Data Power Conference

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Panel Session 4b): Data Cities (Chair: Giorgia Aiello)


Canaries in the Data Mine: Young People, Property, and Power in the ‘Smart' City

Gregory Donovan, Fordham University

This paper analyzes the privatization of space and information as a core component of a so called 'smart urbanism' so as to critically consider a more participatory development that accounts for both a right to the city and a right to research for everyday people, especially youth. As urban youth grow up with smart phones and within smart homes, classrooms, and cities, their routines generate troves of data on daily life that are mined for both governance and profit. Despite being both a frequent source and object of this data, urban youth are among the least likely to be given a meaningful role in its generation and use. Participatory action design research conducted with NYC youth, and the development of a college-level service-learning course on smart urbanism are drawn on to situate urban youth as the canaries in this data mine—existing at the forefront of complex power negotiations in cities overwrought with corporate interests. This paper argues that despite the 'big data' shaping and being shaped by the platforms and practices of smart urbanism, too little attention has been paid to the historical geography of inequality and injustice reproduced through its uneven forms of proprietary knowledge and spatial production. Further, this paper will explore how young people and their communities can meaningfully collaborate with media activists and scholars to foster a more even and participatory form of urban development through acts of methodological resistance and appropriation.


The Politics of Urban Indicators, Benchmarking and Dashboards

Rob Kitchin, Tracey Lauriault, and Gavin McArdle, National University of Ireland Maynooth

Since the mid-1990s a plethora of urban indicator data projects have been developed and adopted by cities seeking to measure and monitor various aspects of urban systems. These have been accompanied by city benchmarking endeavours that seek to compare intra- and inter-urban performance. More recently, the data underpinning such projects have started to become more open to citizens, more real-time in nature generated through sensors and locative/social media (constituting big data), and displayed via interactive visualisations and dashboards that can be accessed via the internet. In this paper, we examine such initiatives arguing that they advance a narrowly conceived but powerful realist epistemology – the city as visualised facts – that is reshaping how managers and citizens come to know and govern cities. We set out how and to what ends indicator, benchmarking and dashboard initiatives are being employed by cities. We argue that whilst these initiatives often seek to make urban processes and performance more transparent and to improve decision making, they are also underpinned by a naive instrumental rationality, are open to manipulation by vested interests, and suffer from often unacknowledged methodological and technical issues. Drawing on our own experience of working on indicator and dashboard projects, we argue for a conceptual re-imaging of such projects as data assemblages – complex, politically-infused, socio-technical systems that, rather than reflecting cities, actively frame and produce them.

Key words: indicators, benchmarking, dashboards, epistemology, open data, data assemblage, smart cities, governance


Digital Media in the City: Open Data and Smart Citizenship

Gunes Tavmen, Birbeck, University of London

The discourse around the smart city has recently evolved into a discussion centralising around the concept of “open data”. As Rob Kitchin has also noted, in opposition to previous technocratic definitions of smart cities, open data is presented as the new citizen-centric approach. This is particularly so for the city of London. According to the Greater London Authority (GLA), “Every activity in London can be captured as data”[1] and in doing so, the GLA is aiming to encourage citizens and entrepreneurs to be engaged in how the city “performs”. In the Smart London Plan prepared by the GLA, smart city is given as “a vehicle for inclusion”[2] and the open data is the next significant tool for this to happen. Even the most critical of the smart city discourse claim that “smart citizens” making use of open data would have the ability to practice their right to the city. Despite all these “potential” claims and some early demonstrations of open data capabilities such as London Datastore, it is yet unclear by whom and in which ways open data will be used in practice by the city dwellers. Moreover, the presumption that better access to urban data will eventually yield new governance models brings about the question whether it was actually due to a lack of data and hence impeded citizen participation that inequalities in cities have grown. Bearing all these points in mind, I aim to question who would the smart citizen be, and whether open data would in fact contribute to building a more just city, with a special focus on London.




BOLD Cities: The Promise and Predicaments of Big Data for Urban Governance

Liesbet van Zoonen and Jan van Dalen, Erasmus University and Loughborough University

Across the world, the words 'smart city' and 'social city' are buzzing among urban stakeholders and governors. Through Big, Open and Linked Data (BOLD) a host of urban problems supposedly can be analysed and tackled, from streamlining urban transport, to creating healthy spaces, preventing crime or revive delipidated neighborhoods. To date, however, there is relatively little hands on evidence of how particular articulations of data, urban stakeholders and local governance have lead to improved quality of urban life. In this paper, we analyse the performance of a number of Dutch cities regarding their usage of big, open and linked data. The paper is based on the newly established collaboration between the university and the city of Rotterdam, in a data lab where knowledge, governance and technology stakeholders are brought together to contribute to urban vitality.