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.



2 thoughts on “Week 4: Code / Space

  1. This case study and your observations about space/place remind me of the work of Marc Augé, French anthropologist who defined “non-places”: “If a place can be defined as relational, historical and concerned with identity, then a space which cannot be defined as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity will be a non-place. The hypothesys advanced here is that supermodernity produces non-places, meaning spaces which are not themselves anthropological places (…) where a dense network of means of transport which are also inhabited spaces is developing; where the habitué of supermarkets, slot machines and credit cards communicates wordlessly, through gestures with an abstract, unmediated commerce; a world thus surrendered to solitary individuality, to the fleeting, the temporary and ephemeral, offers the anthropologist (and others) a new object.” (Marc Augè, Non-Places, 1992)

    As referred to you and Adler, can the simulations account for the ‘historic legacy’ of certain areas, building, or existing communities? Are these just empty spaces with no sense of community, history, sense of permanence? They allow for participation by the community in their design but is that enough to make these spaces actual places or non-places?

    Just a thought that went through my mind while reading your post. Brought me back to my lectures when studying Sociology.

  2. Hi Simon, your case study reminded me of an article I read recently about CyberCity, a miniature virtual city that has been built by an ‘ethical hacker’ to test security systems in a city. I found it fascinating in that this is way to anticipate what and everything that could possibly go wrong security wise in a city e.g. a cyberattack, and to come up with solutions. The city was designed to teach government and military how to fight back in such circumstances. (Read full article here: http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-28106818).

    It is insightful to read how “simulations allow for a new level of participation by citizens in their projected designs”. Berry et al in Public Space, Media Space talk of accountability, regulation, governance and free movement in public/media space, and how space is made up of diverse things and qualities including human culture.

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