Governing the Smart, Connected City

Blog by Susan Crawford at HBR: “As politics at the federal level becomes increasingly corrosive and polarized, with trust in Congress and the President at historic lows, Americans still celebrate their cities. And cities are where the action is when it comes to using technology to thicken the mesh of civic goods — more and more cities are using data to animate and inform interactions between government and citizens to improve wellbeing.
Every day, I learn about some new civic improvement that will become possible when we can assume the presence of ubiquitous, cheap, and unlimited data connectivity in cities. Some of these are made possible by the proliferation of smartphones; others rely on the increasing number of internet-connected sensors embedded in the built environment. In both cases, the constant is data. (My new book, The Responsive City, written with co-author Stephen Goldsmith, tells stories from Chicago, Boston, New York City and elsewhere about recent developments along these lines.)
For example, with open fiber networks in place, sending video messages will become as accessible and routine as sending email is now. Take a look at, a free lightweight, open-source video service that works in browsers (no special download needed) and allows anyone to create a hashtag-driven “channel” for particular events and places. A debate or protest could be viewed from a thousand perspectives. Elected officials and public employees could easily hold streaming, virtual town hall meetings.
Given all that video and all those livestreams, we’ll need curation and aggregation to make sense of the flow. That’s why visualization norms, still in their infancy, will become a greater part of literacy. When the Internet Archive attempted late last year to “map” 400,000 hours of television news, against worldwide locations, it came up with pulsing blobs of attention. Although visionary Kevin Kelly has been talking about data visualization as a new form of literacy for years, city governments still struggle with presenting complex and changing information in standard, easy-to-consume ways. is one attempt to resolve this. It’s a platform developed by former Chicago Chief Data Officer Brett Goldstein that allows public datasets to be combined and mapped with easy-to-see relationships among weather and crime, for example, on a single city block. (A sample question anyone can ask of “Tell me the story of 700 Howard Street in San Francisco.”) Right now,’s visual norm is a map, but it’s easy to imagine other forms of presentation that could become standard. All the city has to do is open up its widely varying datasets…”