Week 2: Smart Cities & Digital Culture

For the purposes of this blog post, I will explain how concepts from Townsend’s 2013 ‘Smart Cities’, and Miller’s 2011 ‘Understanding Digital Culture’, relate to Future Catapult’s 2014 ‘Cities Unlocked: Realising the potential of people and places’ project.

The primary purpose of the Cities Unlocked project was to use an ambitious combination of smart city data and technology to provide social solutions to the challenges faced by people with sight loss. Creating more opportunities for more people people to safely, confidently and comfortably engage with their environment acknowledges not only Townsend’s prediction (pg.2) that up to 8 billion people could be living in cities by the end of this century, but that: “Smart cities need to … preserve opportunities for spontaneity, serendipity, and sociability,” (pg.16).

Townsend also states that: “smart cities must bee viewed holistically,” (pg.15) – and this is the exact approach that Future Cities Catapult took with their research (2014, pg.7); using a combination of existing mobile technologies, used and tested by the very people the research sought to benefit, in order to develop a headset which communicates with mobile applications and the environment to create a 3-D, augmented reality soundscape.

Although the development of the headset was the focal point of the research, fundamental to its success were the use of, and diversity of a range of decentralised, but networked devices (Miller, 2011, pg.15). These devices influenced choice, decision-making, and the design of future route-planning and associated technology that will be required to fully realise the project.

Subsequently, the headset was developed during by utilising the same symbiosis between cities and information that Townsend acknowledges has existed for thousands of years (2013, pg.4).

Looking at this process closely, we can even see Miller’s three major themes of digital media developing; the ‘technical processes’ are the building blocks of mobile technology and sensory communication required to make the project possible; the cultural forms are the way they are used in the environment by the test subjects with sight loss, and the immersive experience is the 3-D soundscape created to enhance their quality of life (2011, pg.14). The project also taps substantially into Miller’s second and third themes of ‘interactivity’; the sociological and psycho-socially orientated aspects of how this interactivity with digital media benefits the user (2011, pg.16). Future Cities Catapult even highlight that physical, emotional and even spiritual wellbeing are all aspects of life the project was created to improve (2014, pg.18). Along with the ‘holistic’ methods they used in undertaking the research, I find the acknowledgment of a more ethereal human trait – spiritual wellbeing – a pleasant surprise, when we’re essentially discussing the use of innovative digital technologies.

Townsend states that Smart Cities: “need to be open and participatory, but provide enough support for those who lack the resources to self-organize,” (2013, pg.16). Cities Unlocked is a project that gives partially-sighted people an invaluable resource to organise their lives on a larger scale, providing them with the opportunity to: “see, touch and feel [cities] in completely new ways,” (Townsend, 2013, pg.9).

489 Words


MADDEN, P., LEAMAN, R. & CORRIGAN, N. 2014. Cities Unlocked: Realising the potential of people & places. In: CATAPULT, F. C. (ed.). [online resource] accessed February 2018. Available at http://futurecities.catapult.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/CUReport_WEB.pdf
MILLER, V. 2011. Understanding Digital Culture. Key Elements of Digital Media. London: Sage.
TOWNSEND, A. 2013. Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Digital Cities Week 1: Digital Cities & Me

I work in communications for a brand design agency based in Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK. I regularly engage with UK and European Digital and Smart City organisations on their marketing, advertising, and creative communication projects.

The embedded image is an example of one of the many such communication projects involving one of our regular clients, EIT Digital. The Pan-European organisation operate in affiliation with a range of education establishments and startups, scaleups, and industry partners, shaping Europe’s digital transformation.

Leading their digital transformation with five “Action Lines” (Digital Wellbeing, Infrastructure, Finance, Industry, and, of course,¬†Cities), they are a multi-location organisation dedicated to digital transformation.

Naturally, an important aspect of my job is to research, and display an understanding of what they do in the communications I create for them (or the communications would, quite simply, not communicate!).

This research has provided me with an insight and significant intrigue into the transformation of cities into Digital Cities, influencing and encouraging technologically-linked-collaboration between governing bodies, public services, local industry and the general population.

Subsequently, Sustainability and Sensing Cities, during Week 10, is an enticing topic, not only to my development as an academic, but by career in communications. City Dashboards and Open Data also significantly interests me, especially as I am contemporaneously studying Big Data this semester, while 3D Printing will give me something to chat to my engineering-minded Dad over dinner. And finally, Digital Urban Gaming stimulates the gaming-nerd inside me, currently being suppressed by a relentless combination of work and study.

Through work I am also familiar with the UK Catapult organisation, including Future Cities Catapult (although I didn’t realise Brighton was home to one of the Catapult’s many locations!). Like EIT Digital, their work is about building Digital Cities as a culture, as opposed to more bureaucratic decision making without the collaborative influence of other actors, including citizens.

After watching several of the suggested videos linked to Week 1, I was interested, but not entirely shocked, to find there is a belief that the United States appears to be behind other countries in recognising the potential impact of Digital Cities, and I thoroughly enjoyed the IBM animation – it’s the exact sort of infographic animation we’d be proud of at work.

Finally, hi everyone, I’m looking forward to studying with you for the next few weeks.