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 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 3 – Data and the smart city: Critical perspectives

A smart city like Songdo screams potential from every angle and perspective. Processes like interactivity and automation through digitalization can improve the daily lives of a city’s inhabitants as they can reduce stress caused by everyday frictions (easy commutes to work), promote diversity (embedding technologies in the city to support people with sight loss) facilitating access to participation and citizenship (through quick and efficient e-government and the use of data for decision-making) and perhaps most relevant in the context of the Agenda 2030, provide the tools for sustainable development (greener approach to waste management). However, according to these articles in the BBC and Le Monde this particular case study of the Korean city of Songdo seems to be more of a lesson learned on how not to conceptualize and develop smart cities.

Every aspect described above that seemed to make Songdo appealing has not effectively materialized as initially planned for this 40 billion dollar city, and furthermore, these aspects of digitalization are not as straightforward as they seem to be. Is Songdo reason for existing only based on embracing technology for technology’s sake? Is the digitalization of a city like Songdo just intended to improve mundane aspects of our lives or are there ulterior implications that affect our citizenship rights and responsibilities?

As insightful as these articles may be, according to various authors in Our Digital Rights to the City and The Spectrum of Control: A Social Theory of the Smart City, there is much more to read and interpret from them than initially meets the eye.

Before diving into the issue of data which is prevalent in this week’s readings, let’s look into some interesting concepts brought to our attention in the news articles, and link them to the readings mentioned above.

Songdo is what Sadowski (The spectrum of control) calls a smart city built from scratch. In this case, a smart city where intelligence is not fostered or collected from its inhabitants but from the digital hardware that make up the Internet of Things. As described by the BBC “And that’s because the city is currently less than half full; less than 20% of the commercial office space is occupied, and the streets, cafes and shopping centres still feel largely empty”.

Going back to last week’s reading on Townsend, “We need to empower ourselves to build future cities organically, from the bottom up, and do it in time to save ourselves from climate change.” (Townsend, page 18)

What Townsend is saying might be easier applied in the case of cities that are retrofitted and renovated from dumb to smart. This is not the case in this city built from scratch where there is no citizenry to begin with. One may argue that faced with the shocking statistics presented by the UN on the exponential growth of cities, countries like Korea are facing this issue head-on, and in a sustainable way, by addressing needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (Brundtwald Report). All of this achieved through the development of green housing and infrastructure.

Sustainability, however, encompasses much more than green development as defined above. This complex and rich concept includes social aspects such as diversity and gender. However, as described in Le Monde,Sterile and soul-less, the city looks different from Korean cities. There are no poor people, no street vendors, no old people.” This sterility embodies not only the absence of people but for those who have decided to call Songdo their home, the lack of diversity which sets the stage for a city that might not be sustainable in the long run for a more varied type of citizenry.

The lack of means of transportation to and from the city are also a concern from a sustainability point of view. As referenced in the BBC article, “Despite being next to South Korea’s main international airport, transport links into the capital itself are rudimentary, and the incentives for companies moving to a new smart city don’t always outweigh the costs.” How is the city expected to grow and to serve the needs of current and future generations if it is being developed without these considerations?

Even with regards to green infrastructure, the city of Songdo does not seem to tackle that issue very smartly, as mentioned in Le Monde, “The buildings are totally transparent and it is impossible to open the windows”. “In summer and winter the air conditioning is on all the time. I wonder if I don’t use more than before”. She herself had not seen the link between smart city and environment.” 

The articles describe a city booming with technological innovation, a digital landscape almost devoid of people. The city’s infrastructure has developed quicker than the actual need and appeal to move to the city, as well as the surrounding infrastructures such as means of transport that connect Songdo to Seoul. Especially in Le Monde’s description, it is an engineers dream of a modern and futuristic city, but ultimately lacking the ability to enable interactions between people and things.

An article in Datafloq further describes the big data capabilities of Songdo and the promises it intends to deliver. According to the article, surveillance and traffic control are obvious reasons behind data monitoring, but Songdo aims for more. Climate, energy consumption, leisure activities and water consumption will be monitored by data capturing systems. These systems feed off of people and their activities, habits, actions. Companies might understandably not feel compelled to move their operations to Songdo, especially considering the promises of surveillance and data monitoring are not quite appealing in city with a population less than half of the originally intended.

According to Le Monde: “Songdo is also a town under constant surveillance: 500 cameras ensure total grid coverage to regulate the traffic or detect ‘suspicious’ behaviour. Even the opening of a sewer cover is immediately notified to the IFEZ management centre in one of the towers in Songdo. “We work in close collaboration with the police, but the data are not kept for more than thirty days”.

This last comment regarding data used for policing ties strongly to Sadowski’s section on The hard power of policing technologies. Smart cities are relying in technology and big data with the excuse of using non-violent means for crowd control and ensuring the safety of their citizens. But “technological means threaten to even prevent crowds from forming in the first place, thus moving from reactionary to prophylactic strategies.” (Sadowski, The Spectrum of Control). The use of big data to justify decisions without context or knowledge of historical patterns or trends might result in dangerous and unjust rulings and also go against a citizen’s basic right to assemble and protest.

The infrastructure in Songdo is laid out for data collection in every front, however, the issue of consent is a prevalent one in discussions regarding the use of big data by governments and organizations. Sadowski warns future architects of smart cities “without consistent citizen consultation and serious penalties for misuse of data, their apparatus of omniveillance could easily do more harm than good.” But even before addressing the issue of consent, when building a city from scratch like Sondgo, government officials, town planners and engineers should keep in mind that every city requires its citizenry to exist. Cities require people’s empowerment and participation to make the city before making the data. As Sadowski says “We make the city, and the city makes us. In a time when the urban environment is crisscrossed, undergirded, and overlaid with digitality, the corollary is: We make data, and  data makes us. We thus have—and must claim hold of—“the right to command the whole urban process.” (Sadowski, page 10-11)

Shelton continues this line of thought by referring to a process of knowledge production within cities that start from the ground up: “In order to attain the right to both participation in, and appropriation of, the city, citizens must be free to understand the city and construct their own knowledges and representations of it.” (Shelton, page 27)

Participation and community engagement are also building blocks of sustainability, and in the world we are living in with a growing population and unprecedented development, the digitaliization of cities, either from the ground up or as a transition from dumb to smart, should take these perspectives into consideration.


Sadowski, J (2017) ‘Access denied: Snapshorts of exclusion and enforcement in the smart city’ in Shaw, J and Graham, M. ed. Our Digital rights to the citypp 6-11. Meatspace Press [Free access, available to download, read online or self print]

Sadowski, J. and Pasquale, F. (2015). The Spectrum of Control: A Social Theory of the Smart City.’ First Monday 20(7): Available at URL: http://firstmonday.org/article/view/5903/4660

Shaw, J and Graham, M (2017) ‘An informational Right to the City?’ in Shaw, J and Graham, M. ed. Our Digital rights to the city, pp. 1-5. Meatspace Press [Free access, available to download, read online or self print]

Shelton, T (2017) ‘Repoliticizing data, in Shaw, J and Graham, M. ed. Our Digital rights to the citypp 24-27. Meatspace Press [Free access, available to download, read online or self print]

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

BBC 2013 Tomorrow’s cities. Just how smart is Songdo?  (2/9/13) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-23757738

Le Monde 2017 Songdo, a city for the affluent http://www.lemonde.fr/smart-cities/article/2017/05/29/songdo-ghetto-for-the-affluent_5135650_4811534.html

The Smart City Of The Future Will Bring Big Data To A New Level https://datafloq.com/read/smart-city-future-bring-big-data-level/183

Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development Our Common Future http://www.exteriores.gob.es/Portal/es/PoliticaExteriorCooperacion/Desarrollosostenible/Documents/Informe%20Brundtland%20(En%20ingl%C3%A9s).pdf

Week 2 – Smart Cities and Digital Culture

For this week’s blogpost, I will explain how Arup’s the future of the future built environment – Data cities relates to specific concepts from Townsend’s (2013) ‘Smart Cities’ book and from Miller’s (2011) ‘Key Elements of Digital Culture’.

By 2050, United Nations projections indicate, the urban population will expand to nearly 6.5 billion. By 2100, global population could top 10 billion, and cities could be home to as many as 8 billion people.” (Anthony M. Townsend)

The initial preconceptions of this new world, digitalised and interconnected through a international network of people, seemed to indicate that we could allow even more  geographical and physical distance between us, as technology was bringing us together through online digital technologies. Why move to Buenos Aires, Copenhagen, Los Angeles, Nairobi or Kuala Lumpur if I can stay away from large cities and still be immersed in cultural and social networks through my laptop or mobile phone?

As Townsend notes, “It seems counterintuitive that the growth of cities and the spread of information technology are so strongly linked.” (Townsend, page 6). However, cities are growing fast, and some of them within countries taking technological leaps with regards to their own development. Providing even more shocking statistics of this urban exponential growth, we learnt that “in 2001, China’s announced plans to build twenty new cities each year through 2020, to accommodate an estimated 12 million migrants arriv­ing annually from rural areas.” (Townsend, page 2).

Clearly, digital media, technology and the internet have not made cities a thing of the past. Quite the opposite, we are moving towards a more urbanised world immersed in digital culture.

Arup’s video on the future of the digital built environment illustrates how these cities will look like, and in many case, are already visible in many major cities. Arup discusses how the digital is changing the way we move around in these growing cities. This is where the digital becomes tangible through smart parking and smart buildings, and reversely, the physical incorporates the digital, evidenced in how architecture is now being conceived. A building can no longer be limited to the traditional definition of housing. Architects must now start including digital strategies in early stages of their planning of projects, meaning they must work beyond their scope and areas of expertise, including other disciplines and stakeholders in their designs. The video describes smart or digital cities not only from the perspective of a user interacting with a screen but in actual outputs and outcomes that can improve people’s lives, if technology is steered in the right direction.

By reading both Anthony Townsend’s Smart Cities, and Vincent Miller’s Key Elements of Digital Culture, we can dig deeper into what the Arup team refers to when discussing how technology changes interactivity amongst people. Townsend analyses the nature and nuances of how people and things are interconnecting with each other in these growing metropolis. Miller’s work on understanding digital culture describes the “technical processes (which) refer to the technological building blocks of digital media, cultural forms (which) refer to the ways in which digital media objects are created, encountered and used, and immersive experience (which) refers to the environments that digital media can create.” (Miller, page 14) The concept of interactivity as described by Miller is also useful to understand the new interactions taking place in these digital cities illustrated by Arup. According to Miller, the best definition for interactivity is provided by Jensen (1998): ‘A measure of media’s potential ability to let the user exert an influence on the context and/or form of the mediated communication’ (Miller, page 16). Arup’s digital cities are governed by this interactivity as its citizens rely increasingly more on digital media to mediate and influence their relationship with the environment around them.

Townsend defines smart cities as “places where information technology is wielded to address problems old and new. In the past, buildings and infrastructure shunted the flow of people and goods in rigid, predetermined ways. But smart cities can 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. They opti­mize heating and cooling in buildings, balance the flow of electricity through the power grid, and keep transportation networks moving. Sometimes, these interventions on our behalf will go unnoticed by humans, behind the scenes within the wires and walls of the city. But at other times, they’ll get right in our face, to help us solve our shared problems by urging each of us to make choices for the greater good of all.” (Townsend, preface xii)

This relates to the statements made by the Arup team who talk about how in these growing cities people are using technology to make their lives easier. They give examples of how people need access to information to get to their destinations through other routes or other means of transport if required. Or the concept of smart parking that aims at reducing friction in people lives.

But where is this information coming from? How does this relate to the building blocks of digital media described by Miller? In Understanding Digital Media – Key Elements of Digital Culture, Miller reminds us of the importance of databases, and how they permeate our daily interactions with people and things, becoming almost ubiquitous. “We tend to associate databases with computerised record-keeping systems or cumbersome workplace spreadsheets, but in actuality the spread of databases into everyday life and digital culture is pervasive, despite going relatively unnoticed. Online travel maps are one example, but it is the case that every web site, every online service, and the very internet itself, is a database. This leads Manovich (2001) to suggest that databases are becoming a, if not the, dominant cultural form of our times, and that ‘almost every practical act involves choosing from some menu, catalogue, or database’ (Manovich, 2001: 128).” (Miller page 20-21)

In spite of the many wonders described by Arup with regards to smart cities, they do something even more interesting by closing with a question, or perhaps a warning. What are the outcomes we are looking to achieve with technology and with the arise of these digital cities? Or should we focus on technology for technology’s sake? A good question to ask, especially by a predominantly engineer-staffed organisation that aims to Shape a Better World.

Townsend also challenges technocratic hegemony when it comes to the development of our cities. He too warns communities and leaders not to relinquish their ownership and accountability.  “We need to take the wheel back from the engineers, and let people and communities decide where we should steer.” (Townsend)

He goes even further by describing smart cities as “places where information technology is combined with infrastructure, architecture, everyday objects, and even our bodies to address social, economic, and environmental problems.(…) We need to empower ourselves to build future cities organically, from the bottom up, and do it in time to save ourselves from climate change.” (Townsend)

Thanks to Miller, Townsend and the team at Arup, we are introduced to the topics of digital media and smart cities. After reading the material and watching the video, it seems to me that perhaps one of the themes or questions that should remain in my mind throughout this course is, beyond the wonders of modern technologies and the new and interesting ways we can live our lives and communicate with each other, what outcomes can humanity achieve through the rise of digital cities and what do those journeys look like in such a diverse world?



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

Miller, V. (2011) Understanding Digital Culture. In: Miller, V. Key Elements of Digital Media. Sage: pp 12-2

Arup, The future built environment, http://video.arup.com/?v=1_ti3l9h7q

Week 1 – Introduction to Digital Cities

Hello everyone. My name is Mercedes and I am enrolled in the distance learning MA on Digital media, Culture and Society. I am a sociologist, originally from Argentina, currently living in Denmark, working for the United Nations Office for Project Services as a Knowledge Management and Communications specialist. I have also worked in other UN agencies as well as the private sector, where I focused on bridging the digital gap through online educational platforms for children and adults. This MA will support my career development by expanding my knowledge and understanding of how digital media impacts development. Digital cities is my first module. I am a late arrival to the course so I hope to catch up with everything fast and look forward to the semester.

I work for the Infrastructure and Project Management Group within UNOPS and I find that this module in particular addresses many issues my team is struggling to comprehend such as the relationships between infrastructure assets and systems, with concepts like governance and social justice. I look forward to exploring this and going back to my team with some solutions to the many issues raised by our partners. The challenge we have in the development sector is introducing concepts such as digital cities to developing countries who barely have the infrastructure required to service a population with the basic needs such as water, electricity, plumbing, schools and clinics. However, the focus on Sustainable Development Goals for the Agenda 2030 presents an opportunity for countries to start planning their infrastructure roadmaps in a sustainable way, ensuring the path is laid out to build towards a better and sustainable future.

Regarding the numerous links and reading material I accessed so far, I must say I am not shocked but constantly amazed at how much innovation is happening around the topic of digital or smart cities. I always considered myself to be pretty much on top of these issues but I have a feeling this module is going to take me on a wild ride through the “internet of things.”

Regarding the topics of the course, I look forward to Sustainability and Sensing Cities as it seems to be very relevant to my current role in UNOPS.

Finally, along with a full-time job, I have a 1 year-old daughter. I recognize the challenges I am facing with so many things going on in my life but I am committed to this module and this course. Any tips from any working parents out there is appreciated!