Week 6 – City Dashboards & Open Data

City dashboards are popping up all over the world, as illustrated below in the example from London.

“Big data” like the one shown above is being used by governments to define and justify strategies, as well as course-correct when necessary. “Open data” is now available to the general public, redefining the relationship between citizenry and government. Organizations like the Open Data Institute “works with companies and governments to build an open, trustworthy data ecosystem, where people can make better decisions using data and manage its harmful impacts.” Residents of London can feel empowered to make decision of their everyday lives by accessing the information from these indicators. City managers and policy-makers use evidence-based tools like these dashboards that visualize how the city is performing.
The straightforward approach seems to be that data is objective, data is a reflection of reality. Kitchin however warns us that even though indicators enable informed decision-making, we must acknowledge their limitations. Facts and figures are not enough to fully understand a city, and by no means, do the above indicators provide a comprehensive understanding of the city of London. Indicators like Tube updates, traffic, pollution and weather updates address issues within their scope. And to compare a city like London through its dashboard with another city becomes, as Kitchin states, a zero-sum game as “cities are rated and ranked, with only one city being able to occupy each place, so that despite the fact that they may have improved their performance they are still lowly ranked vis-à-vis other locales.” (Kitchin et al, 2015, page 19). Every city is different, has different goals and is in different points of maturity or historical existence. Similar city dashboards are available across the United Kingdom. However, benchmarking Edinburgh or Glasgow against the indicators appearing in the London dashboard would be like comparing apples and oranges, and it would be a zero-sum game, with the gains of one city being taken from the other in the ranking.
In the image below, we see updated information coming in from different points of London. Weather, bicycles, stocks, traffic, tube, air pollution. These are the slices and perspectives chosen to understand the current status of the city. Kitchin also acknowledges that data does not only reflect what a city is, but also produces and frames these cities by highlighting certain issues while hiding others. “A dashboard seeks to act as a translator, not simply a mirror, setting the forms and parameters for how data are communicated and thus what the user can see and engage with.” (Kitchin et al, 2015, page 20).
But according to Leszczynski, big data like the one dashboarded below by the Mayor of London provide inputs for future-ing, or speculating about what the city could look like in the future: “(Big) data about/from cities likewise feed a speculative security calculus that projects urban derivatives onto ‘an array of uncertain futures’ in the interests of securitizing against that very uncertainty by rendering it actionable in the present through various kinds of preemptive urban interventions” (Amoore in Leszczynski, 2016, page 1693). The gang crime indicators do not provide a solution, but an interpretation of reality. They can shape decisions moving forward with regards to crime prevention and public policy. They shape the future of the city by defining for example what investments should be allocated for high crime areas. Is it more schools and hospitals, or is it more policing and security cameras? Is this information enough for business to decide their next office location or their next investment?
Dashboards, indicators and open data provide transparency through big data. They can make citizens’ lives easier by giving them real-time updates, as well as provide city planners access to evidence-based decisions. This is extremely valuable. However, they cannot be viewed an impartial mirror of society. Indicators are not developed in a vacuum, devoid of ideological intent. The decisions made from these dashboards shape cities and define their future. Through preemptive urban interventions, both governments and citizens set out to address uncertain futures by interpreting data visualizations that showcase slices of a city’s identity. No matter how many slices are monitored and tracked, it can never add up to the whole pie.

Week 6: City Dashboards & Open Data

If I’d happened to stumble through the internet a couple of years ago, and happened upon www.citydashboard.org/London, or any city dashboard for that matter, I would have presumed there was a problem with the webpage loading, and been unable to make sense of what I was looking at. Actually, even just a few short months ago, before MJM20, I wouldn’t have made that much sense of the page. 

However, now I know, from reading the work of academics such as Kitchin, et al, that this is their very purpose – to provide citizens, such as myself, with valuable information without needing to delve into the learning of how to handle the data, or any related software (2015, pg.7). 

Unable to previously understand what I was looking at (maybe apart from the weather report), I wouldn’t have been able to answer whether I thought the dashboard was an example of ‘open data’. Subsequently, The Open Data Institute wouldn’t have seemed like something I was interested in, at least until now. 

The ODI: “connect, equip and inspire peopled around the world to innovate with data,” (ODI.org). At the point of me writing this article, the ODI have trained nearly 10,000 people (including a potential great many ‘me’s) on how to use publicly available data to their advantage. By consulting with their customers, they create a tailored: “visual display of the most important information needed to achieve one or more objectives; consolidated and arranged on a single screen so the information can be monitored at a glance,” (Few, in Kitchin, et al, pg.11). 

Open data itself, however, depends on the licensing of the specific data. Quite simply, if the data has an open license, it is entirely open. If it is ‘limited’, there are naturally limitations to its access (and subsequent usage), and so forth (see diagram below from ODI.org). 

As the image shows, data such as bus timetables is entirely open (and this is reflected in the city dashboard featured image, above). From the London City Dashboard, it would appear that this goes for almost all forms of public transport, at least in England’s capital. Four of the dashboard’s individual data sets (or single indicators) are comprised of public transport data; buses, the underground, and two related to bicycles.  

Curiously, if we add the Air Pollution (DEFRA) window to that , almost 30% of the available data relates to elements of Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s ‘vision’ for the city; creating: “a future that is sustainable … in which travel is accessible and affordable, [and] the air is clean,” (London.gov.uk). In terms of Kitchin’s ‘critical appraise’ (2015, pg.7) of city-benchmarking and real-time dashboard, with so much ‘Good Service’ on the Tube Lines, positive (or at least, green-coloured) pollution and travel data everywhere else, London’s open data is displaying, or at least framing Khan’s vision as one which is being achieved, and appears to be sustainable. 

However, Symons highlights the importance of public service data in the identification of adverse and, pertinently here, potential pressures on such services in the future: “Where multiple data sets about the same people of issues can be combined, there is even greater ability to isolate the root causes … This kind of analytics is gaining sophistication and can now provide granular detail about the dimensions of future service demand, helping councils to allocate scarce resources more efficiently,” (Symons, 2016, pg.26). 

So, although framing a city to appear a certain way, perhaps to appease the public, it is certainly in the interest of the public and public services to keep this data open. Doing this helps the unskilled data analysts of the world, yours truly included, understand what’s going on in our local communities; allowing us to make better decisions, use data, and manage, or at least anticipate, its harmful impacts (ODI.org).


Khan, S., (2015). Cited in – Mayor sets out his vision for the future of London as population rises. London.gov.uk [online resource, accessed March 2018]. Available at: https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/mayor-sets-out-his-vision-for-the-future-of-london

Kitchen, R., Lauriault, T., & McArdle (2015). Knowing and governing cities through urban indicators, city benchmarking and real-time dashboards. Regional Studies, Regional Science. 2:1, 6-28.

Open Data Institute [online resource, accessed March 2018]. Available at: http://www.theodi.org

Symons, T., (2016). Wise Council: Insights from the cutting edge of data-driven local government. Local Government Association. Nesta.

Week 5: Locative Narrative & Actionbound: Finding me @ work

Firstly, I struggled with this.

However, the purpose of my ‘bound’ was to ensure that others (namely, my step-kids), would not. With work experience at school imminent, I thought it would be useful for them to not only discover exactly what I do for a living, but simultaneously how to make their way from home, to my studio, without (human) assistance. With the potential to learn a couple of things on the way, and get an idea of what it’s like to commute and work in a city, I set up a basic bound so that they could find their way to me, rather than travel with me in the morning and have to spend their entire day in work.

The bound itself is simple; navigate your way from the house to one train station, and then from another train station to my studio (via a stop for a sandwich). From experience, I know that both step-kids would be initially apprehensive about travelling from Darlington to Newcastle on their own. Not only would the journey itself take them out of their comfort zone, but so would buying the ticket for a train and navigating their way around Newcastle, upon arrival. The concept of a bound seemed like a reasonable solution; providing them with something akin to a ‘mobile game’, in order for an element of their regular comfort zone to be with them at all times.

From a technical point of view, I struggled with the two mobile versions of Actionbound at my disposal; both iOS (iPhone and iPad) didn’t function as bound ‘builders’. I was stuck in a constant loop between downloading the bound app, and registering to use it. Subsequently, I created and edited my bound solely on my MacBook (which I tend not to carry with me, given that I own two more useful mobile devices, and its limited battery). A did manage to implement each required process, however, although the scanning of QR codes along the route may rely heavily on the live technology of Newcastle station and Virgin Rail (below).

However, after making the journey and considering how I would feel making it for the first time, again, I considered the process(es), and sketched out a basic step-by-step process. Including a couple of historical pieces of information finding; one which they should already know as lifelong residents of Darlington (below), and one which could well pop up in a pub quiz one day (second below), I ended the navigation with a plaque from my building; proof of why I fully support(ed) the UK remaining in the EU (third below) (which would hopefully solve any further teatime politics at home).

As mobile locative narratives go, it is simple, but the motivation for its perceived ‘audience’ (albeit two teenagers) is one to motivate their personal growth, and allow them more freedom. The audience would certainly be constrained by their inability to venture too far from the route itself (although in this instance, from the ‘creator’s’ POV, this would certainly be an affordance – in that I wouldn’t want them to wander in any case) (Ritchie, 2014, pg.54); the idea being that either child would be familiar with the process of following instruction on their mobile device, despite being unfamiliar with their surroundings.

Physically, in the absolute sense of the word, they would be unbound to explore Newcastle as they desired, but their more mental limitations would dissuade them from doing so – particularly if they were encouraged by the Actionbound app to simultaneously navigate both the digital and physical space of the route (which I added a navigational arrow to, after my initial test) (Ritchie, pg.65). Step 6 on my bound provided them with the option of sandwich shops to choose from, and cunningly invited them to bring me a sandwich too, which would hopefully encourage them to remain on the navigated path, but in essence does limit their physical journey (again, after testing, I added the task of uploading a photo of said sandwich, proving their arrival would be imminent).

Queueing and buying said sandwich, in an unfamiliar location, as well as purchasing a train ticket for the journey, in Step 3, are the sort of ‘face-to-face’ activities I see both children most daunted by in everyday life as they turn into young adults. These ‘bodily encounters’, that they will try to avoid at all costs, if either myself or my partner are around, are the sort of small elements of personal growth I believe they would feel more comfortable with, were they merely part of something akin to a mobile game. If following a simple bound turns these perceived ‘perils’ into ‘pleasures’ (Berry, et al., 2013, pg.3), then I sincerely support the use of locative narratives in not just the finding of information, but the development of essential physical, mental and corporeal attributes in people who have grown up with, and subsequently rely upon, digital technology in all aspects of their lives.


Actionbound. [online resource: accessed March 2018]. Available at http://actionbound.com

Berry, C., Harbord, J., & Moore, R., (2013). Public Space, Media Space. Palgrave Macmillan

Ritchie, J., (2014). The Affordance and Constraints of Mobile Locative Narratives. The Mobile Story: Narrative Practices with Locative Technologies. Routledge. pp.53-67.


Week 5 – Locative Narrative + Actionbound

I decided to create a Bound based on how I experience Copenhagen everyday when I make my way home from work. Being originally from Buenos Aires, and having lived in New York and Rome, Copenhagen seems to be a small big city, compared to the size and chaotic nature of the other three metropolis.

I haven’t driven in years (I actually do not have a valid driver’s license anymore!). This has allowed me to really experience the city in different ways. If I have some time to spare, I can take a detour on my route and check out what is happening downtown without getting off my bike. I can get off at the metro station close to home and walk a few blocks down to see the sheep and cows pasturing in the countryside (in Copenhagen!).

It is a very inspiring city for an Actionbound experience. The intention here was to make the “Really Nontrivial Effort” (Ritchie 2014, page 57) worthwhile for the audience or user. They will not only gain points as they hit the different spots and elements in the bound, but they will also learn interesting things along the way as they travel from the actual city to what seems to be the countryside. This is a not very well-known part of Copenhagen and people are always surprised to see how close they are to actually enjoying nature and wildlife within the city.

The first element in my Bound: Information element telling what the story is about:


I start the journey at the UN City, which in its own right is already an interesting piece of architecture, designed as a smart and green building. An affordance I noticed when using Actionbound is that as a designer or storyteller, you can choose to either define the sequence of the story or provide the user with the perceived freedom to choose their path. Perceived freedom, as they really are confined to the elements I designed. i mostly limited that freedom to the sequence I desired for my story.

The starting point: Find the UN City

Testing out my phone’s GPS capabilities:

The Quiz option presents another affordance with regards to how the user navigates between digital and physical spaces. In order to gain points and to move on to the next element on this digital media, the user must find out what the answer is by actually researching what the flags waving in front of the building are:

The answer to the quiz, option 2, UN and WHO flags as seen below:

Next stop, another interaction between the physical and digital: uploading a selfie in front of a national landmark:

The following element is the one constraint I found with regards to this exercise which does not necessarily have to do with Actionbound but with digital media as a whole: the dependency on others and how one glitch in the the process can ruin the whole experience. While researching what QR Codes I could include in my story, I came across the Talking Statues project which according to their website: 

“The project Talking statues, which started in Copenhagen today gives the opportunity to some of the most prestigious cultural figures from Copenhagen, Helsinki, London, and Chicago a chance to tell their own history to the passersby.  With the new modern mobile technique, there is a completely unique opportunity for a new form of dissemination of our heritage in urban space through spectacular live demonstrations around the world: The statues come alive and tell their own stories with accurate human voice. In other words, Copenhagen statues and statues around the world are engaged in the new fantasy of the 21st-century mind and imagination, namely, to make possible the impossible through the latest technology!”

An exciting educational addition to my Bound! By scanning a QR code located on the statue, you would learn more about the figure. I remembered the QR code on Hans Christian Andersen’s statue and decided to include that in my project. When I tested the Bound, I encountered my one major frustration and disappointment as I realized the link I was redirected to when scanning the code was no longer working. When interacting with the digital and the physical, there are clearly things beyond my control, and in this case, it’s the Talking Statues project that failed to deliver.

It looked great in Actionbound:

And the QR code was there when I tested it out:

But the link was not working:

I tried again with another statue, but same result:


I was hoping to come up with an alternative solution for the Scan Code element in Actionbound but i did not manage to materialize anything in time. As a result, this element was deleted.

Next stop, the Nature Center in West Amager (Vestamager). An amazing place in the South of Copenhagen, just 500 meters away from the metro station:

And my favorite, the last stop, a video uploaded from inside the dome:

My takeaways from this exercise are as follows:

  1. It was my first experience with locative narrative, or at least, it was with this type of technology. At first I was not entirely aware of the storytelling aspect involved in Actionbound. I had never associated apps like these with actual narratives, and as described in the key reading, an “embedded narrative” (Ritchie 2014, page 58). I know understand how Pokémon Go can be considered an “enacted narrative” (Ritchie 2014, page 58). with it’s tagline or slogan being Get Up and Go, motivating kids (and adults) to interact with their surroundings and with each other through their phones.
  2. The affordances and constraints, as described by Ritchie (2014), which I could identify in  this exercise were mainly related to the functionalities Actionbound has to offer to enable storytelling between the physical and digital worlds. The issue of sequencing and guiding the user through the story, or letting them choose the way the create their own story, is an affordance of the tool. I mostly chose to limit them to ensure they followed a logical path from the UN City to the outskirts of Copenhagen, but I could have set up the narrative in a different way that allowed them to explore freely. This quickly turned into a constraint when realizing that I was forcing them to go through a step that was unsolvable (the QR Code).
  3. With regards to the notion of public space and space is general as described by Berry et. al, it opened up the concept even further. Berry was certainly on to something when he described space as “an imminent field of relations
    that are in constant flux as bodies, material forms and images come into contact.”  (Berry 2013, page 5). This was made evident in this exercise as the user had to constantly navigate and interact with the digital and the physical when moving through public spaces. The reading continues: “Public space more than often functions as a space between the vir­tual and the real, between labor and leisure, between work and home. In urban public space, the technology that sends us off into virtual worlds and the embodied experience of physical and mental meandering all but collide, forming a mise-en-scene that is all montage.” (Berry 2013, page 7). The public space represented through Actionbound by connecting the virtual and the real is even more palpable through this locative narrative. It is not the physical environment dominating here, with sprinkles of digital aspects embedded in the space, but an arguable equal balance of both environments interacting together, one not able to exist without the other in the context of the narrative.


Ritchie, J. 2014. The Affordances and Contraints of Mobile Locative Narratives. In The Mo- bile Story. Narrative Practices with Locative Technologies, ed. J. Farman, 53–67. Oxon: Routledge. This is a chapter from this book (with website wher you can download chapters). 


Berry, C., Harbord, J. & Moore, R.O., 2013. Public space, media space, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan: 1-15 (Introduction). Berry et al(2013)public space,media space.pdf 

Week 4 – Code/Space

In Wired’s article on The road to tomorrow: streets need to be as smart as the cars driving on them, Luke Dormehl presents the reader with examples of cities smarting up their dumb infrastructures. The ultimate objectives seem to be the usual suspects: reduction of traffic, reduction of cars in the street causing pollution and congestion and increased safety. The articles takes us on a ride though the streets of cities like Copenhagen, Bristol, Boston and the well-known case of Songdo, all working towards the development of smart roads filled with gadgets and sensors to enable smart self-driven cars. The point the article is trying to make (one of them at least, according to the title) is the following: if major cities want their landscapes to resemble the future shown in The Jetsons where the digitization and automation of cars reign supreme, they need to beef up the software ingrained in their infrastructure. What do these relationships mean with regards to the presence of code, its affect on the concept of space (and public space) and the impact on today’s societies?

The future, brought to you by Mercedes Benz

Kitchin and Dodge address the topic of digital cities through a less conventional lens; that of code and the language it uses to create software. Less conventional because code and software are not necessarily the subjects of exciting literature. Code is just not sexy enough to get into the discussion. But it’s about time we shed some light on this silent worker, as software does all the heavy lifting. Through its lines of code and algorithms it orders hardware around, telling it what to do and when to do it. Sometimes in such an automated way that we humans have no interaction whatsoever in the process and no notion of its actual existance. The very notion of public space is affected by code, as Berry points out: “Public space more than often functions as a space between the vir­tual and the real, between labor and leisure, between work and home. In urban public space, the technology that sends us off into virtual worlds and the embodied experience of physical and mental mean­dering all but collide, forming a mise-en-scene that is all montage. (…) The technological and the embodied become just so many reified strips of perception whose arrangement is all but arbi­trary.” (Berry et al., page 7). 

Code is all around us. It is ubiquitous as software is present in our everyday lives, all of the time. It is in our entertainment, our work and our daily operations such as shopping with a credit card. Code creates spaces where we operate and live; it transduces spaces that already exist. “Code/space occurs when software and the spatiality of everyday life become mutually constituted, that is, produced through one another. Here, spatiality is the product of code, and the code exists primarily in order to produce a particular spatiality.” (Kitchin, R. & Dodge, M.,page 16). In this relationship, one cannot exist without the other. The same applies to the smart-coded cars described in Wired and in every other blogpost or article referencing smart cities. These cars, coded infrastructure according to Kitchin and Dodge, are driving on physical streets, also containing software, coming together as coded assemblages that depend on each other to perform. 

The way we move in our cities, the way we understand space is defined by the code that it transduces. However, it is not the software that determines how we as citizens cities should move and function in our cities. It is an actual decision and vision coming from the engineers who programme the code, ultimately from the decision-makers who enable this to happen.

Although software is not sentient and conscious, it can exhibit some of the characteristics of being alive. (...) code can make things do work in the world in an autonomous fashion-that is, it can receive capta and process information, evaluate situations, make decisions, and, most significant, act without human oversight or authorization. (Kitchen and Dodge, page 5)

As Townsend mentions in the Wired article, “Cars didn’t take over the city until cities put rules in place that allowed it. It was a choice that city governments made. That’s one of the things that’s often uninformed about speculation that’s coming out of Silicon Valley now. They think they’re going to solve all the problems the car created by just putting in some software. Its a lot more complicated than that.” (Townsend quoted from  Wired). Software has been referred to as semi-sentient because of its automation capabilities, but this does not go as far as to believe that code is inserting itself in our cities without our human intervention. We might not be aware as inhabitants of a city of how far engrained and present software is around us, but it was purposely put there and that decision has shaped the spaces we inhabit as well as the way we function as a society.




Week 4: Code / Space

Laura Adler published SimCities: Designing Smart Cities through Data Driven Simulation in August, 2016. The article focuses on innovative new software such as ‘CityScope’ and ‘UrbanSim’ which are helping urban planners to simulate the impact of their Smart City development programs; in order to create the” new horizons for cultural activity,” that Kitchin and Dodge predict in ‘Code / Space’, (2011, pg.1), as a result of contemporary, constantly developing software.

Adler writes: “The most fundamental benefit of simulation is the ability to mitigate the problem of ‘unintended consequences’.” The coded sim programs show the potential effects of how improvements to one aspect of infrastructure could impact on another, or several, or all, in the real world. As Kitchin and Dodge state, code has the capability to ‘evaluate situations’, and can: “exhibit some of the characteristics of being alive,” (pg.2). Now an ‘indispensable tool’ for urban planners (Adler, 2016), the simulations are just like the surface temperature models in Kitchen and Dodge (pg.30), in that; “the models analyze the world and the world responds to the models.”

An extremely positive reaction by the urban planners is that the simulations allow for a new level of participation by citizens in their projected designs. Residents can voice their opinions online, and urban planners can utilise their ideas for the input of future simulations (Adler, 2016). The residents are effectively affecting the design of their future environment(s).

And it is not just through simulations run by urban planners and local governance that can impact the design of Smart Cities either.  Emerson College created an interactive multiplayer game called: Participatory Chinatown (below), that engages its players to create avatars and start an online life in a digital version of Boston’s Chinatown, the results of which are used to: “generate urban planning priorities to guide city officials,” (Adler, 2016). The game, and the simulations, are effectively capturing and enacting: “knowledge about the world … in order to augment, mediate, and regulate people’s lives.” (Kitchen and Dodge, 2011, pg.26).

However, as Berry, et al states: “Public space is a corporeal affair,” (2013, pg.4), and the idea of computer-generated sprites generating the: “visible and tangible,” effects that Kitchen and Dodge predict does not seem to fit (2011, pg.2). Questions remain about what to include in the programs; how far do the urban planners go in creating a realistic version of a city, before predicting how it will develop? Can the programs account for the ‘historic legacy’ of certain areas, building, or existing communities? (Adler, 2016). This is also a consideration of Berry, when weighing up the opportunities of how new media might impact urban public space(s) with: “particular historical, political and social configurations,” (pg.7).

Adler confirms that challenges remain in using simulations in urban planning. Without the ‘human’ characteristics built into their design, do the simulations really consider public space ‘as place’, in the sense of Berry, et al? (pg.9). Kitchin and Dodge believe that: “Space is not simply a container in which things happen; rather, spaces are subtly evolving layers of of context and practices that fold together people and things and actively shape social relations,” (pg.13).

This sounds similar to what the simulations intend to recreate, so in some ways the spaces the simulations are designed to develop, and the programs themselves, have similar capabilities and intentions. Adler believes that the key to their combined success lies with the very people their social symbiosis will affect: “Only with simple, accessible simulation programs can citizens become active generators of their own urban visions, not just passive recipients of options laid out by government officials,” (2016).



Adler, L., (2016). SimCities: Designing Smart Cities through Data-Driven Simulation. [online resource, accessed Feb 2018, via http://www.scoop.it/t/the-programmable-city]. Available at: https://datasmart.ash.harvard.edu/news/article/simcities-designing-smart-cities-through-data-driven-simulation-893

Berry, C., Harbour, J., Moore, R., (2013). Public Space, Media Space. Palgrave Macmillan. Hampshire.

Kitchin, R., and Dodge, M., (2011). Code / Space. MIT. Massachusetts.