Experimenting with Public Engagement Platforms in Local Government


Paper by Seongkyung Cho et al: “Cities are venues for experimentation with technology (e.g., smart cities) and democratic governance. At the intersection of both trends is the emergence of new online platforms for citizen engagement. There is little evidence to date on the extent to which these are being used or the characteristics associated with adopters at the leading edge. With rich data on civic engagement and innovation from a 2016 International City/County Management Association (ICMA) survey, we explore platform use in U.S. local governments and relationships with offline civic engagement, innovation, and local characteristics. We find that use of online participatory platforms is associated with offline participation, goals for civic engagement, and city size, rather than evidence that this is related to a more general orientation toward innovation….(More)”.

Pocket Democracy: Developing a User-Friendly App for Following Local Politics


Paper by Jenny Lindholm & Janne Berg: “Democratic innovations have been suggested as one way of increasing public participation in political processes. Civic technology may provide resources for improving transparency, publicity, and accountability in political processes. This paper is about the development of a smartphone application that provides users with information on municipal politics and representatives. We develop the application using a user-centered design approach. Thus, we establish its functions by hearing the end-users and considering their goals in the design process. We conducted three focus groups to find out what features end-users would like to see in an app. Six features were present in all three focus group discussions: receiving information, expressing opinions, creating/answering polls, receiving notifications, following issues and receiving emergency messages….(More)”.

Gendering Smart Mobilities


Book edited by Tanu Priya Uteng, Hilda Rømer Christensen, and Lena Levin: “This book considers gender perspectives on the ‘smart’ turn in urban and transport planning to effectively provide ‘mobility for all’ while simultaneously attending to the goal of creating green and inclusive cities. It deals with the conceptualisation, design, planning, and execution of the fast-emerging ‘smart’ solutions.

The volume questions the efficacy of transformations being brought by smart solutions and highlights the need for a more robust problem formulation to guide the design of smart solutions, and further maps out the need for stronger governance to manage the introduction and proliferation of smart technologies. Authors from a range of disciplinary backgrounds have contributed to this book, designed to converse with mobility studies, transport studies, urban-transport planning, engineering, human geography, sociology, gender studies, and other related fields.

The book fills a substantive gap in the current gender and mobility discourses, and will thus appeal to students and researchers studying mobilities in the social, political, design, technical, and environmental sciences….(More)”.

Governing the Plural City


Introduction by Ash Amin: “….More than 50% of the world’s population lives in cities, and this figure is expected to rise to 70% by 2050. World affairs and city affairs have become deeply enmeshed, and what goes on within cities – their economic productivity, environmental footprint, cultural practices, social wellbeing, and political stability – affects the world at large. They shape the weather and are the weathervane of our times, so getting them right matters. But what this involves and how far it is within reach is by no means clear….

Thus, while the international policy community may confidently call for cities to be made ‘inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’ in the way headlined in the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, it tends to underestimate the challenges of achieving traction in a distributed, plural and often hidden force field. A number of pressing questions arise. Should state effort focus on comprehensive master plans and general infrastructures and services, or on strategic risks and vulnerabilities, while coordinating risks? What are the limits and limitations of state action, and how is the balance between the general and the specific or the communal
and sectionalist to be found? What is the relationship between central authority plans and the communities who are to benefit, and how can neighbourhood knowledge and effort be supported amidst policy neglect or corporatist calculation? Is it possible to reconcile strategic and democratic goals in the twenty first-century city of multiple logics, demands and actors?…(More)”.

Wonders of the ‘urban connectome’


Michael Mehaffy at Public Square: “Urbanists have long been drawing lessons from other disciplines, including sociology, environmental psychology and ecology. Now there are intriguing new lessons being offered by a perhaps surprising field: brain science. But to explore the story of those lessons, we’ll have to start first with genetics.

Few developments in the sciences have had the impact of the revolutionary discoveries in genetics, and in particular, what is called the “genome”—the totality of the complex pattern of genetic information that produces the proteins and other structures of life. By getting a clearer picture of the workings of this evolving, generative structure, we gain dramatic new insights on disease processes, on cellular mechanisms, and on the ultimate wonders of life itself. In a similar way, geneticists now speak of the “proteome”—the no less complex structure of proteins and their workings that generate tissues, organs, signaling molecules, and other element of complex living processes.

An important characteristic of both the genome and the proteome is that they work as totalities, with any one part potentially interacting with any other. In that sense, they are immense interactive networks, with the pattern of connections shaping the interactions, and in turn being shaped by them through a process of self-organization. Proteins produce other proteins; genes switch on other genes. In this way, the structure of our bodies evolves and adapts to new conditions—new infections, new stresses, new environments. Our bodies “learn.”

It turns out that something very similar goes on in the brain. We are born with a vastly complex pattern of connections between our neurons, and these go on to change after birth as we experience new environments and learn new skills and concepts. Once again, the totality of the pattern is what matters, and the ways that different parts of the brain get connected (or disconnected) to form new patterns, new ideas and pictures of the world.  

Following the naming precedent in genetics, this complex neural structure is now being called the “connectome” (because it’s a structure that’s similar to a “genome”). The race is on to map this structure and its most important features. (Much of this work is being advanced by the NIH’s Human Connectome Project.)

What do these insights have to do with cities? As Steven Johnson noted in his book Emergence, there is more in common between the two structures than might appear. There is good reason to think that, as with brains, a lot of what happens in cities has more to do with the overall pattern of connections, and less to do with particular elements….(More)”.

As Jane Jacobs pointed out over half a century ago, the city is a kind of “intricate ballet” of people interacting, going about their plans, and shaping the life of the city, from the smallest scales to the largest. This intricate pattern is complex, but it’s far from random. As Jacobs argued, it exhibits a high degree of order — what she called “organized complexity.”

‘Come together?’ Citizens and civil servants dialogue and trust


Paper by Cecilia Güemes and Jorge Resina: “Trust is a key element in the co‐creation of solution for public problems. Working together is a gradual learning exercise that helps to shape emotions and attitudes and to create the foundations of trust. However, little is known about how institutions can promote trust. With the intention of going deeper into the subject, this paper focuses on a local experience in Spain: Madrid Escucha, a City Council initiative aimed at stimulating dialogue between officials and citizens around projects to improve city life. Three are our questions: who participate in these spaces, how the interactions are, and what advances are achieved. Based on qualitative research, empirical findings confirm a biased participation in this kind of scenarios as well as the presence of prejudices on both sides, an interaction characterised by initial idealism followed by discouragement and a possible readjustment, and a final satisfaction with the process even when results are not successful….(More)”.

Industry and Public Sector Leaders Partner to Launch the Mobility Data Collaborative


Press Release: “The Mobility Data Collaborative (the Collaborative), a multi-sector forum with the goal of creating a framework to improve mobility through data, launches today…

New mobility services, such as shared cars, bikes, and scooters, are emerging and integrating into the urban transportation landscape across the globe. Data generated by these new mobility services offers an exciting opportunity to inform local policies and infrastructure planning. The Collaborative brings together key members from the public and private sectors to develop best practices to harness the potential of this valuable data to support safe, equitable, and livable streets.

The Collaborative will leverage the knowledge of its current and future members to solve the complex challenges facing shared mobility operators and the public agencies who manage access to infrastructure that these new services require. A critical component of this collaboration is providing an open and impartial forum for sharing information and developing best practices. 

Membership is open to public agencies, nonprofits, academic institutions and private companies….(More)”.

New Orleans has declared a state of emergency after a cyberattack


MIT Technology Review: “The city told its employees to shut down their computers as a precaution this weekend after an attempted cyberattack on Friday.

The news: New Orleans spotted suspicious activity in its networks at around 5 a.m. on Friday, with a spike in the attempted attacks at 8 a.m. It detected phishing attempts and ransomware, Kim LaGrue, the city’s head of IT, later told reporters. Once they were confident the city was under attack, the team shut down its servers and computers. City authorities then filed a declaration of a state of emergency with the Civil District Court, and pulled local, state, and federal authorities into a (still pending) investigation of the incident. The city is still working to recover data from the attack but will be open as usual from this morning, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said on Twitter.

Was it ransomware? The nature of the attack is still something of a mystery. Cantrell confirmed that ransomware had been detected, but the city hasn’t received any demands for ransom money.

The positives: New Orleans was at least fairly well prepared for this attack, thanks to training for this scenario and its ability to operate many of its services without internet access, officials told reporters.

A familiar story: New Orleans is just the latest government to face ransomware attacks, after nearly two dozen cities in Texas were targeted in August, plus Louisiana in November (causing the governor to declare a state of emergency). The phenomenon goes beyond the US, too: in October Johannesburg became the biggest city yet to face a ransomware attack.…(More)”.

Imagery: A better “picture” of the city


Daniel Arribas-Bel at Catapult: ‘When trying to understand something as complex as the city, every bit of data helps create a better picture. Researchers, practitioners and policymakers gather as much information as they can to represent every aspect of their city – from noise levels captured by open-source sensors and the study of social isolation using tweets to where the latest hipster coffee shop has opened – exploration and creativity seem to have no limits.

But what about imagery?

You might well ask, what type of images? How do you analyse them? What’s the point anyway?

Let’s start with the why. Images contain visual cues that encode a host of socio-economic information. Imagine a picture of a street with potholes outside a derelict house next to a burnt out car. It may be easy to make some fairly sweeping assumptions about the average income of its resident population. Or the image of a street with a trendy barber-shop next door to a coffee-shop with bare concrete feature walls on one side, and an independent record shop on the other. Again, it may be possible to describe the character of this area.

These are just some of the many kinds of signals embedded in image data. In fact, there is entire literature in geography and sociology that document these associations (see, for example, Cityscapes by Daniel Aaron Silver and Terry Nichols Clark for a sociology approach and The Predictive Postcode by Richard Webber and Roger Burrows for a geography perspective). Imagine if we could figure out ways to condense such information into formal descriptors of cities that help us measure aspects that traditional datasets can’t, or to update them more frequently than standard sources currently allow…(More)”.

Platform Urbanism: Negotiating Platform Ecosystems in Connected Cities


Book by Sarah Barns: “This book reflects on what it means to live as urban citizens in a world increasingly shaped by the business and organisational logics of digital platforms. Where smart city strategies promote the roll-out of internet of things (IoT) technologies and big data analytics by city governments worldwide, platform urbanism responds to the deep and pervasive entanglements that exist between urban citizens, city services and platform ecosystems today.    

Recent years have witnessed a backlash against major global platforms, evidenced by burgeoning literatures on platform capitalism, the platform society, platform surveillance and platform governance, as well as regulatory attention towards the market power of platforms in their dominance of global data infrastructure.  

This book responds to these developments and asks: How do platform ecosystems reshape connected cities? How do urban researchers and policy makers respond to the logics of platform ecosystems and platform intermediation? What sorts of multisensory urban engagements are rendered through platform interfaces and modalities? And what sorts of governance challenges and responses are needed to cultivate and champion the digital public spaces of our connected lives….(More)”.