Urban Computing

Book by Yu Zheng:”…Urban computing brings powerful computational techniques to bear on such urban challenges as pollution, energy consumption, and traffic congestion. Using today’s large-scale computing infrastructure and data gathered from sensing technologies, urban computing combines computer science with urban planning, transportation, environmental science, sociology, and other areas of urban studies, tackling specific problems with concrete methodologies in a data-centric computing framework. This authoritative treatment of urban computing offers an overview of the field, fundamental techniques, advanced models, and novel applications.

Each chapter acts as a tutorial that introduces readers to an important aspect of urban computing, with references to relevant research. The book outlines key concepts, sources of data, and typical applications; describes four paradigms of urban sensing in sensor-centric and human-centric categories; introduces data management for spatial and spatio-temporal data, from basic indexing and retrieval algorithms to cloud computing platforms; and covers beginning and advanced topics in mining knowledge from urban big data, beginning with fundamental data mining algorithms and progressing to advanced machine learning techniques. Urban Computing provides students, researchers, and application developers with an essential handbook to an evolving interdisciplinary field….(More)”

The Urban Commons: How Data and Technology Can Rebuild Our Communities

Book by Daniel T. O’Brien: “The future of smart cities has arrived, courtesy of citizens and their phones. To prove it, Daniel T. O’Brien explains the transformative insights gleaned from years researching Boston’s 311 reporting system, a sophisticated city management tool that has revolutionized how ordinary Bostonians use and maintain public spaces. Through its phone service, mobile app, website, and Twitter account, 311 catalogues complaints about potholes, broken street lights, graffiti, litter, vandalism, and other issues that are no one citizen’s responsibility but affect everyone’s quality of life. The Urban Commons offers a pioneering model of what modern digital data and technology can do for cities like Boston that seek both prosperous growth and sustainability.

Analyzing a rich trove of data, O’Brien discovers why certain neighborhoods embrace the idea of custodianship and willingly invest their time to monitor the city’s common environments and infrastructure. On the government’s side of the equation, he identifies best practices for implementing civic technologies that engage citizens, for deploying public services in collaborative ways, and for utilizing the data generated by these efforts.

Boston’s 311 system has narrowed the gap between residents and their communities, and between constituents and local leaders. The result, O’Brien shows, has been the creation of more effective policy and practices that reinvigorate the way citizens and city governments approach their mutual interests. By unpacking when, why, and how the 311 system has worked for Boston, The Urban Commons reveals the power and potential of this innovative system, and the lessons learned that other cities can adapt…(More)”.

Smart cities could be lousy to live in if you have a disability

Elizabeth Woyke in MIT Technology Review: “People with disabilities affecting mobility, vision, hearing, and cognitive function often move to cities to take advantage of their comprehensive transit systems and social services. But US law doesn’t specify how municipalities should design and implement digital services for disabled people. As a result, cities sometimes adopt new technologies that can end up causing, rather than resolving, problems of accessibility.

Nowhere was this more evident than with New York City’s LinkNYC kiosks, which were installed on sidewalks in 2016 without including instructions in Braille or audible form. Shortly after they went in, the American Federation for the Blind sued the city. The suit was settled in 2017 and the kiosks have been updated, but Pineda says touch screens in general are still not fully accessible to people with disabilities.

Also problematic: the social-media-based apps that some municipal governments have started using to solicit feedback from residents. Blind and low-vision people typically can’t use the apps, and people over 65 are less likely to, says James Thurston, a vice president at the nonprofit G3ict, which promotes accessible information and communication technologies. “Cities may think they’re getting data from all their residents, but if those apps aren’t accessible, they’re leaving out the voices of large chunks of their population,” he says….

Even for city officials who have these issues on their minds, knowing where to begin can be difficult. Smart Cities for All, an initiative led by Thurston and Pineda, aims to help by providing free, downloadable tools that cities can use to analyze their technology and find more accessible options. One is a database of hundreds of pre-vetted products and services. Among the entries are Cyclomedia, which uses lidar data to determine when city sidewalks need maintenance, and ZenCity, a data analytics platform that uses AI to gauge what people are saying about a city’s level of accessibility. 

This month, the group will kick off a project working with officials in Chicago to grade the city on how well it supports people with disabilities. One key part of the project will be ensuring the accessibility of a new 311 phone system being introduced as a general portal to city services. The group has plans to expand to several other US cities this year, but its ultimate aim is to turn the work into a global movement. It’s met with governments in India and Brazil as well as Sidewalk Labs, the Alphabet subsidiary that is developing a smart neighborhood in Toronto….(More)”.

Los Angeles Accuses Weather Channel App of Covertly Mining User Data

Jennifer Valentino-DeVries and Natasha Singer in The New York Times: “The Weather Channel app deceptively collected, shared and profited from the location information of millions of American consumers, the city attorney of Los Angeles said in a lawsuit filed on Thursday.

One of the most popular online weather services in the United States, the Weather Channel app has been downloaded more than 100 million times and has 45 million active users monthly.

The government said the Weather Company, the business behind the app, unfairly manipulated users into turning on location tracking by implying that the information would be used only to localize weather reports. Yet the company, which is owned by IBM, also used the data for unrelated commercial purposes, like targeted marketing and analysis for hedge fundsaccording to the lawsuit

In the complaint, the city attorney excoriated the Weather Company, saying it unfairly took advantage of its app’s popularity and the fact that consumers were likely to give their location data to get local weather alerts. The city said that the company failed to sufficiently disclose its data practices when it got users’ permission to track their location and that it obscured other tracking details in its privacy policy.

“These issues certainly aren’t limited to our state,” Mr. Feuer said. “Ideally this litigation will be the catalyst for other action — either litigation or legislative activity — to protect consumers’ ability to assure their private information remains just that, unless they speak clearly in advance.”…(More)”.

Understanding Smart Cities: Innovation ecosystems, technological advancements, and societal challenges

Introduction of Special Issue of Technological Forecasting and Social Change by Francesco PaoloAppio, MarcosLima, and Sotirios Paroutis: “Smart Cities initiatives are spreading all around the globe at a phenomenal pace. Their bold ambition is to increase the competitiveness of local communities through innovation while increasing the quality of life for its citizens through better public services and a cleaner environment. Prior research has shown contrasting views and a multitude of dimensions and approaches to look at this phenomenon. In spite of the fact that this can stimulate the debate, it lacks a systematic assessment and an integrative view. The papers in the special issue on “Understanding Smart Cities: Innovation Ecosystems, Technological Advancements, and Societal Challenges” take stock of past work and provide new insights through the lenses of a hybrid framework. Moving from these premises, we offer an overview of the topic by featuring possible linkages and thematic clusters. Then, we sketch a novel research agenda for scholars, practitioners, and policy makers who wish to engage in – and build – a critical, constructive, and conducive discourse on Smart Cities….(More)”.

Selling Smartness: Corporate Narratives and the Smart City as a Sociotechnical Imaginary

Jathan Sadowski and Roy Bendor in Science, Technology and Human Values: “This article argues for engaging with the smart city as a sociotechnical imaginary. By conducting a close reading of primary source material produced by the companies IBM and Cisco over a decade of work on smart urbanism, we argue that the smart city imaginary is premised in a particular narrative about urban crises and technological salvation. This narrative serves three main purposes: (1) it fits different ideas and initiatives into a coherent view of smart urbanism, (2) it sells and disseminates this version of smartness, and (3) it crowds out alternative visions and corresponding arrangements of smart urbanism.

Furthermore, we argue that IBM and Cisco construct smart urbanism as both a reactionary and visionary force, plotting a model of the near future, but one that largely reflects and reinforces existing sociopolitical systems. We conclude by suggesting that breaking IBM’s and Cisco’s discursive dominance over the smart city imaginary requires us to reimagine what smart urbanism means and create counter-narratives that open up space for alternative values, designs, and models….(More)”.

The global race is on to build ‘City Brains’

Prediction by Geoff Mulgan, Eva Grobbink and Vincent Straub: “The USSR’s launch of the Sputnik 1 satellite in 1958 was a major psychological blow to the United States. The US had believed it was technologically far ahead of its rival, but was confronted with proof that the USSR was pulling ahead in some fields. After a bout of soul-searching the country responded with extraordinary vigour, massively increasing investment in space technologies and promising to put a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s.

In 2019, China’s success in smart cities could prompt a similar “Sputnik Moment” for the rest of the world. It may not be as dramatic as that of 1958. But unlike beeping satellites and Moon landings, it could be coming to a town near you….

The concept of a “smart city” has been around for several decades, often associated with hype, grandiose failures, and an overemphasis on hardware rather than people (Nesta has previously written on how we can rethink smart cities and ensure digital innovation realises the potential of technology and people). But various technologies are now coming of age which bring the vision of a smart city closer to fruition. China is in the forefront, investing heavily in sensors and infrastructures, and its ET City Brain project shows just how far the country’s thinking has progressed.

First launched in September 2016, ET City Brain is a collaboration between Chinese technology giant Alibaba and several cities. It was first trialled in Hangzhou, the hometown of Alibaba’s executive chairman, Jack Ma, but has since expanded to other Chinese cities. Earlier this year, Kuala Lumpurbecame the first city outside of China to import the ET City Brain model.

The ET City Brain system gathers large amounts of data (including logs, videos, and data stream) from sensors. These are then processed by algorithms in supercomputers and fed back into control centres around the city for administrators to act on—in some cases, automation means the system works without any human intervention at all.

So far, the project has been used to monitor congestion in Hangzhou, improve the response of emergency services in Guangzhou, and detect traffic accidents in Suzhou. In Hangzhou, Alibaba was given control of 104 traffic light junctions in the city’s Xiaoshan district and tasked with managing traffic flows. By combining mass video surveillance with live data from public transportation systems, ET City Brain was able to autonomously change traffic lights so that emergency vehicles could travel to accident scenes without interruption. As a result, arrival times for ambulances improved by 49 percent….(More)”.

All Data Are Local: Thinking Critically in a Data-Driven Society

Book by  Yanni Alexander Loukissas: “In our data-driven society, it is too easy to assume the transparency of data. Instead, Yanni Loukissas argues in All Data Are Local, we should approach data sets with an awareness that data are created by humans and their dutiful machines, at a time, in a place, with the instruments at hand, for audiences that are conditioned to receive them. All data are local. The term data set implies something discrete, complete, and portable, but it is none of those things. Examining a series of data sources important for understanding the state of public life in the United States—Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum, the Digital Public Library of America, UCLA’s Television News Archive, and the real estate marketplace Zillow—Loukissas shows us how to analyze data settings rather than data sets.

Loukissas sets out six principles: all data are local; data have complex attachments to place; data are collected from heterogeneous sources; data and algorithms are inextricably entangled; interfaces recontextualize data; and data are indexes to local knowledge. He then provides a set of practical guidelines to follow. To make his argument, Loukissas employs a combination of qualitative research on data cultures and exploratory data visualizations. Rebutting the “myth of digital universalism,” Loukissas reminds us of the meaning-making power of the local….(More)”.

Beijing to Judge Every Resident Based on Behavior by End of 2020

Bloomberg News: “China’s plan to judge each of its 1.3 billion people based on their social behavior is moving a step closer to reality, with Beijing set to adopt a lifelong points program by 2021 that assigns personalized ratings for each resident.

The capital city will pool data from several departments to reward and punish some 22 million citizens based on their actions and reputations by the end of 2020, according to a plan posted on the Beijing municipal government’s website on Monday. Those with better so-called social credit will get “green channel” benefits while those who violate laws will find life more difficult.

The Beijing project will improve blacklist systems so that those deemed untrustworthy will be “unable to move even a single step,” according to the government’s plan. Xinhua reported on the proposal Tuesday, while the report posted on the municipal government’s website is dated July 18.

China has long experimented with systems that grade its citizens, rewarding good behavior with streamlined services while punishing bad actions with restrictions and penalties. Critics say such moves are fraught with risks and could lead to systems that reduce humans to little more than a report card.

Ambitious Plan

Beijing’s efforts represent the most ambitious yet among more than a dozen cities that are moving ahead with similar programs.

Hangzhou rolled out its personal credit system earlier this year, rewarding “pro-social behaviors” such as volunteer work and blood donations while punishing those who violate traffic laws and charge under-the-table fees. By the end of May, people with bad credit in China have been blocked from booking more than 11 million flights and 4 million high-speed train trips, according to the National Development and Reform Commission.

According to the Beijing government’s plan, different agencies will link databases to get a more detailed picture of every resident’s interactions across a swathe of services….(More)”.

Sidewalk Labs: Privacy in a City Built from the Internet Up

Harvard Business School Case Study by Leslie K. John, Mitchell Weiss and Julia Kelley: “By the time Dan Doctoroff, CEO of Sidewalk Labs, began hosting a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session in January 2018, he had only nine months remaining to convince the people of Toronto, their government representatives, and presumably his parent company Alphabet, Inc., that Sidewalk Labs’ plan to construct “the first truly 21st-century city” on the Canadian city’s waterfront was a sound one. Along with much excitement and optimism, strains of concern had emerged since Doctoroff and partners first announced their intentions for a city “built from the internet up” in Toronto’s Quayside district. As Doctoroff prepared for yet another milestone in a year of planning and community engagement, it was almost certain that of the many questions headed his way, digital privacy would be among them….(More)”.