much which might be gained by accurately measuring and comparing cities. In this paper I will present research on one such effort to make city data commensurable: ISO 37120:2014. This international standard—a set of 100 indicators which represent a range of urban systems and practices—promises city officials the ability to benchmark their city against other cities globally. I argue that the standard's potential to achieve this is premised upon two aspects of its design. First, its definition of 'the city' is deferred to the civil servants and data analysts enlisted in its implementation. This acts to ensure that the particularities of local data gathering practices do not disrupt the normativity of the 100 indicators. Second, through the use of annual auditing mechanisms and a multi-tiered certification system, the standard's certifying body, the World Council on City Data, has the capacity to subtly monitor and modify the ways in which the indicators are met. Over time, these two aspects might be used to draw the spatial and temporal extent of city data towards an ideal. This has important economic and political implications. Once city data is commensurable with a global norm, the city itself will become more amenable to circulating policies and technical systems.

The choreography of people and code in the city through Real-Time Passenger Information and traffic control systems

Author: Liam Heaphy (Maynooth University)  email

Short Abstract

Taking the case of real-time passenger information, this papers analyses how protocols and standards are being reconciled and negotiated with various transport operators in Dublin, arguing that the integration of smart mobility technology is dependent upon successfully grafting code onto the city.

Long Abstract

The interplay between code and the city is particularly discernible in the case of smart transport systems and the movement of people and goods within the city region. In the case of public transport, a key technology for driving patronage is the use of Real-Time Passenger Information (RTPI), communicating to potential passengers about the relative waiting times for transport options and generally facilitating a more informed and efficient commuting experience for citizens. RTPI was rolled out in Dublin at beginning of this decade, and ever since, has become steadily integrated into a complex web of smart technologies, changing how people live and work in the city.

The greatest surface characteristic of RTPI is that of digital signage on stops indicating the estimated time of arrival of coming services, yet it also interacts with a broad range of technologies including travel smart cards, an ecosystem of travel apps, traffic control rooms, and automated traffic signalling favouring buses and trams over other vehicles. It is this data assemblage which is explored here, following how code travels in terms of how protocols and standards are being reconciled and negotiated with various operators, and how data is reutilised for further purposes such as traffic monitoring and data modelling. It is argued that analysing code-city interaction as a data assemblage shows how the 'flattening' of data anomalies and incompatibilities in the interests of a 'smart' and integrated system of systems is dependent upon successfully grafting rapidly evolving technologies onto a shifting target.

Crime as data: The move from predictive to prescriptive policing and the empirical underpinnings of police reform

Author: Aaron Shapiro (University of Pennsylvania)  email

Short Abstract

Predictive policing programs harness the data-infrastructural components of police records and arrest data to produce geospatial risk profiles that are utilized by police departments. How are these software programs changing how crime is understood as a data-generative encounter?

Long Abstract

In the world of government procurement, one of the most sought after urban data infrastructures is known as 'predictive policing.' Using arrest records and crime data, predictive policing programs utilize algorithms that create geospatial risk profiles for urban spaces. Cash-strapped municipalities have turned to these analytics in order to more efficiently manage their police departments' resources. The rise of predictive policing over the past several years has also been tied to public debates over the role of the police, especially in the context of police brutality that correlates with waxing racial and economic disparity in cities the world over. Although even the most staunch proponents recognize the limits to predictive policing, it remains a glimmer of technological hope for a more objective, data-driven, and, assumedly, just future of policing.

Here I report on ethnographic research with the programmers and product managers behind one predictive crime analytics software, HunchLab. I focus on these actors' aspirations for police reform, which most often involve new ways to collect data not only on criminals but on police behaviors themselves. Biometric and behavioral data on police officers allows not only for predictions to be made, but also prescriptions about the best course of action. I describe this shift from 'prediction' to 'prescription' not only as a rhetorical device to distinguish the HunchLab product on the market, but also as a mechanism to enroll new actors (the police officers) into the interactive, data-generative field that crime becomes from the perspective of the data analyst.

Spaces of prescription or of negotiation? Control rooms and the government of urban crime in the age of "predictive policing"

Author: Sarah Widmer (University of Neuchâtel )  email

Short Abstract

The paper looks at how predictive policing software shapes the practices of crime prevention. By using ANT concepts of “script” and “de-scription” to grasp the relations between algorithms and police officers, the paper aims to stress ANT contribution to the “power in algorithms” discussions.

Long Abstract

As shown by Amoore, post-9/11 discourses on domestic security have been shaped by the idea that terrorist attacks can be prevented by "connecting the dots", i.e. by using algorithms to detect potential threats through disparate sets of data. This paper looks at the government of risks in the urban realm by examining how the contemporary practices of urban crime prevention are reframed by this algorithmic logic of "connecting the dots".

In particular, I intend to focus on current "predictive policing" software, which connect and analyze data from disparate sources (past criminal activities, 911 calls, smart CCTV images etc.) to target areas or individuals that could present or be exposed to a risk. As evidenced by a growing number of companies developing their software solutions, as well as by an increasing number of US and European cities using such software, "predictive policing" seems to be on the rise.

This paper looks at these data-driven security networks, by examining the enrolment of a particular actor in the control room: the officer, who interprets, negotiates and enacts algorithms claims about potential crimes. By using ANT concepts of "script" and of "de-scription", I wish to comprehend the relations between the algorithms claims (to what extent are they prescriptive?) and the officer actions (can she negotiate those claims?). Drawing on Murdoch´s (1998, p. 364) idea that "prescription and negotiation are two sides of the same coin" I wish to underline how ANT can contribute to the scientific discussions about "power in algorithms".

Sensing the city; a sociotechnical approach to environmental sensing.

Author: Darren Reed (University of York)  email

Short Abstract

This paper analyses of the stabilisation of an urban environmental sensor system called ELM as a sociotechnical system.

Long Abstract

This paper undertakes an initial analysis of the stabilisation of an urban environmental sensor system called ELM. ELM is being implemented as part of the YorkSense project, a collaboration between the environment and sociology departments at the University of York. A commercial product marketed by Perkin Elmer, the ELM sensor is a lamp post based modular unit that records air pollution (e.g. nitrogen dioxide, VOCs, ozone), temperature and humidity, and noise levels. The implementation has been far from smooth, with various problems encountered, including those in relation to negotiating their installation, the appropriate positioning of the sensors that meet both technical and social needs, and problems faced in terms of the multiple and often conflicting readings gained from individual units. This paper will focus primarily on these latter issues, and in doing so reveal what the Science and Technology Studies scholar John Law calls the 'hinterland' of the sensors - those accumulated sociotechnical factors that undermine a simplistic technological focus. In particular, we will use the issue of calibration of the NO2 readings as a lever to reveal the social construction and negotiation of 'good' readings, and contrast these with the public facing data presentations of data by Perkin Elmer. By uncovering the active processes of determining the correct and right readings, and the accompanying practices, complexities, and multiplicities of the device, we will contribute to the programmable city debate by prioritising the sociology and social psychology of urban environmental monitoring devices as sociotechnical systems.

DIO: a mobile game to map surveillance cameras

Authors: Tiago Chagas Soares (University of São Paulo)  email
Felipe Lavignatti  email
Sarah Costa Schmidt  email
Rafael de Almeida Evangelista (Universidade Estadual de Campinas)  email

Short Abstract

DIO is a playable platform for mobile phones which aims to collaboratively map surveillance cameras scattered in urban space. It promotes the visibility of cameras in urban areas and discusses the informational surveillance.

Long Abstract

In a non distant future, governments of the world's richest countries launched a project, open to companies and global organizations, to establish an open standard for communication and integration of all the world's surveillance cameras. The idea was to build a global network of surveillance cameras, which serve as an additional security tool to fight terrorism. Despite the harsh criticism, the initiative was carried out for a few months, having received several contributions. Not informing the reasons or if the system ever came into operation, the governments quietly canceled the project. Groups of hackers around the world, however, discovered the truth. An artificial intelligence called DIO (Damocles Information Operative) was built. It's a distributed, integrated, self-regenerative system, able to control all cameras of the globe. Resistance to DIO was divided into two groups: blind, dedicated to disable the cameras, blinding them; and lens, dedicated to restore control of the cameras to their original owners, removing the cameras from DIO's network.

Using a software for mobile phones, the teams fight DIO in accordance with their philosophies. The player chooses which group they will join and have the following tasks: geo-locate and photograph the surveillance cameras scattered in the street; compete with the other team for the control of cameras. Transformed into geolocated points with which the player interacts, cameras can only be taken with the player being physically present at a close distance to them.

The game is under construction. A prototype, game screens and future goals will be presented.

From concrete to data: how digital services reframe accessibility for the disabled

Author: Clément Marquet (Télécom ParisTech )  email

Short Abstract

This communication focuses on the representations of accessibility embodied in the prototypes conceived by the participants of a digital innovation contest organized by a French railway company and the production of the informational infrastructure required for such services.

Long Abstract

Besides investing in infrastructures and personnel training, Transilien, the French rail subsidiary company for the region Ile-de-France (where the city of Paris is located), focused in 2013 its « open data and innovation program » on the subject of accessibility for the disabled. To do so, the company decided to organized a hackathon, an innovation contest, in order to get developers and disabled people conceiving prototypes of digital services aiming at « improving accessibility for everyone ».

This way of dealing with accessibility is surprising regarding classical methods, usually focusing on physical equipments and spatial organisation. Differently, Transilien aims at addressing accessibility with information and communication technologies: software, smartphone, open data etc. This communication focuses on the representations of accessibility for persons with reduced mobility embodied in the prototypes conceived by Transilien hackathon's participants. What does data driven innovation to representations of an accessible space ?

Based on an ethnographic observation, I suggest that the digital approach of accessibility relies on smartphone-mediated social interactions and fosters collective effort towards the development of an informational infrastructure. A particular attention will be given to the partnership between Transilien and the OpenStreetMap community, which aims at providing the central piece of the informational infrastructure : the cartographic database. I will argue that this cartographic work challenges the classic, physical approach of accessibility and replaces it by another ideal, in which the defaults of urban space would be conjured by real-time updated data.

Re-imagining the city through participatory open data

Authors: Juliane Jarke (University of Bremen)  email
Herbert Kubicek (Institute for Information Managament Bremen)  email
Ulrike Gerhard (Universität Bremen)  email

Short Abstract

Our paper examines different approaches to participatory open government data initiatives, their claims to increased citizen participation, transparency and accountability. In particular we are interested how such initiatives re-imagine their cities differently to more traditional e-participation projects.

Long Abstract

Governments around the world are opening their data repositories and re-organise their work processes in order to be able to provide open data to their citizens. Yet the provision of open government data does not directly translate into more transparent or accountable city administrations and governments. Rather somebody has to do something meaningful with the data. In times of considerable budget cuts in the public sector, more and more public authorities are turning to civic hackers to help them meet citizens' expectations with respect to reduced administrative burden and more efficient services (e.g. European Commission, 2014). Such civic hackers are "deploying information technology tools to enrich civic life, or to solve particular problems of a civic nature" as Hogge (2010, p. 10) noted in a study commissioned by the Open Society Foundation.

Participatory open data initiatives aim to engage citizens (also with non-technical backgrounds) in practices relating to different levels of open data use such as the requesting, digesting, contributing, modelling, and contesting of open data (Schrock, 2016). They may involve anybody 'who is willing to collaborate with others to create, build, and invent open source solutions using publicly released data, code and technology to solve challenges' relevant to their neighbourhoods, cities or states. Our paper will examine different approaches to participatory open data projects. We will present a survey of such initiatives, their methodology and respective claims to increase citizen participation, transparency and accountability. In particular we are interested how such initiatives re-imagine their cities differently to more traditional e-participation projects.

The Public and Private Interests in Open Government Data

Author: Margaret Young (University of Washington)  email

Short Abstract

By considering state law, municipal policy, third-party contracts and data formats through a critical lens, I explore ways that municipal government data is no less by and for commercial actors as it is the public. I argue that commercial actors are often written out of open data discourse.

Long Abstract

In response to rising calls for transparency, municipal governments increasingly make datasets available online. Users of this data are primarily envisioned within the city as community advocates. In Seattle, Washington, the state's Public Records Act designates data used within government as by and for the public; the law creates a strong mandate for open data initiatives, insofar as data records are thought to always already belong to the public. Beyond Seattle, the wider discourse of open data valorizes democratic uses and users. However, municipal open data is part of a larger collective of commercial actors that are involved at every step of government data collection, management, and use. For example, the Seattle Department of Transportation contracts a private company to create and maintain sensors that collect resident location trace data. Contracts like these do not prevent contractors from selling the data they collect. Other companies commercialize open government data as their core business. By considering state law, municipal policy, third-party contracts and data formats through a critical lens, I explore ways that municipal government data is no less by and for commercial actors as it is the public. I argue that commercial actors are often written out of open data discourse, and point to examples from my fieldwork for where and how they should be written back into a Critical Data Studies narrative. This work is based on ethnographic fieldwork in the City of Seattle and relevant activist groups between 2014-2016.

Civic Hacking and Testbedding as Alternative City Making

Authors: Claudio Coletta (Maynooth University)  email
Sung-Yueh Perng (Tunghai University)  email

Short Abstract

The aim of this paper is to account for alternative processes of city making through hacktivism and testbedding, observing how they actually engage with smart cities transformation processes and create specific regimes of change and innovation.

Long Abstract

The aim of this paper is to account for alternative processes of city making through hacktivism and testbedding, observing how they actually engage with smart cities transformation processes and create specific regimes of change and innovation. In which extent these alternatives are viable for the cities? Which (and whose) are the benefits? How the idea of urban change is produced and performed? What kind of digital atmosphere/governmentality is produced?

Hacktivism and testbedding are considered here as two forms of collaboration between public and private actors to envision and test the deployment of IoT based services in the city.

They are considered as alternative because they collide and interact with their own rationalities, because they stem from different ideas of users, markets and value for the city and finally because they perform different possible urban worlds. In so doing, they present relevant features for STS analysis: first, they act upon a web of relations that creates a common platform/infrastructure, the move across and enact mutable urban scales, they assemble heterogeneous actors (such as public organizations, civic communities, start-up companies, multinational corporations, city innovation frameworks and protocols, etc.), they build on specific ideas of change, they contribute to create an digital innovation affect that pervade smart urbanism practices across the city. Such affect seems to orient the discourse and the innovation in very unpredictable ways, acting both as a source of ideas and practices that can be enrolled enacted by companies and/or public sector to become actual project.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.