How urban design can make or break protests


Peter Schwartzstein in Smithsonian Magazine: “If protesters could plan a perfect stage to voice their grievances, it might look a lot like Athens, Greece. Its broad, yet not overly long, central boulevards are almost tailor-made for parading. Its large parliament-facing square, Syntagma, forms a natural focal point for marchers. With a warren of narrow streets surrounding the center, including the rebellious district of Exarcheia, it’s often remarkably easy for demonstrators to steal away if the going gets rough.

Los Angeles, by contrast, is a disaster for protesters. It has no wholly recognizable center, few walkable distances, and little in the way of protest-friendly space. As far as longtime city activists are concerned, just amassing small crowds can be an achievement. “There’s really just no place to go, the city is structured in a way that you’re in a city but you’re not in a city,” says David Adler, general coordinator at the Progressive International, a new global political group. “While a protest is the coming together of a large group of people and that’s just counter to the idea of L.A.”

Among the complex medley of moving parts that guide protest movements, urban design might seem like a fairly peripheral concern. But try telling that to demonstrators from Houston to Beijing, two cities that have geographic characteristics that complicate public protest. Low urban density can thwart mass participation. Limited public space can deprive protesters of the visibility and hence the momentum they need to sustain themselves. On those occasions when proceedings turn messy or violent, alleyways, parks, and labyrinthine apartment buildings can mean the difference between detention and escape….(More)”.

Gender gaps in urban mobility


Paper by Laetitia Gauvin, Michele Tizzoni, Simone Piaggesi, Andrew Young, Natalia Adler, Stefaan Verhulst, Leo Ferres & Ciro Cattuto in Humanities and Social Sciences Communications: “Mobile phone data have been extensively used to study urban mobility. However, studies based on gender-disaggregated large-scale data are still lacking, limiting our understanding of gendered aspects of urban mobility and our ability to design policies for gender equality. Here we study urban mobility from a gendered perspective, combining commercial and open datasets for the city of Santiago, Chile.

We analyze call detail records for a large cohort of anonymized mobile phone users and reveal a gender gap in mobility: women visit fewer unique locations than men, and distribute their time less equally among such locations. Mapping this mobility gap over administrative divisions, we observe that a wider gap is associated with lower income and lack of public and private transportation options. Our results uncover a complex interplay between gendered mobility patterns, socio-economic factors and urban affordances, calling for further research and providing insights for policymakers and urban planners….(More)”.

Why local data is the key to successful place making


Blog by Sally Kerr: “The COVID emergency has brought many challenges that were unimaginable a few months ago. The first priorities were safety and health, but when lockdown started one of the early issues was accessing and sharing local data to help everyone deal with and live through the emergency. Communities grappled with the scarcity of local data, finding it difficult to source for some services, food deliveries and goods. This was not a new issue, but the pandemic brought it into sharp relief.

Local data use covers a broad spectrum. People moving to a new area want information about the environment — schools, amenities, transport, crime rates and local health. For residents, continuing knowledge of business opening hours, events, local issues, council plans and roadworks remains important, not only for everyday living but to help understand issues and future plans that will change their environment. Really local data (hyperlocal data) is either fragmented or unavailable, making it difficult for local people to stay informed, whilst larger data sets about an area (e.g. population, school performance) are not always easy to understand or use. They sit in silos owned by different sectors, on disparate websites, usually collated for professional or research use.

Third sector organisations in a community will gather data relevant to their work such as contacts and event numbers but may not source wider data sets about the area, such as demographics, to improve their work. Using this data could strengthen future grant applications by validating their work. For Government or Health bodies carrying out place making community projects, there is a reliance on their own or national data sources supplemented with qualitative data snapshots. Their dependence on tried and tested sources is due to time and resource pressures but means there is no time to gather that rich seam of local data that profiles individual needs.

Imagine a future community where local data is collected and managed together for both official organisations and the community itself. Where there are shared aims and varied use. Current and relevant data would be accessible and easy to understand, provided in formats that suit the user — from data scientist to school child. A curated data hub would help citizens learn data skills and carry out collaborative projects on anything from air quality to local biodiversity, managing the data and offering increased insight and useful validation for wider decision making. Costs would be reduced with duplication and effort reduced….(More)”.

How Data-Driven Cities Respond Swiftly and Effectively to COVID-19


Blog Post by Jennifer Park, Lauren Su, Lisa Fiedler, and Madeleine Weatherhead: “Since January of this year, the novel coronavirus has swept rapidly throughout the United States, leaving no city untouched. To contain the virus’ spread and protect residents’ health and livelihoods, local leaders have had to act swiftly and decisively. It is a challenge in scope and scale unlike any other in recent history — and it has underscored the power of data to guide life-and-death decisions and build trust.

Take, for example, Los Angeles. As cities across the country began issuing states of emergency and acting to promote public health, Mayor Eric Garcetti quickly identified the city’s response priorities: supporting families, small businesses, healthcare workers, and unhoused Angelenos, and increasing the healthcare equipment and testing kits available for the city. Mayor Garcetti tapped his Chief Information Officer and Innovation Team to collect and analyze data, to inform decisions, and share real-time information publicly.

A snapshot of Los Angeles’ publicly shared data from one of the city’s daily COVID-19 summary briefings. Image courtesy of the City of Los Angeles’ Innovation Team.

The Mayor was soon conducting daily briefings, updating the public on the latest virus-related data and informing city residents about various decisions made by the city — from pausing parking rules enforcement to opening thousands of temporary shelter beds. He used data to justify key decisions, linking stay-at-home orders to a decrease in COVID-19 cases from week to week.

Los Angeles’ swift response built on an existing culture of leveraging data to set goals, make decisions, and communicate with the public. Its leaders are now seeing the positive impact of having invested in foundational data capacity — regular tracking of cases, hospital capacity, and infection rates have proven to be vital to helping and accelerating the city’s responses to COVID-19.

Other cities, too, have leaned on established data practices and infrastructure in their response efforts, both to the benefit of their residents and to lay a stronger foundation to guide recovery….(More)“.

Toward Inclusive Urban Technology


Report by Denise Linn Riedl: “Our cities are changing at an incredible pace. The technology being deployed on our sidewalks and streetlights has the potential to improve mobility, sustainability, connectivity, and city services.

Public value and public inclusion in this change, however, are not inevitable. Depending on how these technologies are deployed, they have the potential to increase inequities and distrust as much as they can create responsive government services.

Recognizing this tension, an initial coalition of local practitioners began collaborating in 2019 with the support of the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society. We combined knowledge of and personal experience with local governments to tackle a common question: What does procedural justice look like when cities deploy new technology?

This guide is meant for any local worker—inside or outside of government—who is helping to plan or implement technological change in their community. It’s a collection of experiences, cases, and best practices that we hope will be valuable and will make projects stronger, more sustainable, and more inclusive….(More)”.

Individualism During Crises: Big Data Analytics of Collective Actions amid COVID-19


Paper by Bo Bian et al: “Collective actions, such as charitable crowdfunding and social distancing, are useful for alleviating the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, engagements in these actions across the U.S. are “consistently inconsistent” and are frequently linked to individualism in the press. We present the first evidence on how individualism shapes online and offline collective actions during a crisis through big data analytics. Following economic historical studies, we leverage GIS techniques to construct a U.S. county-level individualism measure that traces the time each county spent on the American frontier between 1790 and 1890. We then use high-dimensional fixed-effect models, text mining, geo-distributed big data computing and a novel identification strategy based on migrations to analyze GoFundMe fundraising activities as well as county- and individual-level social distancing compliance.

Our analysis uncovers several insights. First, higher individualism reduces both online donations and social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. An interquartile increase in individualism reduces COVID-related charitable campaigns and funding by 48% and offsets the effect of state lockdown orders on social distancing by 41%. Second, government interventions, such as stimulus checks, can potentially mitigate the negative effect of individualism on charitable crowdfunding. Third, the individualism effect may be partly driven by a failure to internalize the externality of collective actions: we find stronger results in counties where social distancing generates higher externalities (those with higher population densities or more seniors). Our research is the first to uncover the potential downsides of individualism during crises. It also highlights the importance of big data-driven, culture-aware policymaking….(More)”.

Sharing Health Data and Biospecimens with Industry — A Principle-Driven, Practical Approach


Kayte Spector-Bagdady et al at the New England Journal of Medicine: “The advent of standardized electronic health records, sustainable biobanks, consumer-wellness applications, and advanced diagnostics has resulted in new health information repositories. As highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic, these repositories create an opportunity for advancing health research by means of secondary use of data and biospecimens. Current regulations in this space give substantial discretion to individual organizations when it comes to sharing deidentified data and specimens. But some recent examples of health care institutions sharing individual-level data and specimens with companies have generated controversy. Academic medical centers are therefore both practically and ethically compelled to establish best practices for governing the sharing of such contributions with outside entities.1 We believe that the approach we have taken at Michigan Medicine could help inform the national conversation on this issue.

The Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects offers some safeguards for research participants from whom data and specimens have been collected. For example, researchers must notify participants if commercial use of their specimens is a possibility. These regulations generally cover only federally funded work, however, and they don’t apply to deidentified data or specimens. Because participants value transparency regarding industry access to their data and biospecimens, our institution set out to create standards that would better reflect participants’ expectations and honor their trust. Using a principlist approach that balances beneficence and nonmaleficence, respect for persons, and justice, buttressed by recent analyses and findings regarding contributors’ preferences, Michigan Medicine established a formal process to guide our approach….(More)”.

Smart cities during COVID-19: How cities are turning to collective intelligence to enable smarter approaches to COVID-19.


Article by Peter Baeck and Sophie Reynolds: One of the most prominent examples of how technology and data is being used to empower citizens is happening in Seoul. Here the city has used its ‘citizens as mayors’ philosophy for smart cities; an approach which aims to equip citizens with the same real-time access to information as the mayor. Seoul has gone further than most cities in making information about the COVID-19 outbreak in the city accessible to citizens. Its dashboard is updated multiple times daily and allows citizens to access the latest anonymised information on confirmed patients’ age, gender and dates of where they visited and when, after developing symptoms. Citizens can access even more detailed information; down to visited restaurants and cinema seat numbers.

The goal is to provide citizens with the information needed to take precautionary measures, self-monitor and report if they start showing symptoms after visiting one of the “infection points.” To help allay people’s fears and reduce the stigma associated with businesses that have been identified as “infection points”, the city government also provides citizens with information about the nearest testing clinics and makes “clean zones” (places that have been disinfected after visits by confirmed patients) searchable for users.

In addition to national and institutional responses there are (at least) five ways collective intelligence approaches are helping city governments, companies and urban communities in the fight against COVID-19:

1. Open sharing with citizens about the spread and management of COVID-19:

Based on open data provided by public agencies, private sector companies are using the city as a platform to develop their own real-time dashboards and mobile apps to further increase public awareness and effectively disseminate disease information. This has been the case with Corona NOWCorona MapCorona 100m in Seoul, Korea – which allow people to visualise data on confirmed coronavirus patients, along with patients’ nationality, gender, age, which places the patient has visited, and how close citizens are to these coronavirus patients. Developer Lee Jun-young who created the Corona Map app, said he built it because he found that the official government data was too difficult to understand.

Meanwhile in city state Singapore, the dashboard developed by UpCode scrapes data provided by the Singapore Ministry of Health’s own dashboard (which is exceptionally transparent about coronavirus case data) to make it cleaner and easier to navigate, and vastly more insightful. For instance, it allows you to learn about the average recovery time for those infected.

UpCode is making its platform available for others to re-use in other contexts.

2. Mobilising community-led responses to tackle COVID-19

Crowdfunding is being used in a variety of ways to get short-term targeted funding to a range of worthy causes opened up by the COVID-19 crisis. Examples include helping to fundraise for community activities for those directly affected by the crisis, backing tools and products that can address the crisis (such as buying PPE) and pre-purchasing products and services from local shops and artists. A significant proportion of the UK’s 1,000 plus mutual aid initiatives are now turning to crowdfunding as a way to rapidly respond to the new and emerging needs occurring at the city-wide and hyperlocal (i.e. streets and neighbourhood) levels.

Aberdeen City Mutual Aid group set up a crowdfunded community fund to cover the costs of creating a network of volunteers across the city, as well as any expenses incurred at food shops, fuel costs for deliveries and purchasing other necessary supplies. Similarly, the Feed the Heroes campaign was launched with an initial goal of raising €250 to pay for food deliveries for frontline staff who are putting in extra hours at the Mater Hospital, Dublin during the coronavirus outbreak….(More)”.

Governing Privacy in the Datafied City


Paper by Ira Rubinstein and Bilyana Petkova: “Privacy — understood in terms of freedom from identification, surveillance and profiling — is a precondition of the diversity and tolerance that define the urban experience, But with “smart” technologies eroding the anonymity of city sidewalks and streets, and turning them into surveilled spaces, are cities the first to get caught in the line of fire? Alternatively, are cities the final bastions of privacy? Will the interaction of tech companies and city governments lead cities worldwide to converge around the privatization of public spaces and monetization of data with little to no privacy protections? Or will we see different city identities take root based on local resistance and legal action?

This Article delves into these questions from a federalist and localist angle. In contrast to other fields in which American cities lack the formal authority to govern, we show that cities still enjoy ample powers when it comes to privacy regulation. Fiscal concerns, rather than state or federal preemption, play a role in privacy regulation, and the question becomes one of how cities make use of existing powers. Populous cosmopolitan cities, with a sizeable market share and significant political and cultural clout, are in particularly noteworthy positions to take advantage of agglomeration effects and drive hard deals when interacting with private firms. Nevertheless, there are currently no privacy front runners or privacy laggards; instead, cities engage in “privacy activism” and “data stewardship.”

First, as privacy activists, U.S. cities use public interest litigation to defend their citizens’ personal information in high profile political participation and consumer protection cases. Examples include legal challenges to the citizenship question in the 2020 Census, and to instances of data breach including Facebook third-party data sharing practices and the Equifax data breach. We link the Census 2020 data wars to sanctuary cities’ battles with the federal administration to demonstrate that political dissent and cities’ social capital — diversity — are intrinsically linked to privacy. Regarding the string of data breach cases, cities expand their experimentation zone by litigating privacy interests against private parties.

Second, cities as data stewards use data to regulate their urban environment. As providers of municipal services, they collect, analyze and act on a broad range of data about local citizens or cut deals with tech companies to enhance transit, housing, utility, telecom, and environmental services by making them smart while requiring firms like Uber and Airbnb to share data with city officials. This has proven contentious at times but in both North American and European cities, open data and more cooperative forms of data sharing between the city, commercial actors, and the public have emerged, spearheaded by a transportation data trust in Seattle. This Article contrasts the Seattle approach with the governance and privacy deficiencies accompanying the privately-led Quayside smart city project in Toronto. Finally, this Article finds the data trust model of data sharing to hold promise, not least since the European rhetoric of exclusively city-owned data presented by Barcelona might prove difficult to realize in practice….(More)”.

Citizen participation in food systems policy making: A case study of a citizens’ assembly


Paper by Bob Doherty et al: “In this article, we offer a contribution to the emerging debate on the role of citizen participation in food system policy making. A key driver is a recognition that solutions to complex challenges in the food system need the active participation of citizens to drive positive change. To achieve this, it is crucial to give citizens the agency in processes of designing policy interventions. This requires authentic and reflective engagement with citizens who are affected by collective decisions. One such participatory approach is citizen assemblies, which have been used to deliberate a number of key issues, including climate change by the UK Parliament’s House of Commons (House of Commons., 2019). Here, we have undertaken analysis of a citizen food assembly organized in the City of York (United Kingdom). This assembly was a way of hearing about a range of local food initiatives in Yorkshire, whose aim is to both relocalise food supply and production, and tackle food waste.

These innovative community-based business models, known as ‘food hubs’, are increasing the diversity of food supply, particularly in disadvantaged communities. Among other things, the assembly found that the process of design and sortation of the assembly is aided by the involvement of local stakeholders in the planning of the assembly. It also identified the potential for public procurement at the city level, to drive a more sustainable sourcing of food provision in the region. Furthermore, this citizen assembly has resulted in a galvanizing of individual agency with participants proactively seeking opportunities to create prosocial and environmental change in the food system….(More)”.