Digital Representations of Place: Urban Overlays and Digital Justice

dsc_1026Summary of the session on Digital Representation of Place at the RGS-IBG conference in Cardiff. The session aim was to address the following challenge: “Over the last few decades, our cities have become increasingly digital. Urban environments are layered with data and algorithms that fundamentally shape our geographic interactions: impacting how we perceive, move through, and use space. Spatial justice is thus inextricably tied to data justice, and it has become imperative to ask questions about who owns, controls, shapes, and has access to those augmented and hybrid digital/physical layers of place. Now that over half of humanity is connected to the internet, do we see greater levels of representation of, and participation from, previously digitally disconnected populations? Or are our digitally dense environments continuing to amplify inequalities rather than alleviate them? A growing body of knowledge documents the societal impact such digital representations can have, for example when they favour the interests of one privileged group (such as tourists) at the expense of others. We seek to systematise this knowledge, and to provide guidance for practitioners, researchers, and policy-makers to address imbalances and inequalities in representation.”
An Introduction to Digital Representations of Place
Mark Graham (University of Oxford, UK) Martin Dittus (University of Oxford, UK)
dsc_1027A bit of background on information geography.  Information geography is about a way to represent a place online – e.g. a place on Wikipedia – place, coordinates, and the fact that the information is coded also as a database, so it’s possible to map the unevenness of digital representation of the work. So information geography is asking at looking at the digital and the physical world (definition in Graham, Zook and Boulton 2013). We then can ask questions about where the imbalances coming from – for example, the cost of bandwidth, there are still places in the world that can’t access and participate. There is also questions about who owns, controls, shapes, and has access to those augmented and hybrid digital/physical representations of place.There is difference about the degree in which people at a place edit the information about the place. Which parts of the world telling about the place and you can see it in different parts of the world – down to a city. It matter, because the world is shaped through devices and everywhere you go, you have a digital overlay of the world that influence actions. Examples are the way restaurants are coming in Hebrew, Arabic, and English in Google in Tel Aviv and getting very different representations. We can ask about the concepts and framing that we use to talk about it.
The persistent environmental digital divide
Muki Haklay (University College London, UK)
Over 25 years ago, as the web was emerging as a medium for distributing public information, it was promoted as a tool for increased democratisation. From the age of dial-up modem and PCs to the use of mobile phones and smartphones, concerns about digital divides and how they impact the ability of local participation in environmental decision-making never resolved. These digital divides are creating a tapestry of marginalisation through different devices, skills, and communication potentials, and it is valuable to reflect on their dimensions – both technical and social, and consider how we can consider them in a systematic way. The talk will attempt to reflect on technological and social changes and the attempts to address them.
The talk itself started with the vision of Agenda 21 and Principle 10, and the promises that they’ve made about the potential of information to make a transformation in public engagement in environmental decision-making. It then looks at the developments in each time period – the first 10 years to 2002, with rapid development, and examples of the use of the internet and the Web in sharing information, but also challenges of access – that’s the period when concerns over digital divide started emerging. The next decade brings with it promises about open data, but create new challenges – use of smartphones and payment of data access. The digital divide mutates, though the know how is rather similar to the first period. Finally, we get to the last 6 years, where we actually seeing some challenges, such as the closure of some data and risks for the continuation of open data programmes. Overall, we can identify 7 digital divides that are fairly persistent over these 26 years and they raise some issues about the potential of access to environmental information.
Hybrid forms of public participation in Madrid and Taiwan : how can we bridge digital inequalities?
Yu-Shan Tseng (Durham University, UK)
dsc_1028This paper seeks to uncover forms of digital inequalities within new processes of public participation in Madrid and Taiwan (Decide Madrid and vTaiwan).
Preliminary analysis from Taiwan and Madrid – hybrid forms of public participation in Madrid and Taiwan. There are different contexts in global North and global South. The background is that the two cases are linked to the Occupy Movement and opening up democracy – e.g. Indignados/ 15M and Sunflower Movement. With the background, Kinsley suggest that there is a material turn in virtual geography. We get infrastructuring of the digital platforms and to think about the way we can see bridges between digital and material. There is agency of infrastructures – based on Thrift and Star. The concepts provide a basis for understanding the “Decide Madrid” and vTaiwan systems. There is an infrastructure that point to a collaborative process that require people to work together and you are supposed to see a visualisation of where your opinion sit. The Decide Madrid have five processes, and each process include collaboration. In the Decide Madrid, the infrastructure is not only the user interface but also the link to urban space and objects – ballot papers is linked to OCR in order to be input to the system. Another aspect is the invisible infrastructure – the algorithms that show information, sort it and present it. In Decide Madrid, they try to make some of the sorting algorithms visible. The implications – connecting objects and urban spaces is a way to diversify the form of public participation. The infrastructures are becoming political agents – they specify the space of operating and the boundaries. The wider implication – vTaiwan present a post-political community, in which the most influential actors are the powerful citizens and senior politicians – the system is not supposed to disrupt current power structures, where as in Decide Madrid there is participatory budgeting of 100m Eur

Smart Cities in the Making: Learning from Milton Keynes
Gillian Rose (University of Oxford, UK)
dsc_1030How do smart technologies and policies bed into a city, creating new layers and networks of urban experience and differentiation? SCiM-MK is a social science research project which seeks to answer that question by examining Milton Keynes as a smart city ‘in the making’. Focusing on the citizens, governance, workplaces, data and visualisations of smart, SCiM-MK looks at the social effects of smart city technologies. In particular, SCiM-MK will find out how social difference affects participation in smart, and whether smart creates new forms of social difference.
The results emerge from an ESRC project that look at Milton Keynes development. The city is a living lab for urbanism, and hosting different smart cities activities. From autonomous vehicle to open data. The open data portal is a specific focus. The data hub started as an early data repository, to gather all the data about the city to provide access to information. The portal was used in particular to address issues of social inequality, and data was used by third sector body. Use was done people calling technical people and asking to provide an answer. As apart of the observatory was moved to MK Insight which is done with BT as a commercial data hub, and the assumption is that it will be sold elsewhere. It was design by engineers at BT and OU, with “Will built it and they will come” – dealing with ownership and considering aspects about privacy. There was excitement on the data side, but less on how it is going to be used by non-experts. There is a whole set of activities to make the data available and usable for people “without PhD in computer science” – e.g. an app for elderly people who the young person assumed they need cheap things and toilets, which the user group was not happy with it. The model of the data hub – it is assumed to represent the offline world, and ignores other parts of the world we can make normative claims on how it need to be created to be more representative. Is data actually a thing that can be commodify, or are we think about it as a thing by default? Is the ownership and costs should we ask about it? What we think of as data – with senior managers from engineering and technology background raised the issue of “what data set do we need?” not how many time you jump on a tube – we need to think of selfies, family photos, social media- the rich and detailed way to understand how city function properly. There are issues of privacy, and surveillance that we need to consider. There is always relationality in the city – relationship of giving, and many data feeds are affective and we can think of social media as such. The engagement of people in apps demonstration that it was passion about changing the life and doing something more than just the technology . Two more point: looking at social media, is to think about feminists and researchers of colour – women have feminists accounts and it might be the reasons that we ignore. We can also think about recialisation about who can participate and who can’t. Secondly, there is much more visual
Data-driven urbanism, citizenship and justice
Rob Kitchin (National University of Ireland, Maynooth, Ireland)
dsc_1031Covering the normative discussion – there are some concepts about smart cities technology – they are influencing across services, government, and infrastructures – from security, to transport, waste, environment, building, homes and civic forms. We also see the data driven urbanism, in the way that you get control rooms of different types with a concept of managing the city through data use – from Rio to dealing with the whole city, to a specific infrastructure (a tunnel). So how are citizens framed and thought about across the technology. The original critique of smart cities was that they are about controlling and creating new-liberal logic of the city – not city focus. The response was to make it citizen-centric or citizen-focused and the question is: did it happen? e.g. how citizens framed, what action they can form? There is too little about identities and exclusion in the smart cities? There is a need to balance state/market/civic society and we need to shape how the negotiations will progress. To answer, we have to think about the citizenship, social justice. The scaffolding of the citizen in the smart city and what is the role as a consumer. As you go through different levels, we have different numbers of participants and their relative influences. We can therefore think of citizenship and social justice – the are different levels and they are trying to get away with “pragmatic” or “practical” and not working through what it mean. When we work through citizenship, we can see Marshall (1950) concepts of civil/legal, political, social and then add to it symbolic, cultural and ask questions on how this is linked and should be operationalised. The smart citizenship is underpinned by neo-liberal concept of citizenship in consumption choice, individual autonomy and civic paternalist way. We also need to think which concept of justice we need to think about distributional, procedural, retributive, restorative. Smith (1994) suggest different models in Geography and Social Justice and there are different models that we need to think about it.
This short intervention will discuss and critique the creation of data-driven urbanism and urban science, focusing on notions of citizenship and social justice. In particular, an argument is made that smart city interventions are underpinned by a narrow instrumental rationality and top-down forms of civic paternalism and stewardship, rather than being rooted in notions of more political and philosophically grounded notions of citizenship, justice, fairness, equity, democracy, and rights. However, while there is some critique of data-driven urbanism that it should be more citizen-centric and just, what that means in theory and practice is rarely articulated. There are many theories of social justice for example – egalitarianism, utilitarianism, libertarianism, contractarianism, Marxism, communitarianism, etc – and of citizenship, and each envisions a different set of principles, rights, entitlements and social relations. In other words, digital justice underpinned by each one of these theories would be markedly different. This then raises the question, so what kind of justice and citizenship are we hoping to enact when we call for digital and spatial justice?
Discussion: A question about data stories and the media – comparing the story of the Chemical Release Inventory and FoE in the 1996, which is clearly to create the opportunity for the government to share information, to the oddities of the data refuge which didn’t look into archiving, FoI, legal instruments, and the rest to gain access to the system. There was also an issue of using proprietary systems for archiving.
The Decide Madrid and vTaiwan are both led by civic hackers from the occupy movement, but the platforms are not that open – they are open to people who know how to code, but for ordinary people the system is not open to change. The balloting with the OCR – if you can only access through paper ballot you need to have the physical access to do the paper for you, and it is therefore both opening and closing the process.
Framing by injustice creating a certain set of problems – to a degree, but getting a purchase on what is happening in systems which are rooted in political ideological – privatisation, control, marketisation, and we need to counter them within their  concepts. Notions of participation, citizenship, are not shared by different actors. The issue is problematic in any case. One of the reasons the conversations are difficult is that it is not Habermasian public sphere, rather a very complex ideological space with different motivations.
Methodological approaches to images – the access to it become harder and harder. It got performative aspects. In terms of access and how to access Instagram – lot’s of time it is open and close in different ways. It is a changing field and we need to think about it.
There are questions about representation and the way that it creates inequalities and these representations are creating new ways of injustice and representation. The different sources have different forms of inequalities embedded when we look how they are produced. This is also true for the digital platforms and the way that different people understand systems and how they operate.

Esri User Conference 2016 – plenary day

The main Esri User conference starts with a plenary day, where all the participants (16,000 of them) join together for a set of presentation from 8:30 to 3:30 (with some breaks, of course). Below you’ll find some notes that I took during the day:

wp-1467087487123.jpgThe theme of the keynote was GIS – Enabling a Smarter World. After an inspirational video (emphasising environmental applications of GIS, including dealing with sustainability and biodiversity), Jack Dangermond, opened the conference by covering a range of applications that fall under smart GIS. Examples include environmental monitoring, energy management for renewable energy and grids. Using the management of land information and urban design (green infrastructure plans, corridors for wildlife etc.), transport –  smart routing reduce environmental impacts, and increase efficiency. Engineering and public work, utilities and telecommunication, business analytics (an area that finally is taking off), public safety and also humanitarian support. We have an increasing understanding of citizen engagement through open data, and the UN is using GIS to share open data in data management for the Sustainable Development Goals. Story telling, and story maps are becoming central to the way information is shared.
We’re living in a world that is undergoing a massive digital transformation – how do we go forward in this wired planet? GIS is a language for understanding the world. We need to address the crisis of sustainability – we need to address the problems together. GIS allow integration, visualisation – a framework to design for the future through geodesign. Turn information to action – from measuring to affecting the world. GIS itself is getting smarter – through technologies and tools, sensors, types of data. Smart GIS is a variety of things: ability to connect to real time information – IoT, remote sensing, connecting everyone – assisting communities to understand what they are doing and acting. It mean integrating spatial data and records with system of engagement. This is possible through Web GIS pattern. Earthquake alerting from USGS tell people to get ready, and also flood analytics. There is an emerging ‘Community GIS’

A leading example of this change is the City of Los Angeles GeoHub– Lilian Coral – chief data officer described how she try to ensure that the city is using data for helping the management of the city. To assist with that, they have developed to enable community organisations to do things with city data. It is using open data and open applications to allow new applications to solve problems. From running a clean Street Index to compare the information between different areas. GeoHub helps to unlock data in the city and can provide  support a range of application. People are used for community data collection on Exide Battery Contamination that happened in LA. LA is aiming to reduce death from accidents on the road, and trying to improve performance over time. They even try to explore walking in LA and reduce car dependency. They learn that the GeoHub is foundation for smart cities and develop a range of hubs for generating and using geographic information for residents.

Awp-1467087506737.jpgfter the GeoHub presentation, Jack Dangermond noted that we have an ability to share geographical knowledge like never before.  The concept of ArcGIS evolved to see it as a hub between a system of records, system or analysis, and system of engagement. Growing important of web services and apps. ArcGIS tools are evolving – collector and Survey123 apps are linking to field workers and data collection. In terms of GIS technology, there is more effort on exploratory spatial data analysis tools (Insights for ArcGIS) and making it possible to analyse Big Data – for example billion transactions – using distributed computations using computer clusters. Application such as Drone2Map can speed up the process of turning drone imagery. There are more development tools for apps, with over 500,000 appearing. The open source apps allow people to developing further. Esri has run 4 MOOCs and may learning resources that are free for use by users of Esri. Esri support 11,000 university and higher education institutions around the world.  The people who are working in GIS, engaged and committed, are the people who are creating a smarter and more sustainable world.

wp-1467087511310.jpgLater in the day, some of the technologies that were discussed include the living atlas which is a whole catalogue of updated base maps, and the use of vector data allow restyling of information in many ways. A growing range of apps for the field, office and for the community support a range of activities. Information for communities include story maps, open data, photo survey, crowdsourced reporter, manager, and polling.

An example for the utilisation of the apps was provided by the talk “Civic Responsibility – Changing Our Approach” from the City of New Orleans (Lamar Gardere, Greg Hymel & James Raasch). In New Orleans they used collector to work with volunteers to coordinate and record a progression of a campaign to raise awareness to mosquito that can be vectors of disease. They also created a very fast survey methods based on images of building, using a crowdsourced image analysis that includes 6 attributes. The photos where collected throughout the city using geolocated wide angle camera. They then prepare the images and created a way of capturing information. They ask people to help in crowdsourcing. An example for geographical crowdsourcing in government, with micro tasks: . They have also created an application to link people relating to basins and reports from 311 calls. When someone agreed to adopt a ‘catch basin’ (a drain in the street) then they are sharing responsibility to check that it is not blocked before storms arrive and volunteer to clean the drain. They also have a story map, to let people share their pictures and images that are integrated into a story map.

wp-1467087515436.jpgAfternoon session opened with the main keynote “The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World” by Andrea Wulf. She told the story of Alexander von Humbolt, who spend his fortune on a journey of 5 years in south America, the most famous person in his time after Napoleon. He inspired Darwin to go on the Beagle journey. Many people relate to him and his insights. Died in 1859, and after his death people celebrated him – but he is almost forgotten today. Humboldt invented the concept of Nature, noticing the connection between different aspects of the living world, and geography. He also defined global climate and vegetation zones. Pioneering mapping and visualisation – using scientific data as a basis for fantastic maps. He can also be associated with concepts of environmentalism. Her book explores him and his insights. The journey from Quito to Chimborazo was similar to a journey from the tropic to the arctic, and realised that it’s like movement between different regions of the world. He was capable of linking many things together. Humboldt also created new forms of cartography, and have an appreciation to indigenous knowledge. Humboldt ‘Cosmos’ made a physical description of the universe, linking many aspects of nature together and this was his most popular contribution. The network of GIS and the creation of a living atlases in GIS is knowledge that bring power to people and communities – we can see a link to practices in GIS to von Humboldt.

Another major announcement was the effort of “Designing and Creating a Green Infrastructure” with Arancha Muñoz Criado (City and Strategic Planner) and
Kaitlin Yarnall (National Geographic Society). A common initiative of conservation organisations to create a common set of information about green spaces and wild spaces. Esri and National Geographic are joining forces to create information system for this. The notion is to protect green infrastructure across America – a GIS for the whole country, to define the area that need protection. They will provide extensive information and will provide geodesign tools to allow many people to use the information.

wp-1467087519514.jpgAnother important presentation was about “The AmzonGISnet” with Richard Resl and Domingo Ankuash in Ecuador, who use GIS in new ways. 20 years ago, Domingo started to use GIS to help the indigenous tribes that he leads to protect their lands. Many local indigenous members of the community who have GIS skills and who create a self made life plan – their own atlas representing their land and views. He noted that his community “We do not live in the forest, we are part of it”. The are not thinking themselves are poor, but need the support of other people to protect their land – having maps that are strategic and mindful. Using GIS not to navigate the forest but to protect it.

The final talk in the event was about Connecting GIS with Education, noting that  there is more work on GIS in schools across the US and the world. San Andreas High School started only 18 months ago with GIS, with only one teacher getting into GIS, but alrady achieving results through collaboration with GIS Mentors. An area with 98% students who receive free lunches. The GIS is a force for good. They created a story map about teens and drinking & Alcohol abuse, showing analysis and considerations within the process. Students also created data collection for surveying the state of sidewalks using Survey123.

Beyond quantification: a role for citizen science and community science in a smart city

Arduino sensing in MaltaThe Data and the City workshop will run on the 31st August and 1st September 2015, in Maynooth University, Ireland. It is part of the Programmable City project, led by Prof Rob Kitchin. My contribution to the workshop is titled Beyond quantification: a role for citizen science and community science in a smart city and is extending a short article from 2013 that was published by UCL’s Urban Lab, as well as integrating concepts from philosophy of technology that I have used in a talk at the University of Leicester. The abstract of the paper is:

“When approaching the issue of data in Smart Cities, there is a need to question the underlying assumptions at the basis of Smart Cities discourse and, especially, to challenge the prevailing thought that efficiency, costs and productivity are the most important values. We need to ensure that human and environmental values are taken into account in the design and implementation of systems that will influence the way cities operate and are governed. While we can accept science as the least worst method of accumulating human knowledge about the natural world, and appreciate its power to explain and act in the world, we need to consider how it is applied within the city in a way that does leave space for cultural, environmental and religious values. This paper argues that a specific form of collaborative science – citizen science and community science – is especially suitable for making Smart Cities meaningful and democratic. The paper use concepts from Albert Borgmann’s philosophy of technology – especially those of the Device Paradigm and Focal Practices, to identify the areas were sensing the city can gain meaning for the participants.”

The paper itself can be accessed here.

Other papers from the same workshop that are already available include:

Rob Kitchin: Data-Driven, Networked Urbanism

Gavin McArdle & Rob Kitchin: Improving the Veracity of Open and Real-Time Urban Data

Michael Batty: Data About Cities: Redefining Big, Recasting Small

More details on the workshop will appear on the project website

UCL Urban laboratory pamphleteer – Beyond Quantification: We Need Meaningful Smart Cities

The UCL Urban Laboratory is a cross-disciplinary initiative that links various research interest in urban issues, from infrastructure to the way they are expressed in art, films and photography. The Urban Laboratory has just published its first Urban Pamphleteer which aim to ‘confront key contemporary urban questions from diverse perspectives. Written in a direct and accessible tone, the intention of these pamphlets is to draw on the history of radical pamphleteering to stimulate debate and instigate change.’

My contribution to the first pamphleteer, which focused on ‘Future & Smart Cities’ is dealing with the balance between technology companies, engineers and scientists and the values, needs and wishes of the wider society. In particular, I suggest the potential of citizen science in opening up some of the black boxes of smart cities to wider societal control.  Here are the opening and the closing paragraphs of my text, titled Beyond quantification: we need a meaningful smart city:

‘When approaching the issue of Smart Cities, there is a need to discuss the underlying assumptions at the basis of Smart Cities and challenge the prevailing thought that only efficiency and productivity are the most important values. We need to ensure that human and environmental values are taken into account in the design and implementation of systems that will influence the way cities operate…

…Although these Citizen Science approaches can potentially develop new avenues for discussing alternatives to the efficiency and productivity logic of Smart Cities, we cannot absolve those with most resources and knowledge from responsibility. There is an urgent need to ensure that the development and use of the Smart Cities technologies that are created is open to democratic and societal control, and that they are not being developed only because the technologists and scientists think that they are possible.’

The pamphleteer is not too long – 32 pages – and include many thought-provoking pieces from researchers in Geography, Environmental Engineering, Architecture, Computer Science and Art. It can be downloaded here.