Privacy in digital cities: Google Glass, the right to choose, and the enduring legacy of Jane Jacobs


50 years ago in "The Death and Life of Great American Cities", the renowned urbanist Jane Jacobs argued that the defining characteristic of cities is that the great size of their populations means that most people in them are strangers to each other; and that creating safety and security in that context is fundamentally dependent on a clear separation between public and private activity.
Digital technologies such as smartphones and "Google Glass", a “wearable computer” mounted on false spectacles that overlays displays of information on what we see and can make video and audio recordings of the world we are experiencing, challenge our understanding of what is public and what is private. 
If we use a relatively inconspicuous Bluetooth headset to make a call through a mobile phone hidden in a pocket; and if we gesture with our arms emphatically whilst speaking on that call; how should the people around us, who might be completely unaware that the call is taking place, interpret our actions? And what happens if they perceive those gestures to be rude or threatening?
Privacy is already high on the technology agenda; but as technology spreads further and deeper into city systems, and into our interactions in city environments, it is useful to bear in mind the enduring legacy of Jane Jacob’s work, and be reminded that security is at the heart of cities, not just technology.
As a result, two of the most frequent questions I am asked in the panel debates and media interviews I participate in are: who owns all this data? And are big corporations using it and controlling it for their own purposes?
I've tried to answer those questions in the article linked below; I'd be delighted to hear your views on the subject.


Can digital technology help us build better cities? A workshop at the Academy of Urbanism Annual Congress, Bradford, Thursday 16th May


Over the course of the last two decades, digital technologies have transformed the way we communicate, work and live. They have changed the way that we behave in cities; and they lead to new demands on the urban environment from residents, visitors, businesses and communities: for mobile and broadband connectivity; open data portals; and transient working environments.
Should these technologies change the way we design and build cities, and if so, how? Do technologies offer solutions to difficult problems such as offering more flexible, coordinated transport services? Or are they a distraction on focussing on what really matters – the physical, social and economic needs of people and their communities? And how do they compare to long-standing debates within the more traditional domains of urbanism about how good cities are created, regardless of technology?
The Academy of Urbanism, a body of several hundred professionals, researchers and policy-makers involved in the design and operation of cities from perspectives as diverse as town planning, social science and technology is holding a workshop at it’s Annual Congress in Bradford this year to explore these issues.
The workshop will feature opening contributions from speakers from a variety of backgrounds, and with differing opinions on the value and relevance of digital technology to good urbanism. Our intention is to stimulate an informed and frank debate to follow;  from which we hope that useful, practical insights will emerge on whether and how the technology agenda is relevant to cities.
More details of the workshop, and a link to the Congress programme and registration, can be found at the link below; I hope that some of you can join us for the workshop.


A design pattern for Future Cities: City Centre Enterprise Incubation


I've just posted a description on my blog of a design pattern for Future Cities: City-Centre Enterprise Incubation.
The pattern describes the provision of  facilities to incubate technology, creative and social enterprises in an urban environment to stimulate innovative growth through cross-sectoral interaction and innovation; and to facilitate co-operative investment in technology. Examples of this approach in the UK include Sunderland Software City, Hub Westminster and Birmingham Science Park Aston.
The design pattern is described here: 
... and it's part of a collection of patterns that I'm slowly building up; the collection, and the reasons for building it, are described here:
I'd be grateful for any comments from this community on the new pattern; on the usefulness of this approach; or on specific patterns that you think should be included - I'm hoping to launch a more concentrated collaborative initiative on this theme later in the year.


Refactoring, nucleation and incubation: three tools for digital urban adaptability


When I am at my most productive as a computer programmer, I don’t write code; I sculpt virtual objects from it.
Any computer system exists to fulfill a purpose in the real world. To do so it recreates in code those aspects of the world that are relevant to its purpose. What transformed the creation of that model from the laborious, procedural task of writing instructions into the seamless creative flow that I liken to sculpting was Martin Fowler‘s conception of “refactoring”.
We need similar tools to support the evolution of adaptable, resilient cities in the 21st Century. 
Those cities will exist in a world that is ever more changeable, and ever less certain. The techniques to provide the flexibility in the physical environment required to accommodate that variability are already emerging - Kelvin Campbell's "Smart Urbanism", and technologies such as 3D printing and 3D cutting. We now need to evolve similar techniques for providing flexible information infrastructures for Smarter Cities.
I explore how those techniques might emerge from concepts such as refactoring, nucleation and incubation from domains as diverse as software engineering, the physical sciences and economics in this article on my blog:


The need for sympathetic digital urbanism


Technology is changing how we understand cities, and how we will understand ourselves in the context of urban environments. We're only at the beginning of this complex revolution.
Scientists from Berkeley have used a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner to reconstruct images perceived by a test subject’s brain activity while the subject watched a video. A less sensitive mind-reading technology is already available as a headset from Emotiv, which my colleagues have used to help a paralysed person communicate by sending directional instructions from his thoughts to a computer.
Other developments in biotechnology, nanotechnology, and advanced manufacturing show similarly remarkable interactions between information systems and the physical and biological world - solar panels that can mend themselves; and living biological tissues that can be printed, one cell at a time.
These technologies, combined with our ability to process and draw insight from digital information, could offer real possibilities to engineer more efficient and sustainable city systems, such as transportation, energy, water, and food. But using them to address the demographic, financial, and environmental challenges of cities will raise questions about our relationship with the natural world, what it means to live in an ethical society, and what defines us as human.
I wrote an article about how we might answer those questions for UBM's Future Cities community recently, it can also be found on my blog:


Little/big; producer/consumer; and the story of the Smarter City


Two years ago, I noticed that my then 2-year-old son was trying to move things he saw on the screen of my laptop by touching them. Of course he was: he'd seen my wife and I use touchscreens on our smartphones; why wouldn't all screens behave that way?
I think there's something profound in his instinctual use of touchscreen technology to manipulate information. And as other technologies that blur the boundary between information technology and physical systems - such as bio-energy and 3D printing - become more capable and affordable, the way we interact with many of the systems that support our lives - from food and energy supply to the way that we create our environment and the objects within it - will change out of all recognition.
As the price of food and fuel rises as the world's population grows and urbanises; and as droughts caused by global warming make the supply of the grain which is used to produce food and bio-ethanol fuel less certain; we will need to use these new technologies to create more efficient ways to feed us and keep us warm.
I think distinct trends are emerging from technology, urbanism and the research of resilient systems to show how we can do that in a way that could also create a fairer, more sustainable world; and I was honoured to be invited to speak on that subject this weekend at the TEDxWarwick conference. I've posted a script that I wrote whilst preparing for my TEDxWarwick presentation on my blog; I hope that you find it interesting.


A design pattern for digital urbanism: the City Information Partnership


In an article on my blog titled “Do we need a Pattern Language for Smarter Cities” I suggested that “design patterns“, a tool for capturing re-usable experience invented by the town-planner Christopher Alexander, might offer a useful way to organise our knowledge of successful approaches to “Smarter Cities”. The article had a positive response from a number of technologists, architects and academics, and so I'm now writing a set of design patterns to describe ideas that I've seen work more than once. 
The collection is described and indexed in "A Pattern Language for Digital Urbanism" which can be found here:
And the first design pattern, the "City Information Partnership", is described here:
I'd be grateful for any comments from this community on the usefulness of this approach; or on specific patterns that you think should be included.

Do we need a Pattern Language for Smarter Cities?


I participated recently in a robust debate concerning the availability of “delivery guidance” for cities embarking on Smarter Cities initiatives. Whilst there are many visions for smart and future cities; and many examples of projects that have been carried out; there is little prescriptive guidance to assist cities in defining and delivering their own strategy.
It is tempting to approach this challenge by applying the formal, process-driven techniques often applied by companies and institutions undergoing "organisational change" initiatives; but transforming a city is not the same thing as changing an organisation. A city is a complex system of systems, and we have comparatively little knowledge about how to drive change in such an environment. Arguably,we should not even think about “driving change” in city ecosystems, but rather consider how to influence the speed and direction of the changes that will emerge from them anyway.
More organic approaches to stimulating change in cities have emerged from thinking in policy, economics, planning and architecture such as the Collective Research Initiatives Trust‘s study of Mumbai, and the “Massive / Small” concept and associated “Urban Operating System” developed by Kelvin Campbell and Urban Initiatives. They involve the provision of a “toolkit” of ideas for individuals and organisations to apply in their local context.
These toolkits bear similarities to a tool that emerged from town planning in the 1970s and that was then adopted across the information technology industry in the 1980s and 1990s: the “Design Pattern”.
To my knowledge, no-one is yet curating a similar set of Smarter Cities patterns; I believe that there would be great value in doing so. I've written an article on my blog exploring that idea, and providing some examples of ideas and initiatives with the Smarter Cities domain that could form the basis of re-usable patterns:
There are many, many more "patterns" that could be described in this way; I would very much appreciate your thoughts on whether it would be valuable to do so.


Better stories for Smarter Cities: three trends in urbanism that will reshape our world


Towards the end of last year, it became clearer how cities could take practical steps to position themselves to transform to meet the increasing economic, environmental and social challenges facing them; and to seek investment to support those transformations.
Equally important as those practical approaches to organisation, though, are the conceptual tools that will shape those transformations. Across fields as diverse as psychology, town planning, mathematics, construction, service-design and technology, some striking common themes have emerged that are shaping those tools.
Those themes imply radically different approaches to endeavours such as city planning, technology adoption, service design and governance, driven by the astonishing, exciting and sometimes disturbing changes that we’re likely to see taking place increasingly rapidly in our world over the next decade.
I explored three of those themes - "Producer / Consumer"; what Kelvin Campbell of Urban Initiatives has called "Massive / Small"; and "Co-operative Governance" - in an article on my blog this week; I would appreciate hearing the views of this community on those topics:


Six Steps to a Smarter City - including financing, informal economics and messy urbanism


In the last couple of months of 2012, I had a number of open and frank discussions between city leaders, financiers and developers, policy makers, academics, architects, planners – and even some technologists - which seemed to reveal straightforward ideas that are common to those cities that are successfully implementing transformations across city systems to achieve city-wide outcomes - and in paticular that are securing financial investments to support them.
At the same time, I noticed a distinct increase in interest in concepts such as "resilience" on the one hand - the ability of social, economic, utility and other city systems to withstand shocks - and "messy", "organic" and "informal" forms of innovation in hyperlocal contexts within cities on the other. I wrote a number of articles on those topics in the "urbanism" section of my blog.
It therefore seemed an opportune time to revisit the article “Six steps to a Smarter City” that I use as an organising framework for understanding Smart Cities. The updated article containing this new material is on my blog here, I hope you find it interesting:


Happy Christmas and thankyou from the Urban Technologist


I've posted a brief message looking back at the first year of writing my blog "The Urban Technologist";
I've spent 15 years as a technologist, identifying new trends, and delivering projects to exploit them. In cities I have experienced over the last few years by far the most complex, subtle, beautiful, challenging and meaningful contexts for that work in my career.
I have also met an astonishing variety of people, all of whom taught me something; often through conversations in which they disagreed with me – or at least expanded my thinking – in interesting ways; and often in communities such as this one.
So Happy Christmas; and thankyou to everyone who has read the blog or commented on it; and to everyone who’s thinking has informed and inspired me. I look forward to continuing our conversation in 2013.


Smart ideas for everyday cities


Some of the earliest and highest profile examples of cities pursuing “Smart” agendas were governed by hierarchical systems of authority which enabled them to implement integrated city systems, using new technologies, to promote city-wide priorities such as wellbeing, job creation, economic growth, sustainability and social mobility.
However, in many existing cities, especially in mature economies, the systems that influence those outcomes - education, public safety, transport and the economy, for example - are operated by separate organisations; if they are even “operated” as systems at all. It is often difficult, therefore, to agree a "Smart" transformation across them; to obtain the investment to support it; and to carry it out.
In the last few weeks I have valued some open and frank discussions between city leaders, financiers and developers, policy makers, academics, architects, planners, and technologists that have yielded some common ideas from cities that have addressed those challenges; I've described them in an article on my blog:
Just as I valued the discussions that led me to write this article, I'd welcome a chance to continue them in this community.


Pens, paper and conversations. And the other technologies that will make cities Smarter.


A great many factors will determine the future of our cities – for example, human behaviour, demographics, economics, and evolving thinking in urban planning and architecture. The specific terms “Smart Cities” and “Smarter Cities”, though, are commonly applied to the concept that cities can exploit technology to find new ways to face their challenges.  
But while some technology developments – such as Service-Oriented Architecture and distributed computing - are technically cohesive and can be defined by a particular architecture, "Smarter Cities" is more like "Web 2.0" - it defines a period in time in which we have collectively realized that it is critically important to explore the application technology to a new domain; in this case, city systems.
I've written a framework in my blog that I find useful in understanding the various engineering, information and communication technologies that can support Smart City projects. It's not intended to be comprehensive or definitive, and I'd like to hear your feedback and views on it.
Most importantly, though, I hope that I've found a place in it for one of the oldest and most important technologies that our species has invented: language; and it's exploitation in "Smart" systems such as pens, paper and conversations.


No-one is going to pay cities to become Smarter


The TSB shortlisted 4 UK cities last week as the finalists in the £25m "Future Cities Demonstrator" competition. This is fantastic news for the cities concerned – London, Glasgow, Peterborough and Bristol.
But it also means that 22 other cities who submitted proposals have learned that they will not benefit from that investment.
These decisions throw the real challenge that cities in the UK and elsewhere face into sharp focus: 
No-one is going to pay them to become Smarter.
Instead, we need to consider the ways in which money is already spent in cities; and how we can harness that spending power to achieve the outcomes that cities need.
I've written an article on my blog this week exploring the ways in which I think it's possible to do that, and describing some examples. I'd be interested to hear this community's views on the subject:


Inspirational Simpli-City


Cities are complex systems of systems, and face such a multitude of challenges in a variety of contexts that no single solution could possibly address all of them. In fact an incredibly rich variety of technologies can and have been applied to create successful “Smart” systems in cities; but it's interesting to note that some of them are very simple.
15 years ago, I lived through the transformation of an urban neighbourhood driven by community activism and enabled by crowdsourced information and analogue photographic technology that illustrates the point. And whilst the city systems facing economic, demographic and environmental challenges today are immensely complex, surely we should be seeking the inspiration from simple ideas that have transformed cities and communities in the past, just as much as we concentrate on effectively engineering the solutions that exploit them.
I posted some thoughts on this, and linking to my personal favourite examples of simple smart projects, in this article on my blog - I'd love to hear more examples from this community:


Six steps to a Smarter City; and the philosophical imperative for taking them


In the past months some interesting announcements have been made concerning emerging frameworks and protocols for Smarter Cities – such as the “City Protocol” collaboration which will be formally launched at the Smart City Expo this week in Barcelona.
There are now a wide variety of established and emerging repositories of experience and practise relevant to Smart Cities in such domains as sustainability, technology, community engagement and economic development. Some are open collaborations; some are research programmes; and some are published position papers from consultancies and service providers. 
It therefore seemed an opportune time to update the article “Five steps to a Smarter City” that I wrote back in September, to include a sixth step: “Structure your approach to a Smart City by drawing on the available resources of expertise“. 
The updated article is on my blog here:


Zen and the art of messy urbanism


Over the past few months and weeks, some interesting announcements have been made concerning emerging frameworks and protocols for Smart Cities, such as the formation of the “City Protocol” collaboration in Barcelona, which will be formally launched at the Smart City Expo later this month, and the "State of the World's Cities 2012/2013" report from UN-HABITAT, which proposes a number of new mechanisms which are intended to assist decision makers in cities.
Whilst these resources of knowledge and experience will be tremendously helpful to cities planning for the future, I don't think that cities will reach a sustainable future state through the process of city leaders and institutions adopting a deterministic framework or method. In contrast, the Collective Research Initiatives Trust (CRIT) recently produced a fascinating piece of research, “Being Nicely Messy“, about the evolution of Mumbai’s economy emphasising the organic and unpredictable nature of the innovation that creates social and economic growth in the urban environment.
I explored some ways to synthesise the emerging structured knowledge around Smart Cities with the "messy" nature of innovation in an article on my blog this week:


Should technology improve cities, or should cities improve technology?


In a discussion today with an expert from the property development sector, I found myself reversing my usual direction of thinking concerning the relationship between technology and cities: when asked "how can technology contribute to improving property development" I replied that I was more interested in the question "how can property development improve technology?".
That interest arises from working both with City Councils and with the ecosystems of entrepreneurs and small businesses in cities; especially those businesses that create or use technology. Such businesses are - rightly, in my view - seen as the heart of a sustainable economy by many cities. But for cities to create the urban environment for such businesses to start and to thrive is not a straightforward challenge. 
I discussed some examples and ideas relating to that challenge on my blog this week, I would be very interested to hear of your experiences in this area.


Why Open City Data is the Brownfield Regeneration Challenge for the Information Age


The city of San Francisco announced yesterday that they are legislating to promote open data and have appointed a “Chief Data Officer” for the city. Cities such as Dublin have already experienced the benefits of making city data more openly available, and the announcements from San Francisco will surely stimulate even more interest in this topic. 
But if "open data" and "city information" platforms are so useful, why don't more cities have them already?
Just as urban regenerations need to take account of the existing physical infrastructures such as buildings, transport and utility networks; when thinking about new city technology solutions we need to consider the information infrastructures that are already in place. Adapting those infrastructures to new uses is not always straightforward, and can involve considerable effort, complexity and risk. I
I've shared some thoughts on those challenges - and on how they can be overcome in reasonable ways - in an article on my blog:


Open urbanism: why the information economy will lead to sustainable cities


On Monday this week I attended the World Bank’s “Rethinking Cities” Symposium in Barcelona and participated in discussions concerning the contributions technology could make to two challenges: improving social and physical mobility in cities; and the encouragement of change to more sustainable behaviours by including “externalities” (such as social and environmental costs) in the prices of goods and services.
Discussions at the Symposium explored how sustainable choices could be made available in a way that appeals to the motivations of individuals and communities; we examined several ways to create positive and negative incentives through pricing; but also examples of simply “removing the barriers” to making such choices.
The more I thought about those discussions, the more I realised that the underlying theme was "openess" or transparency: making good quality information available to us can have a powerful impact on the choices that we make. When we are well informed, we make good decisions.
I wrote an article on my blog yesterday describing the discussions at the Symposium in Barcelona, and giving some examples of cities that have taken such "open" approaches to information. I hope it's an interesting contribution to this community:


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