Week 12 – Summary

I was a little apprehensive about jumping head first into the Digital Cities module when I first enrolled in this MA, as I thought it would not be the best way to start my journey through Digital Media, Culture and Society, but now I am so glad I did. This module reflects exactly what is happening around me right now, as my work is related to Infrastructure for development. How does digital media intertwine with our cities? How do our cities embed digital media? How are cities now planned around digitalization? How does digitalization address real issues, with real people in real cities? There are so many questions presented to us through this module that I had never even thought of asking, and the answers to those questions are just as surprising and enriching.

Our first introduction to Smart Cities was through Anthony Townsend (2013). His definition of 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, 2013, page 18)

This made things click for me and made me understand what this module was about. We will be looking at innovations in digital media and the many ways we can engage with cities through technology, but we will also be looking into case studies to understand how things should and should not be implemented, as well as all the stakeholders involved in the making of a digital city.

Unfortunately, I was not able to join the class for the Arup field trip, but I was lucky enough to go to Arup on duty travel and see first hand how innovative and forward-thinking these “bunch of engineers” are when it comes to approaching projects from a digital lens.

We looked into policing technologies through Sadowski, in The Spectrum of Control (2015). We analyzed Code/Space understanding it “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., 2011, page 16). We had fun with locative narrative and gaming. We wondered at how cities use dashboards to analyze, manage, and plan. We looked at the many uses and implementations of drone technology, from surveillance to actual delivery of products. We marveled at the potential of 3-D printing.

All of this newly acquired knowledge, for me, culminated in one of our last lessons regarding Sustainability. The SDGs are a big part of my daily work and the fact that countries are harnessing the power of digital media to address sustainable development goal targets is what inspired me to decide on the topic of my final assessment. I look forward to completing this assignment and sharing it within my colleagues as well, mostly engineers, mostly male, who would benefit from understanding the complexities of digital/smart cities and the complexities around infrastructure beyond the construction aspect.


Week 11: 3-D Printing

“Amazing”. Without fail, every time I learn about a new breakthrough or application of 3-D printing on the news, I actually say that out loud. It truly is astonishing how digital technology is rapidly moving changing our relationship with the physical world.

After reading Fabricated: the new world of 3D printing by Lipson and Kurman (2013), amazing did not cut it anymore. Their description of what 3-D printing is might be the best one I have read until now: “When the platypus was first discovered, explorers thought it was a hoax, that a prankster had somehow stitched together a furry animal with a duck’s bill, webbed feet and a kangaroo’s pouch. 3D printing is the platypus of the manufacturing world, combining the digital precision and repeatability of a factory floor with an artisan’s design freedom.”(Lipson and Kurman, 2013, page 27)

It didn’t take long for a 3-D printing company to use the platypus for their marketing

However, the more I read about 3-D printing, the more my vegan and crunchy inner-self reminds me of the implications of massive printing and its impact on the environment. How much plastic are we talking about here? If excessive plastic is an issue now, with over 300 million tonnes of plastic being produce around the globe every year, imagine what it will be like when every household, business, school and hospital starts printing out plastic objects left and right?

This is why I was so taken by the story in The Guardian about the city of Pune, India, where startup Protoprint is working on converting plastic waste collected from garbage dumps into filaments for 3-D printing companies. Protoprint teamed up with SWaCH, a cooperative made up of local waste pickers, to pilot this initiative and ensure a sustainable approach to waste management. A potential win-win-win for the environment, the local waste pickers who struggle to make ends meet and for those who want to source a cheaper and more sustainable raw material for their 3-D printing.

Lipson and Kurman write about the virtues of 3-D printing, as it seems to provide a good, cheap and fast product, but they do highlight that there are hidden costs, such as the aspect of design, but as the case study describes, the filaments used for printing are quite expensive as well. “Although the word plastic has become a synonym for low-cost materials, 3D printing plastic isn’t cheap. In fact, the cost of plastic printing material quickly adds up to become a significant part of the cost of running a 3D printer.” (Lipson and Kurman, 2013, page 82).

The ethical filament produced from waste products, as opposed to virgin filament, would be cheaper to source, although according to the story, there are some quality and certification issues that need to be ironed out before calling this a complete success. There is also the issue of the manufacturer’s warranty, and how it can be jeopardised if non-proprietary materials are used.

Photo: Aman Trust, in www.downtoearth.org.in

The team of writers address the question, “Will 3-D printing help make jobs?” (Lipson and Kurman, 2013, page 45), and although I am pretty sure they did not have this sustainable development issue in mind when they wrote Fabricated in 2013, other aspects of sustainability were present in their work. As the authors describe, when plastic is born, it never dies. It is here forever. But approaches to make it a more “green, clean manufacturing” (Lipson and Kurman, 2013, page 197) are emerging. Innovative projects like Solar Sintering that use solar energy to power the 3-D printers and sand as the raw material.

Keeping all of these dimensions in mind, and in spite of the Protoprint and SWaCH collaboration still being a work in progress, if successful it could result in good business for 3-D printing, for the marginalised groups of waste pickers and for the environment.


Week 11: 3D Printing

“Welcome to the future, where disabilities are superpowers,” reads OpenBionics‘ mission statement. This sounds like a line from a Utopian science-fiction movie (which would, inevitably, become a dystopian science fiction movie), or perhaps a quote from Professor Charles Xavier’s ‘School for the Gifted’. (Also now available as a science fiction movie / trilogy).

As it happens, Open Bionics themselves allude to making: “science fiction a reality,” (Open Bionics, [online resource], accessed May 2018).

Inspired to change the prosthetics industry, by the extortionate cost and relative inflexibility of essential replacement limbs, Samantha Payne founded Open Bionics (Sheppard, 2017). By using the modern medium of 3D Printing to create the limbs, OpenBionics can create a personalised ‘bionic’ hand for around one-sixth of the cost of those in the private sector, with the added USP of users being able to create them at home.

Lipson and Kurman highlight the availability of 3D Printing as a resource not just for those who may need its uniquely manufactured products, but even to those whose professional trades have not previously involved manufacturing (2012, pg.175). Samantha Payne and her business partner, before founding Open Bionics, worked in journalism and robotics engineering, respectively, prior to their award-winning enterprise (Sheppard, 2017).

Particularly with Joel Gibbard (said business partner, previously in robotics), they have been able to exploit the flexibility offered by 3D Printing to re-design an existing product, using new technology, and putting an affordable, essential solution into the health industry markets.

Lipson and Kurman state that: “patterns generated by algorithms, or equations, come in as many varieties as there are people,” (2012, pg.176). Highlighting the broad variety of shapes and patterns available to 3D Printing designers, who apply data and algorithms to their design, this is an ideal scenario for creating prosthetic limbs – which should ideally be custom fit for every user (Payne, in Sheppard, 2017):

“One of the most powerful applications of generative design is to apply computer algorithms to a particular problem to find the best, optimal solution. By crunching through rapid iterations and testing out possibly after possibility, a computer can generate design specs that when 3D printed, will create an object optimized to suit a particular person or environment.” (Lipson and Kuram, pg.181)

Strikingly, Open Bionics aim to keep all their product code open source, whereby anybody  in the interconnected world of Digital Cities can access and test the prosthetics (pending the availability of a 3D Printer at home). This allows for sharing, testing, and even feedback contributing to product development. Subsequently, this allows the company to keep their costs down, while their small team work collaboratively with people all over the world.

When also considering the environmental advantages of 3D Printing over traditional metal manufacturing techniques, it becomes clear that Open Bionics are doing incredible things in their industry. 3D Printing is already a ‘greener’ form of manufacturing, but with the addition of a significantly shorter supply chain – literally downloading the code, and printing the prosthetic – the carbon footprint left by the business, along with its cost to the consumer, is small (Lipson and Kuram, pg.203).

With the number of people worldwide requiring a limb set to double in the next 30 years (Oullier, 2018, [online resource] accessed may 2018), the cheaper and the greener the solution, the better for inhabitants of both today’s, and tomorrow’s Digital Cities.


Lipson, H., & Kurman, M., (2012). Fabricated: The New World of 3D Printing. Wiley.

Open Bionics (website). [online resource], accessed May 2018. Available at: https://openbionics.com

Sheppard, E., (2017). The entrepreneur behind a revolutionary 3D-printed robotic hand. Guardian [online resource], accessed May 2018. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/small-business-network/2017/may/03/the-award-winning-robotics-company-amputees-gender-equality-open-source-engineering

Week 10 Sustainability and Sensing Cities

The post-agenda 2015 goals for sustainable development include amongst there social and economic objetives Goal number 13 that aims to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. This topic has had its fair share of controversy. Climate change deniers do not accept the rising temperatures, rising sea levels and increase of natural disasters are man-made.

Elliot and Urry (2010) swiftly address the deniers with hard facts and a description of how the 20th Century’s capitalism and the advent of mobile lives have resulted in an era of carbon hubris (Elliot and Urry, 2010) which, according to the authors’ four different type of future scenarios, will be forced to come to an end in a few decades to come. Mobile lives, as mentioned, are creating problems – both environmental and social – that will have to be addressed in the 21st Century. People are constantly on the go, connecting with others either physically by travel, or virtually through mobile phones, SMS, skype. “The richer the society, the greater the range of mobility systems that will be present, and the more complex the intersections between such systems” (Elliot and Urry, 2010, page 19). Network capital will define a person’s access to mobility and as with all forms of capital, this freedom of movement becomes unequally distributed.

The case study SavingFood from the Collective Awareness Platforms projects indirectly addresses Goal 13 on Climate Change but most importantly, Goal 2 to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture

As mentioned in their website, “SavingFood offers an innovative and socially responsible solution to the food waste challenge by developing an online networked community of various stakeholders that through collective awareness, knowledge sharing, motivations and incentives, will facilitate the redistribution of surplus food and leftover crops for the benefit of the vulnerable groups of our society.”

Elliot and Urry describe four future scenarios, two being preferable (Local sustainability and Digital Networks) and the other two un-preferable (Perpetual Motion and Regional Warlordism). Clearly, SavingFood addresses the first category, taking something from both scenarios. To achieve food security, SavingFood encourages local sustainability by the sourcing of food from the communities, as well as exploiting the power of Digital Networks to share knowledge on the subject.

SavingFood takes advantage of the technological advances of the 20th and 21st centuries -by embracing the internet and digitalization- to address the problems that this progress has helped to create. It is an interesting approach to raise awareness and promote conscientious consumption.


Critical Practice Assessment

My assignment consists of a Critical Practice assessment, based on a whiteboard animation video. It has great potential for storytelling. The video below is the draft version I have so far, and it is missing a voiceover, which is very important to guide the viewer through the story. (I hope you can use your imagination and get the general idea of the script!)

Based on Townsend’s (2013) and Sadowski’s (2015) descriptions of digital cities, I will focus on a few case studies that go beyond the existence of Digital Cities for digitalization-sake. The case studies we analyzed in previous lessons regarding drones is a good example (which I will not repeat here) about the use of digital technology in developing countries, and how digital cities are used as a means to an end. The end being, in this case, the contribution to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals.

Townsend’s last paragraph from his introduction to smart cities has resonated with me: “I believe there is a better way to build smart cities than to simply call in the engineers. We need to lift up the civic leaders who would show us a different way. 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 2013, page 18).

I will focus on one case study, very close to my heart as I was the Project Manager for the content development component of the initiative. In Argentina, the province of San Luis has gone digital by enabling free Wi-Fi for all citizens as well as implementing a “one laptop per child” educational programme in primary schools. This addresses sustainable development goal number 4, Quality Education. It is a good example of a retrofitted and renovated digital city in a developing country, as well as a good example of the multidisciplinary approach needed to make an impact. The involvement of IT engineers, urban planners, ICT professionals and IT suppliers, education experts, pedagogues, sociologists, teachers, government officials, and last but not least, students and families, well are necessary to implement this programme.

The objectives of this assignment will be:

  1. To frame the concept of Digital Cities using Sadowski’s and Townsend’s theories
  2. To link digital cities to the development context through a case study taking place in a developing country
  3. To link the case study to a specific Sustainable Development Goal
  4. To describe the impact of digitalization in development
  5. To highlight the multidisciplinary and multisectoral approach required to ensure the digitlization of a city, especially in a developing country, produces the outcomes and impacts desired.

I was thinking of including a second case study referring to Goal number 9, Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure. However, I noticed that there is a lot more to explore with regards to digital cities and Goal number 4. For example:

  • What roles do the stakeholders mentioned in the video have?
  • What is the role of IT alone in achieving Goal 4?
  • What were the failures and lessons learned from similar initiatives, like the one laptop per child initiative?
  • More references to theory from our weekly assignments
  • Include a video/additional multimedia to the whiteboard to expand Goal 4

Let me know your thoughts!


Assignment 2 Peer Review: outline


This essay will explore the challenges faced by advertisers and consumers as they interact within interconnected Digital Cities. The industry is trying to adapt and exploit the opportunities afforded them by the technologies essential to both everyday consumerism, and the infrastructure of Digital Cities themselves. Meanwhile, consumers are becoming more aware of how their interactions with digital technologies work simultaneously for and against them (Miller, 2011), leading to less responsive audiences who are constantly bombarded by instant, targeted advertising. With privacy the prescient concern amongst all involved, this analysis will highlight where the advertising industry is now, how it is adapting, and what the impact could be for both industry, and audience. 

Kurt Iveson’s: “Digital Labourers of the City, Unite!” (2017), is a call to action for consumers to ensure that digital technologies are used for their benefit, not exploitation. However, Mark Latonero (2018) highlights the influence of the tech industry within this debate, and how their industry has become essential to Digital Cities, and every sector that operates within them (Kourtit, etal, 2017). This has led to a collapse of the distinction between consumers and producers, and a more decentralised model of media production (Miller, 2011). 

Subsequently, the classic philosophies of advertising (Haygood, 2016) are being challenged, and privacy itself has become something of a commodity (Papachrissi, 2010). This has led to new essentials of consumerism within Digital Cities; targeted social media advertising (Okazaki, 2013); dynamic advertising, including billboards (Lak, etal, 2015); and spreading incepted word of mouth (albeit via digital networks) recommendations through similar media (Fang, etal, 2016). Each of these new forms of advertising rely on the same technologies fundamental to Digital City policy makers, as they also track how their citizens / consumers behave (Kourtit, etal, 2017). 

Predicting how consumers may behave (Ham, 2016) is also essential for the advertising industry, but not an entirely new concept. However, adopting some of the classic ‘soft cell’ philosophies of traditional advertising for digital media is difficult. In some circumstances, businesses are being rebuilt based on the analysis of Big Data (Feldman, 2010). The proven emotive, creative metaphorical methods of classic advertising (Chang, 2016) are becoming more methodical, analytically based concepts, while advertisers find a way to make the technology itself adapt to the more psychological approaches to the craft (Prendergast, 2018). 

Advertising may be both an expected, and accepted form of media in modern Digital Cities, but like every other industry, it is racing to keep up with the technologies it has come to rely upon. This essay will ask where it is now, where it may be going, and how it will continue adapting and evolving, if it is to thrive in Digital Cities. 


Key texts and case studies as highlighted 

CHANG, C. 2018. Right metaphor, right place: choosing a visual metaphor based on product type and consumer differences. International Journal of Advertising, 37, 309-336. 

FAN, Y., TANG, K., LI., C. & WU, C. 2018
On electronic word of mouth diffusion in social networks: curiosity and influence. International Journal of Advertising, 37

FELDMAN, K. 2010. The Quantification of Advertising (+ Lessons from Building Businesses based on Large Scale Data Mining)   

HAM, C. 2017. Exploring how consumers cope with online behavioural advertising
International Journal of Advertising, 36, 632-658. 

HAYGOOD, D. 2016. Hard Sell or Soft Sell? The Advertising Philosophies and Professional Relationship of Rosser Reeves and David Ogilvy. American Journalism, 33, 169-188. 

IVESON, K. 2017. Digital Labourers of the City, Unite! Our Digital Rights To The City. Meatspace Press. 

KOURTIT, K., NIJKAMP, P. & STEENBURGEN, J. 2016. The significance of digital data systems for smart city policy. Socio-Economic Planning Sciences, 58, 13-21. 

LAK, P., KOCAK, A. & PRALAT, P. 2015
Towards Dynamic Pricing for Digital Billboard Advertising Network in Smart Cities
Dept. of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada. 

MILLER, V. 2011. Understanding Digital Culture. Key Elements of Digital Media. London: Sage. 

Social media and international advertising: theoretical challenges and future directions. International Marketing Review, 30

PAPACHRISSI, Z. 2010. Privacy as a luxury commodity. First Monday, 15. 

PRENDERGAST, G. 2016. Trust in online recommendations: an evolutionary psychology perspective. International Journal of Advertising, 37, 199-216. 

Week 10: Sustainability, Sensing Cities & Socratic Methodology

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are are set of 17 ‘universal calls’ to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure citizens enjoy peace and prosperity (UNDP, 2015). Focussing on ‘green’ initiatives, moral values and future-proofing sociocultural change, the SDGs aim to secure the livelihoods of future generations, all over the world (UNEP, 2015).

However, de Lange alludes to the unemotional, or at least un-emotionally engaging nature of sustainability: “relations between people and between people and the urban environment are strictly utilitarian,” he states (2013, pg.3)

Like ‘green’ before it, and ‘progressive’, sustainable has become something of a buzz-word; something to aspire to, and maybe progress towards, but never really understand how to fully achieve, in reality. While the SDG’s have sustainable, or green concepts alongside more personally motivating issues like equality and education – which reinforces their significance – what they essentially provide are targets to meet; a deadline of 2030 to meet them, and a call to action for global citizens to reach them, together.

What the SDGs do reinforce, particularly well, is reminding the world of what is really important, wherever one happens to be. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone can and will be engaged. Technological and political situations will inevitably effect some, but there are also a growing number of people living ‘mobile lives’ who are unfortunately more focussed on on living life in the more short-term (Elliot & Urry, 2010, pg.5) as they travel between digital cities.

This is where applications like Socratic come in.

Socratic is a creative intelligence platform, providing users with a collaborative space where they can engage with, share, create and develop innovative solutions to achieve these crucial, global targets. With complex, computerised systems leading to people living more ‘byte-sized’ lives, Socratic has used these very systems to tap into the ideologies of the SDGs (ironically, or strategically, tapping directly into the 9th SDG – Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure!).

Using gamification techniques, and using social network data to monitor and challenge its own impact on (really) progressing towards the SDGs. By giving its audience the opportunity to collectively select and implement the most promising ideas created on its platform, Socratic is encouraging the more emotionally unattached traveller, who perhaps spends as much time away from ‘home’ as they do within it, to take an interest in, and take responsibility for the SDGS – providing routes, not just concepts, towards a more sustainable world.

And it could be an essential move. Elliot & Urry (pp.141-143) suggest two tangible scenarios that could occur, as a result of the energy production and consumption that has been ramped up, globally, since the 20th Century. If the trend of escalation continues, the only way to alleviate the environmental damage sustained could be to enforce a return to more localised economies and communities. However, if solutions are found that allow for the current escalation to continue, i.e., alternative, clean fuels and even more reliance on intelligent, mobile devices, we could end up with a ‘hyper world’; one in which individuals are constantly on the move, and constantly connected, albeit digitally.

Whether either of these scenarios are where we end up, or whether it’s somewhere completely different, or even a nice, sustainable equilibrium between the two, applications like Socratic will help us make the right decisions, together.



Elliot, A., & Urry, J. (2010). Mobile Lives. Routledge. Oxon.

de Lange, M. (2013) The smart city you love to hate: Exploring the role of affect in hybrid urbanism. In The Hybrid City II: Subtle rEvolutions, edited by D. Charitos, I. Theona, D. Dragona and H. Rizopoulos. 23-25 May 2013. Athens, Greece.

UNDP (2015). Sustainable Development Goals. Online resource, accessed April 2018. Available at: http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sustainable-development-goals.html

UNEP (2015). Integrating the three dimensions of sustainable development. Online resource, accessed April 2018. Available at: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/3782unep2.pdf