Data and the smart city: Critical perspectives

A number of examples discuss what it means to be ‘ smarter ‘ on BBC Radio 4 Podcast in smart cities reveals the implications of the innovation approach for residents living in the smart city of Songdo. The BBC Radio 4 Podcast demonstrates that there have been many technological and infrastructure improvements to the city to make it “smarter “: more secure, sustainable for community and economically beneficial to citizens of that city.

The first example is that in Songdo is the implementation of a smart waste system that enables waste and waste trucks to be eliminated, with 76 percent of the waste being recycled.The waste system collects waste from the kitchens directly to a refinery.this approach can be seen as sustaining the environment and would probably help to keep the atmosphere clean and more desirable for tourist.


The other example is in Songdo was designed to track sensors ‘ temperature, energy consumption and traffic. Such sensors could alert you directly if your bus is overdue. And notify the local government of any possible problems.Therefore, the government could use these sensors to reliably view the environment and its major pollutants helping citizens to understand the nuances of air pollution in their everyday lives.Some people see this as a solution to a safety environmental.

Despite these key improvements and a range of initiatives over the last decade,Songdo is also a town under constant surveillance 500 cameras provide a complete grid coverage to monitor traffic or detect’ suspicious’ behaviour. Even the opening of the sewer cover is immediately notified to the IFEZ control centre in one of the towers in Songdo.It shows much of the government’s effect and implication. (Le, 2020)

According to (Miller, 2011p 24) The implication is that smart solutions based on traffic data collected in one place are unlikely to be universally applicable.That means not everyone is in agreement with the government’s way. Therefore, people will contradict on the way of smart cities will operate as being only beneficial.



BBC News. (2020). Has ‘smart’ Songdo been a success?. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Feb. 2020)

Le (2020). Songdo, ghetto for the affluent. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Feb. 2020].

Miller, V. (2011) ‘Understanding Digital Culture’ Key Elements of Digital Media London,Sage publications. pp 24



Week 3: Data and the smart city: Critical perspectives

The case study being used to demonstrate Mosco’s perspectives on ‘smart cities’ was found in a Guardian article entitled “Inside Greece’s first smart city” and features the small Greek city of Trikala.

There were many technological additions to the city to make it “smart”: more efficient, accessible and economically beneficial for residents and the nation at large.

The first example is the e-complaint system where residents use an application or an online portal to tell the council about issues facing the city: for example, an overflowing bin or a broken streetlamp. Problems such as these were resolved in an average of eight days as opposed to a month, and the whole process of requesting services from the council was a lot more transparent. The many it was considered a success.

Trikala as a smart city has the aspects of the smart city as a ‘platform’ as illustrated by Mosco (2019: 34). When applied to the council, and by extension the way the city operates, it has all the features of an online platform: a brand, a business, an interface that can be engaged with and where citizens can access a service. The council has become in itself “a platform located in physical space that meets the needs of citizens” (2019: 35).

In many ways it contradicts what Cardullo, Di Feliciantonio, and Kitchin (2019) explore as the ethical and social implications of smart cities, and how smart cities borne into a neo-liberal political environment it can be a detriment to those from diverse or disadvantaged social backgrounds (i.e. not white, male, middle-class and tech savvy). The example of Trikala as a smart city shows great benefit for citizens which is another of Mosco’s is key characteristics of smart cities. The elderly in the city, although reluctant at first, now have access to smart housing which monitors their health, and children now have opportunities to work in the tech in the future which is optimistic for Greece’s struggling economy. Mosco believes that serving the best interests of citizens is what makes a city smart, as opposed to new technology for the sake of business expansion. (2019: 38)

However even the Trikala example is problematic as its funding includes private companies Sieben and Parkguru as well as offering up itself as a test site for local tech companies. Trikala, as an example, draws the fine line between having active, engaged citizens (Cardullo, Di Feliciantonio, Kitchin 2019:11) to “re-orientation of citizenship towards market principles.” (2019: 13).


Cardullo, P. & Di Feliciantonio, C. & Kitchin, R. 2019. ‘Citizenship, Justice and the Right to the Smart City’ in The Programmable City Issue 41, October 2018.

Mosco, V. 2019. ‘How to Think about Smart Cities’ The Smart City in a Digital World Bingley, Emerald Publishing.

Rainey, V. ‘Inside Greece’s first smart city: ‘Now you don’t need to know a politician to get something done’’ The Guardian, 4th September 2018 <> accessed 17/02/2020.




Week 3 – Data and the smart city (Miriam Harvey)

Mosco’s (2019, ch 2) identifies a number of perspectives and aspects of digital smart cities, including technology, citizens, space-time, computer and platform. I would like to start by looking at platforms, which Mosco explains as follows:

“Materially, platforms are defined spaces with starting points and directions to get from those points to others within the platform. […] Platforms are not limited to cyberspace. They can also occupy material spaces and the city is a likely candidate for the term because it occupies a defined space that provides a starting point (your home, your workplace, your hotel) and markers that take people wherever they need to go in the city. […] It suggests that the city is not just a thing but is also a process” (p35).

Mosco’s description above implies that getting for one point to another is the key activity, but this should be interpreted more broadly and he continues with an introduction to the concept of the city as a service. He quotes Woods (2018) on this topic:

“The idea of the smart city platform encompasses both the technical aspects of the platform concept and an emerging vision of the city as a service, enabling an innovative ecosystem of urban service providers from a diversity of industries.”

I will explore this idea of the smart city platform and the city as a service, plus I will add later Mosco’s perspective of space-time, using my case study. The case study I have chosen is a platform in cyberspace utilising physical spaces in cities, with a peer to peer model that appears to by-pass government controls. My case study is Airbnb, which describes itself as an “economic empowerment engine [helping] millions of hospitality entrepreneurs monetize their spaces and their passions while keeping the financial benefits of tourism in their own communities” (Airbnb, n.d.)

In a Wired article, Temperton (2020) exposed a scam on Airbnb operating in London. The scam includes thousands of fake reviews, which consumers have to rely on to know whether to trust the Airbnb ‘hosts’. These reviews were for properties built with planning permission specifically for residential units (not short-term rentals). Temperton also shows how powerless or unwilling the government authorities were to enforce regulations that should have protected the interests of the local residents, who needed homes and not an Airbnb de facto hotel.

Temperton explains the challenges faced by regulators who do not have the data they need to do their job, quoting an unnamed academic as saying  “It’s the data that you need to govern the city, to regulate, to do urban planning. And Airbnb refuses to give this data, which makes it impossible for policymakers to effectively measure and monitor the phenomenon, let alone regulate it.” The data they need is a register of short-term rentals, to be able to protect the availability of residential housing stock.

Authorities need Airbnb to give them the data, as opposed to them collecting it themselves, because Airbnb has blurred the visible line between residential and commercial properties. They have successfully used another one of the smart city aspects identified by Mosco (2019:32-33), which is “the vision of smart cities as ‘space-time’ machines [where] Smart city technologies increase the elasticity and hence the value of space and time”. This elasticity is blurring boundaries, but a website that is trying to provide a clearer picture is Inside Airbnb (see screenshot).

screenshot of Airbnb data in LondonScreenshot from Inside Airbnb which “analyzi[es] publicly available information about a city’s Airbnb’s listings, […] so you can see how Airbnb is being used to compete with the residential housing market”. (Inside Airbnb, n.d.)

I conclude by asking what the biggest challenge would be if a government did try to regulate and control Airbnb.  Morozov and Bria (2018:17) argue that Airbnb has “immense power to mobilize users via their own apps and emails [which] means they can rally support against regulation relatively quickly.” They also claim that Airbnb is “organizing its fans into a worldwide movement with an explicit political agenda”. This sounds extreme, but there clearly is a power struggle between governments, big technology companies and the citizens when their interests are not aligned.



Airbnb (n.d.) About us. Available from

Inside Airbnb (n.d.) About Inside Airbnb. Available from

Morozov, E. and Bria, F. (2018) RETHINKING THE SMART CITY Democratizing Urban Technology. Available from

Mosco, V. (2019) The Smart City in a Digital World. Emerald Publishing Limited. doi: 10.1108/9781787691353.

Temperton, J. (2020). ‘I stumbled across a huge Airbnb scam that’s taking over London’. Wired. 11 February. Available from

Woods, E. (2018) cited in Mosco, V. (2019) The Smart City in a Digital World. Emerald Publishing Limited. doi: 10.1108/9781787691353. pp 35-36


Week 2: Smart Cities and Digital Culture

In the BBC Radio 4 Thinking Allowed podcast on smart cities, a discussion on what it means for a city to be ‘smart’ is examined through multiple examples. To guide our discussion, we will use the definition of smart cities as set out by Townsend as “places where information technology is combined with infrastructure, architecture, everyday objects, even our bodies to address social economic and environmental problems” (Townsend, 2013: 15), though this definition does have its limitations.


One example explored in the podcast is the traffic in Calcutta; here the infrastructure cannot reliably handle the volume of traffic in the city. (Taylor, 2018) A ‘smart’ solution to such a problem will differ based one the very urban environment in which it is occurring. Miller points out that we have increasingly moved toward a world where information is stored in non-narrative and decentralized databases. The advantage is that theoretically the information contained in these databases can be endlessly reconfigured and reinterpreted, as they are consistent of units of information that variable and constantly transforming, as opposed to information stored in “old media” (Miller,2011: 14).


However, this aspect of the digital age also brings with it its drawbacks. As Miller points out, reducing and reconfiguring information into a digital space, ultimately means that context surrounding that very information is lost. As Miller puts it “where a narrative would provide a context, a cause, a reason, or a story, a database provides a temporary relationship.” (Miller, 2011: 24) The implication being that smart solutions based on traffic data gathered in one place, are unlikely to be applicable universally.


In the podcast it is pointed out that Calcutta’s traffic situation would be more easily remedied by a better public mass transport system, whereas solutions that are often hailed as ‘smart’, like driverless cars, might be a better solution for congestion and pollution in other cities. This illustrates that there is more to a city being smart than just gathering and processing information, it is ultimately also dependent on where and by who the increased information is processed.

This can also be seen in the example of noise pollution on one busy street in Barcelona. Here local residents campaigned to reduce local nighttime hubbub. It was not until they banded together and created a network of low-cost sensors that fed back-on and quantified the problem that they were able to enact change. Through this network they proved that the sound reached “well above UN guidelines.” (Taylor, 2018) It was there very ability to amass and interpret information that brought about substantive social change.


This does raise an issue that might impact a city’s ability to become ‘smart’. As Townsend puts it for cities to become truly smart a “new civics” will be needed, “we need to take back the wheel from the engineers and let people and communities decide where to steer.” (Townsend, 2013: 14) The residents in this example had the means, technology and infrastructure to put the requisite sensors in place – but this is not going to be an option for every community. Socio-economic factors and access to developing technologies are always going to impact on how we can interact with a smart world. No surprise then that Townsend opts to focus on “what do you want a smart city to be?” (Townsend, 2013: 15), rather than what it is.




Miller, V. (2011) ‘Understanding Digital Culture’ Key Elements of Digital Media London, Sage publications. pp 12-21.

Taylor, L. (2018) ‘Smart Cities’ Thinking Allowed podcast 25th July 2018. BBC Sounds accessed 10/02/2020:

Townsend, A.M., (2013) ‘Smart Cities’, New York: W. W. Norton & Company. xi-18.

Week 2: Smart Cities and Digital Culture

When thinking  ‘Smart Cities’ it seems contrary to what one would intuitively expect

Cities are closely interconnected with the spread of information technology. (Townsend,

A.M. 2013 p 6)

The use of Manovich (2011) implies that these cases can be examined from several perspectives with many examples. Therefore, I concentrate on the participation in the transport infrastructure of a smart city of smart solutions, which relate to ways of constructing and using digital media and to the environment that digital media can create.


The case study is in India in the town of Kolkata, which has yet not to become a smart city and where an interview was conducted with a local, about the transportation situation in his town and mentioned the fact that, there are too many vehicles,buses, bicycle cars and animals on the roads in every area of the country. At peak office time, it is even more unbearable because no one follows the road system. (Rose 2018) provides an excellent example of the links occurring between smart cities and smart transport and points out that smart cities can benefit from slow traffic reduction, enhanced road safety and the development of road connexions. In terms of smart environment development, all types of sensors will be accessible in order to track all kinds of traffic. The use of the Internet connecting with our mobile phone to ensure that the person living in the smart city gets information’s on an alternative route so as not to experience long-term traffic. This practice venture on the positive implication of technology in a city to facilitate lifestyle.

First, once we start integrating these different data sets, the algorithm will determine the closest route to where the traffic will be driven and the automated billboard will tell everyone where to go. In the most general sense, a database can be described as a structured data collection  (Manovich, 2001: 218). Second, the algorithm should begin to learn from the recurring pattern of data that is emerging. Nevertheless, the intervention of machine learning or artificial intelligence may require less human and more accurate information. The fundamental question is would be is the population whiling to corporate in this way of being monitored.More often than not, digital media objects break away, and are generally in continuous growth, constantly dialoguing and integrating themselves with the public and with other digital products and technologies Manovich (2001) refer to this as the property of variability.




Hello friends!

My name is Clauvys Lee , I’m a young man, working as a freelance fashion stylist, personal shopper and creative director. Raised in Paris, France with a Gabon background, my creative inspirations come from lifestyles that have a visual impact.

I have completed my previous degree in fashion communication & business studies at the University of Brighton.  While studying the importance and impact of digital media in our society and how it affects our generation, this would be one of the main reasons I have been keen to learn about digital media culture and society.

Week 2: Smart Cities and Digital Culture

When discussing ‘Smart Cities’ there are many examples that can be used, applying Miller (2011) and Manovich (2001) means that these examples can be analysed from multiple angles.

The first case study is that of the Barcelona residents who used smart technology to measure the noise of the nightlife outside their homes which was preventing them from sleeping. They took the information to the council and proved that the noise levels were affecting their health. The council then made changes based on this data and the residents’ lives have noticeably improved. Manovich’s theories have been expanded in many directions and Miller has divided them into three more categories: technical processes, cultural forms, and immersive experiences. (2011: 14) In this case study the ‘partygoers’ were interacting with smart technologies, the sound recorders/measuring equipment unknowingly which contributed to the dataset which brought and end to their nightlife.

“Interactivity” is embedded in the structure of technology (Miller, 2011: 16) however the forms in which Miller and Manovich describe is different to this example: the context of the interactivity in this case was surveillance, which in itself meant that citizens are interacting with the technologies unknowingly. This is indicative of how many people interact with ‘smart’ technologies daily.

The second example was a smart meter that Thames Water launched to help people measure and reduce their water consumption. In advance of this launch a select group of people from certain London boroughs were given free water-saving devices to save money, alongside house visits and interviews to see how they engaged with the devices. The results showed three types of reaction: engagement, resistance, and indifference.

The use of the “database” is prevalent throughout this example. Databases are vast collections of information which create meaning when layered with other datasets. (Miller, 2011: 20) The use of database is so common in our technological interactions that Miller argues that it is “becoming a cultural form in of itself” (2011: 21). Firstly, there was information about household water usage and location. It was then layered over learnings and assumptions of social and cultural norms to create narratives around people’s water usage.

Interestingly resistance to the house visits and water saving tips came from marginalised people who had insecure living arrangements. Indifference came mostly from the richest people in the area who did not feel the need to save money on water. Many respondents felt that water consumption was a private matter and they were unwilling to share data or discuss the topic. This shows that data driven technologies based on self-reporting is still influenced by cultural norms outside of technology and stereotypes surrounding individual consumption.

These two examples demonstrate that in some areas of society there is still space needed to allow for cultural norms rather than just straightforward data collection. Also, in the Barcelona example, it shows that much of the data collected on us is done so covertly as we are interacting with devices every day unknowingly.


Miller, V. (2011) ‘Understanding Digital Culture’ Key Elements of Digital Media London, Sage publications. pp 12-21.

Taylor, L. (2018) ‘Smart Cities’ Thinking Allowed podcast 25th July 2018. BBC Sounds accessed 10/02/2020:



Week 2 – Smart Cities and Digital Culture (Miriam Harvey)

Two smart city aspects discussed in the BBC Radio 4 Thinking Allowed Smart cities podcast (Taylor, 2018) were the responsiveness of smart cities to humans, and the role of humans in shaping smart cities.

Townsend (2013) argues that the growth of urbanization, which has seen an increased concentration of people in cities, combined with the growth of ubiquitous wirelessly networked sensing and communicating technology, has created an opportunity for dynamic smart cities that can respond and adapt to humans. His vision of smart cities has a new layer of infrastructure that “invisibly […] reacts to us” as they “adapt on the fly, by pulling readings from vast arrays of sensors, feeding that data into software that can see the big picture, and taking action” (Townsend, 2013: xiii).

These sensors and software are part of the digital aspect of smart cities. This digital, smart aspect can be understood using’s Miller’s (2011) analysis of new digital media. He identifies interactivity as a new element not found in old broadcast media. Interactivity is described as “the responsiveness of a media object or piece of information to the preferences, needs or activities of the user” (p16), which is the same responsiveness seen in Townsend’s description of smart cities.

The responsiveness of smart cities is discussed in Taylor’s (2018) podcast, where Taylor introduces the smart city discussion by playing a clip from an IBM technology video animation entitled ‘Living in the city’ [3:15 minutes in]. It describes how (non-smart) cities “require us to live on their terms, but in five years the tables will turn with cities adapting to our terms.” The IBM clip continues with an explanation that is nearly identical to Townsend’s: “Systems will connect billions of events in real time, to anticipate movement and react to human preferences, patterns and demand. […] As we speak to our cities, they will listen”.

The second smart city aspect is the role of the humans as part of an assemblage of citizens and technology in a smart city. Townsend writes about the power people have to shape their experiences in a smart city, and how important that is in order to combat big tech companies and government’s focus on efficient, centrally controlled dehumanized infrastructure. In the BBC podcast, Oliver Zanetti challenges the idea put forward by Taylor that smart cities need ‘smart citizens’ to use its smart technology and instead introduces “activist citizens” [8:20 minutes in] which he defines as “not just a person who buys something, a person who moves around in the ways you’re instructed to do by the world at large. You’re actually someone who’s intervening in the way something works, making it work differently”.

Taylor introduces an example which illustrates the points made by Townsend and Zanetti about the democratisation of smart cities, where people can use technology for their benefit. Taylor plays a clip from a BBC news bulletin, Intune 2018 [8:51 minutes in] reporting on how Barcelona residents took action on noise levels using low cost sensors that can measure noise.

“By putting sensors by windows and on balconies the families were able to prove the noise levels at night were […] far higher that the World Health Organisation’s recommendations. Armed with their data, the residents went to the council who agreed to make some changes.”

Miller (2011:12) quotes Poster who saw the new interactive ‘internet model’, the digital culture, as having “a more active and critical subject”. The Barcelona example above fits this description very well, where smart city tools are not only available but are used in a critical manner by ‘activist citizens’ who are no longer passive and accepting of their environment and the information broadcast to them, and furthermore they now expect to be heard.



Miller, V. (2011) Understanding Digital Culture. In: Miller, V. Key Elements of Digital Media. Sage. pp 12-21.

Taylor, L. (2018). ‘Smart Cities’ in Thinking Allowed podcast (released 25/7/2018). BBC Sounds. Available from:

Townsend, A.M., 2013. Smart Cities, New York: W. W. Norton & Company. pp xi-18.


Week 1 – introduction (Miriam Harvey)


I’m a distance learning student, studying this MA very slowly over a period of three to four years (one course per semester). I work full time in Berkshire utilising my digital skills in different roles, adapting my skills to changing digital requirements in the workplace.

Beyond the day job, I am interested in digital culture from a number of perspectives including its impact on an ageing population. About ten years ago my mother-in-law fell in her sheltered home. It took her an hour to crawl across the room to pull a cord that alerted a call centre, who were then able to use a speaker system to talk to her while calling me and an ambulance. Obviously, I saw a lot wrong in that system. More recently my mother used her Apple Watch to call for help when she needed an ambulance. Without any delays, this was a clear improvement on my mother-in-law’s experience a decade ago.

I was pleased to find an example of smart city technology in one of this week’s list of readings and weblinks that I know would be helpful to older members of my family, which was Internet of Things (IoT) sensors on traffic lights to detect if someone needs more time to cross a road (Bates, 2019). However, as I am currently in the process of negotiating my husband’s discharge from hospital with social services, I am becoming increasingly aware of an over optimistic trust in technology to keep people safe and healthy. I expect I’ll be writing more about that in the coming weeks.




Bates, D. (2019). ‘How Smart Cities Can Make Seniors Independent?’ in Smart Cities Library (source Tantiv4 15 October 2019). Available from:

Week 1 – Introduction to the module

Hi all,

For those who I have not yet met, my name is Meg and I am currently studying the MA part-time from Brighton. Previously I was working for an advertising agency in London specialising in TV, radio, cinema and outdoor media buying.

This is what led me to the Digital Cities module; part of selling outdoor media spaces to clients in an increasingly mobile and digitally-driven environment, is the development of ‘smart’ enabled physical locations. Encouraging individuals to connect and interact with physical spaces, and therefore advertisers, was always a strong pull for many clients. However, the end goal was always engagement with brands and, consequently, sales.

I am interested in learning more about how physical spaces are utilised for the purposes of social engagement as opposed to profit, how charities and other NGOs are using increasingly physical environments that can be accessed digitally to promote their social work and encourage citizens to engage with it.

I am also interested in how public transport utilises digital technologies to make information more accessible and people more informed of their services, and how this can change and shape commuters’ everyday experiences.

I look forward to having great discussions and working with you all.


Thank you