The Full Stack: Tools & Processes for Urban Data Scientists

Recently, I was asked to give talks at both UCL’s CASA and the ETH Future Cities Lab in Singapore for students and staff new to ‘urban data science’ and the sorts of workflows involved in collecting, processing, analysing, and reporting on … Continue reading 

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IBM 5 in 5 – smart city induced utopia? Apparently, we are…

IBM 5 in 5 – smart city induced utopia?

Apparently, we are rapidly approaching the dawn of a technologically induced utopia – a promised land of sorts – a (not so) new claim that all of our problems are rapidly becoming a thing of the past…because overcrowded busses and late pizza will be resolved by the smartening-up of cities.

According to IBM’s 5 in 5 predictions:

“…cities can be hard unforgiving places to live…cities are tough, because they require us to live on their terms, but in five years the tables will turn. With cities adapting to our terms, with cloud-based social feedback, crowdsourcing, and predictive analytics, we’ll shape our cities to our evolving wants and needs, comings and goings, and late-night pizza hankerings. By engaging citizens, city leaders will be able to respond directly to our needs, and dynamically allocate resources…and pizza.”

No wonder there is an increasingly concerned chorus of critics objecting to the marketing language used by some proponents of “smart cities”, because they sense that corporate interests and government departments may well try to leverage the new technologies from the top-down, instead of the bottom-up approach preferred by an increasingly empowered citizenry.

There is a bit of truth mixed-in with the hype. It is true that bottom-up crowdsourced information feedback allows the city to self-organise – to dynamically adapt to both new and old opportunities and challenges – and to develop a sort of self-regulating city ‘consciousness’. But a more nuanced view is necessary when it comes to forecasting the end of all evils due to the the implied top-down mastery of all things complex… and this due to the somewhat simplistic notion of government officials sitting behind giant screens in new control centres.

A more rounded perspective can be found in new books by Anthony Townsend and Mike Batty, with a solid review (of both books) available from the New Scientist.

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IBM 5 in 5 – smart city induced utopia? According to…

IBM 5 in 5 – smart city induced utopia?

According to IBM’s 5 in 5 predictions:

“…cities can be hard unforgiving places to live…cities are tough, because they require us to live on their terms, but in five years the tables will turn. With cities adapting to our terms, with cloud-based social feedback, crowdsourcing, and predictive analytics, we’ll shape our cities to our evolving wants and needs, comings and goings, and late-night pizza hankerings. By engaging citizens, city leaders will be able to respond directly to our needs, and dynamically allocate resources…and pizza.”

There is an increasingly concerned chorus of critics objecting to the marketing language used by some proponents of “smart cities”, because they sense that corporate interests and government departments may well try to leverage the new technologies from the top-down, instead of the bottom-up approach preferred by an increasingly empowered citizenry.

There is a bit of truth mixed-in with the hype. For example, it is true that bottom-up crowdsourced information feedback allows the city to self-organise – to dynamically adapt to both new and old opportunities and challenges – and to develop a sort of self-regulating city ‘consciousness’. But a more nuanced view is necessary when it comes to forecasting the end of all evils due to the the implied top-down mastery of all things complex…

A more rounded perspective can be found in new books by Anthony Townsend and, from a scientific perspective, Mike Batty, with a solid review of both books available from the New Scientist.

Continue reading »

Steve Rayner on Path Dependence in Cities An interesting…

Steve Rayner on Path Dependence in Cities

An interesting presentation by Steve Rayner in which he discusses the significance of Path Dependence and “lock-in”.

Path dependence explains how the set of decisions one faces for any given circumstance is limited by the decisions one has made in the past, even though past circumstances may no longer be relevant. (Wikipedia)

Steve explains that our cities are significantly impacted by past innovations and decisions…such as the location of streets, the invention of the car, and technologies like electric light, flushing toilets, and elevators.

Lock-in through path-dependence can end up causing cities and processes to work in ways that are no longer efficient or sensible. Some kind of mechanism is necessary to allow for flexibility or a radical break in order to escape from the status quo. This is largely what Steve’s Flexible City website is about.

A particularly amusing example in Steve’s presentation is that the size of the space shuttle’s rocket thrusters were determined by the width of a horse’s ass…see the video for details.

Continue reading »

Steve Rayner on Path Dependence in Cities An interesting…

Steve Rayner on Path Dependence in Cities

An interesting presentation by Steve Rayner in which he discusses the significance of Path Dependence and “lock-in”.

Path dependence explains how the set of decisions one faces for any given circumstance is limited by the decisions one has made in the past, even though past circumstances may no longer be relevant. (Wikipedia)

Steve explains that our cities are significantly impacted by past innovations and decisions…such as the location of streets, the invention of the car, and technologies like electric light, flushing toilets, and elevators.

Lock-in through path-dependence can end up causing cities and processes to work in ways that are no longer efficient or sensible. Some kind of mechanism is necessary to allow for flexibility or a radical break in order to escape from the status quo. This is largely what Steve’s Flexible City website is about.

A particularly amusing example in Steve’s presentation is that the size of the space shuttle’s rocket thrusters were determined by the width of a horse’s ass…see the video for details.

Continue reading »

A surge in personal sensing EEG

Following the success of the quantified-self and activity tracking wearables, a number of commercial electroencephalographers (EEG) have appeared during the last year, all seeking crowd-funding support, and all easily surpassing their set targets. Tracking one’s own behaviour patterns and turning them to data, how many steps walked or how many miles ran, resonate with our […]

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Automobile 2.0: Electrification, Sharing and Self-Drive

  Despite the litany of sins levelled at the automobile- it’s woeful energy efficiency, harmful pollution, congestion, road casualties, damage to public space, contribution to obesity- we are still wedded to the car. In the UK the car accounts for over three quarters of trip miles. The flexibility, security and door-to-door convenience of automobile travel remains … Continue reading »

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