‘Anyway, the dashboard is dead’: On trying to build urban informatics

Paper by Jathan Sadowski: “How do the idealised promises and purposes of urban informatics compare to the material politics and practices of their implementation? To answer this question, I ethnographically trace the development of two data dashboards by strategic planners in an Australian city over the course of 2 years. By studying this techno-political process from its origins onward, I uncovered an interesting story of obdurate institutions, bureaucratic momentum, unexpected troubles, and, ultimately, frustration and failure. These kinds of stories, which often go untold in the annals of innovation, contrast starkly with more common framings of technological triumph and transformation. They also, I argue, reveal much more about how techno-political systems are actualised in the world…(More)”.

User-Centricity: What It Means, How It Works, Why It’s Needed

Policy Brief by UserCentriCities project: “.. looks critically at the need for putting citizens at the heart of digital government – and analyses six successful projects in key European cities: Bologna (Emilia Romagna Region), Espoo, Milan, Murcia, Rotterdam and Tallinn. Building on lessons learned in a year of structured interviews with leading officials in the UserCentriCities project, the policy brief looks at key trends driving breakthroughs in digital-service delivery – in the public and private sector – and proposes a five-point roadmap for greater Europe-national-local collaboration in the service of citizens. The policy brief will launch at The 2021 UserCentriCities Summit, in the presence of Boštjan Koritnik, minister for public administration of Slovenia, which currently holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union….(More)”.

How the Data Revolution Will Help the World Fight Climate Change

Article by Robert Muggah and Carlo Ratti: “…The rapidly increasing volume and variety of Big Data collected in cities—whose potential has barely been tapped—can help solve the pressing need for actionable insight. For one, it can be used to track the climate crisis as it happens. Collected in real-time and in high resolution, data can serve as an interface between aspirational goals and daily implementation. Take the case of mobility, a key contributor to carbon, nitrogen, and particulate emissions. A wealth of data from fixed sensors, outdoor video footage, navigation devices, and mobile phones could be processed in real time to classify all modes of city transportation. This can be used to generate granular knowledge of which vehicles—from gas-guzzling SUVs to electric bikes—are contributing to traffic and emissions in a given hour, day, week, or month. This kind of just-in-time analytics can inform agile policy adjustments: Data showing too many miles driven by used diesel vehicles might indicate the need for more targeted car buyback programs while better data about bike use can bolster arguments for dedicated lanes and priority at stoplights.

Data-driven analytics are already improving energy use efficiency in buildings, where heating, cooling, and electricity use are among the chief culprits of greenhouse gas emissions. It is now possible to track spatial and temporal electricity consumption patterns inside commercial and residential properties with smart meters. City authorities can use them to monitor which buildings are using the most power and when. This kind of data can then be used to set incentives to reduce consumption and optimize energy distribution over a 24-hour period. Utilities can charge higher prices during peak usage hours that put the most carbon-intensive strain on the grid. Although peak pricing strategies have existed for decades, data abundance and advanced computing could now help utilities make use of their full potential. Likewise, thermal cameras in streets can identify buildings with energy leaks, especially during colder periods. Tenants can use this data to replace windows or add insulation, substantially reducing their utility bills while also contributing to local climate action.

The data revolution is being harnessed by some cities to hasten the energy transition. A good example of this is the Helsinki Hot Heart proposal that recently won a city-wide energy challenge (and which one of our firms—Carlo Ratti Associati—is involved in). Helsinki currently relies on a district heating system powered by coal power plants that are expected to be phased out by 2030. A key question is whether it is possible to power the city using intermittent renewable energy sources. The project proposes giant water basins, floating off the shore in the Baltic Sea, that act as insulated thermal batteries to accumulate heat during peak renewable production, releasing it through the district heating system. This is only possible through a fine-tuned collection of sensors, algorithms, and actuators. Relying on the flow of water and bytes, Helsinki Hot Hearth would offer a path to digital physical systems that could take cities like Helsinki to a sustainable, data-driven future….(More)”.

Privacy Principles for Mobility Data

About: “The Principles are a set of values and priorities intended to guide the mobility ecosystem in the responsible use of data and the protection of individual privacy. They are intended to serve as a guiding “North Star” to assess technical and policy decisions that have implications for privacy when handling mobility data. The principles are designed to apply to all sectors, including public, private, research and non-profit….

Increasingly, organizations in the public, private and nonprofit sectors are faced with decisions that have data privacy implications. For organizations utilizing mobility data, these principles provide a baseline framework to both identify and address these situations. Individuals whose data is being collected, utilized and shared must be afforded proper protections and opportunities for agency in how information about them is used and handled. These principles offer guidance for how to engage in this process.

Human movement generates data in many ways: directly through the usage of GPS-enabled mobility services or devices, indirectly through phones or other devices with geolocation and even through cameras and other sensors that observe the public realm. While these principles were written with shared mobility services in mind, many of them will be applicable in other contexts in which data arising out of individual movement is collected and analyzed. We encourage any organization working with this type of data to adapt and apply these principles in their specific context.

While not all mobility data may present a privacy risk to individuals, all stakeholders managing mobility data should treat it as personal information that is sensitive, unless it can be demonstrated that it doesn’t present a privacy risk to individuals.

These principles were developed through a collaboration organized by the New Urban Mobility (NUMO) alliance, the North American Bikeshare & Scootershare Association (NABSA) and the Open Mobility Foundation (OMF) in 2020. These groups convened a diverse set of stakeholders representing cities, mobility service providers, technology companies, privacy advocates and academia. Over the course of many months, this group heard from privacy experts, discussed key topics related to data privacy and identified core ideas and common themes to serve as a basis for these Principles….(More)”.

The AI Localism Canvas: A Framework to Assess the Emergence of Governance of AI within Cities

Paper by Verhulst, Stefaan, Andrew Young, and Mona Sloane: “AI Localism focuses on governance innovation surrounding the use of AI on a local level….As it stands, however, the decision-making processes involved in the local governance of AI systems are not very systematized or well understood. Scholars and local decision-makers lack an adequate evidence base and analytical framework to help guide their thinking. In order to address this shortcoming, we have developed the below “AI Localism Canvas” which can help identify, categorize and assess the different areas of AI Localism specific to a city or region, in the process aid decision-makers in weighing risk and opportunity. The overall goal of the canvas is to rapidly assess and iterate local governance innovation about AI to ensure citizens’ interests and rights are respected….(More)”.

How Could Smart Cities Use Data? – Towards a Taxonomy of Data-Driven Smart City Projects

Paper by Babett Kühne and Kai Heidel: “The process of urbanization has caused a huge growth in cities all over the world. This development makes the organization and infrastructure of an individual city increasingly important. In this context, the idea of a smart city is growing and smart city projects are beginning to appear. As the amount of data is growing with connected technologies, such projects rely on data as a key resource. However, current research does not provide an overview on these projects and which constructs are involved in data-driven smart city projects. Therefore, this research begins the building of a taxonomy on such projects through the establishment of a common language among researchers in this new field through eleven dimensions. Additionally, it develops a concrete conceptualization of data-driven smart city projects for practitioners as an initial guidance for the field of smart cities….(More)”.

Towards Better Governance of Urban Data: Concrete Examples of Success

Blogpost by Naysan Saran: “Since the Sumerians of the fourth millennium BCE, governments have kept records. These records have, of course, evolved from a few hundred cuneiform symbols engraved on clay tablets to terabytes of data hosted on cloud servers. However, their primary goal remains the same: to improve land management.

That being said, the six thousand years of civilization separating us from the Sumerians has seen the birth of democracy, and with that birth, a second goal has been grafted onto the first: cities must now earn the trust of their citizens with respect to how they manage those citizens’ data. This goal cannot be achieved without good data governance, which defines strategies for the efficient and transparent use and distribution of information.

To learn more about the state of the art in municipal data management, both internally and externally, we went to meet with two experts who agreed to share their experiences and best practices: François Robitaille, business architect for the city of Laval; and Adrienne Schmoeker, former Deputy Chief Analytics Officer for the City of New York, and Director at the New York City Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics where she managed the Open Data Program for three years….(More)”

Bring American cities into the 21st century by funding urban innovation

Article by Dan Doctoroff and Richard Florida: “The U.S. is on the verge of the fourth revolution in urban technology. Where railroads, the electric grid, and the automobile defined previous eras, today, new strategies that integrate new technologies in our cities can unlock striking possibilities.

Our buildings can be dramatically more sustainable, adaptable, and affordable. Energy systems and physical infrastructure can fulfill the promise of “climate-positive” development. Secure digital infrastructure can connect people and improve services while safeguarding privacy. We can deploy mobility solutions that regulate the flow of people and vehicles in real time, ease traffic, and cut carbon emissions. Innovative social infrastructure can enable new service models to build truly inclusive communities. 

Congress and the administration are currently negotiating a reconciliation package that is intended to put the U.S. on a path to a sustainable and equitable future. However, this mission will not succeed without meaningful investments in technical solutions that recognize the frontline role of cities and urban counties in so many national priorities.

U.S. cities are still built, connected, powered, heated, and run much as they have been for the past 75 years. Cities continue to generally rely on “dumb” infrastructure, such as the classic traffic light, which can direct traffic and do little else. 

When Detroit deployed the first red-yellow-green automatic traffic light in the 1920s, it pioneered state-of-the art traffic management. Soon, there was a traffic light at every major intersection in America, and it has remained an icon of urban technology ever since. Relying on 100-year-old technology isn’t all that unusual in our cities. If you look closely at any American city, you will see it’s rather the rule. While our policy needs and technical capabilities have changed dramatically, the urban systems U.S. cities rely on have remained essentially frozen in time since the Second World War.  

We must leverage today’s technology and use artificial intelligence, machine learning, data analytics, connected infrastructure, cloud computing, and automation to run our cities. That is why we have come together to help forge a new initiative, the Coalition for Urban Innovation, to reimagine urban infrastructure for the future. Consisting of leading urban thinkers, businesses, and nonprofits, the coalition is calling on Congress and the administration to seize this generational opportunity to finally unlock the potential of cities as powerful levers for tackling climate change, promoting inclusion, and otherwise addressing our thorniest challenges…(More)”.

The Pivot: Addressing Global Problems Through Local Action

Book by Steve Hamm: “When the world reemerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems likely that it will have transformed irrevocably. Can societies already reeling from climate change, income inequality, and structural racism change for the better? Does the shock of the pandemic offer an opportunity to pivot to a more sustainable way of life?

Early in the crisis, a global volunteer collaboration called Pivot Projects was formed to rethink how the world works. Some members are experts in the sciences and the humanities; others are environmental activists or regular people who see themselves as world citizens. In The Pivot, the journalist Steve Hamm—who embedded in the enterprise from the start—explores their efforts and shows how their approach provides a model for achieving systemic change. Chronicling the group’s progress along an uncharted path, he shows how people with a variety of skills and personalities collaborate to get things done.

Through their work, Hamm examines some of today’s most important technologies and concepts, such as systems thinking and modeling, complexity theory, artificial intelligence, and new thinking about resilience. The book features vivid, informal profiles of a number of the group’s members and brings to life the excitement and energy of dynamic, smart people trying to change the world.

Part journal of a plague year and part call to action, The Pivot tells the remarkable story of a collaborative experiment seeking to make the world more sustainable and resilient..(More)”.

Using location data responsibly in cities and local government

Article by Ben Hawes: “City and local governments increasingly recognise the power of location data to help them deliver more and better services, exactly where and when they are needed. The use of this data is going to grow, with more pressure to manage resources and emerging challenges including responding to extreme weather events and other climate impacts.

But using location data to target and manage local services comes with risks to the equitable delivery of services, privacy and accountability. To make the best use of these growing data resources, city leaders and their teams need to understand those risks and address them, and to be able to explain their uses of data to citizens.

The Locus Charter, launched earlier this year, is a set of common principles to promote responsible practice when using location data. The Charter could be very valuable to local governments, to help them navigate the challenges and realise the rewards offered by data about the places they manage….

Compared to private companies, local public bodies already have special responsibilities to ensure transparency and fairness. New sources of data can help, but can also generate new questions. Local governments have generally been able to improve services as they learned more about the people they served. Now they must manage the risks of knowing too much about people, and acting intrusively. They can also risk distorting service provision because their data about people in places is uneven or unrepresentative.

Many city and local governments fully recognise that data-driven delivery comes with risks, and are developing specific local data ethics frameworks to guide their work. Some of these, like Kansas City’s, are specifically aimed at managing data privacy. Others cover broader uses of data, like Greater Manchester’s Declaration for Intelligent and Responsible Data Practice (DTPR). DTPR is an open source communication standard that helps people understand how data is being used in public places.

London is engaging citizens on an Emerging Technology Charter, to explore new and ethically charged questions around data. Govlab supports an AI Localism repository of actions taken by local decision-makers to address the use of AI within a city or community. The EU Sherpa programme (Shaping the Ethical Dimensions of Smart Information Systems) includes a smart cities strand, and has published a case-study on the Ethics of Using Smart City AI and Big Data.

Smart city applications make it potentially possible to collect data in many ways, for many purposes, but the technologies cannot answer questions about what is appropriate. In The Smart Enough City: Putting Technology in its Place to Reclaim Our Urban Future (2019), author Ben Green describes examples when some cities have failed and others succeeded in judging what smart applications should be used.

Attention to what constitutes ethical practice with location data can give additional help to leaders making that kind of judgement….(More)”