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The Programmable City

Final Report Summary - SOFTCITY (The Programmable City)

The Programmable City project examined the recursive loop of how the city is translated into software and data, and how this software and data then reshapes the city, and explored these looping processes with respect to how the city is understood and managed, and to how work is conducted and lives lived. To that end the project was divided into pairs of key questions related to the practices of translation and reshaping regarding these four domains. These questions were examined with respect to the digital technologies underpinning smart urbanism and the production of smart cities.

With regards to understanding the city, the project examined the questions: How are digital data generated and processed about cities and their citizens? How are smart city technologies reshaping urban policy development and implementation? With respect to managing the city, the two central questions were: how are discourses and practices of city governance translated into code? How is software used to regulate and govern city life? The questions related to working in the city were: What is the geography and political economy of smart technologies and smart cities? How does software alter the form and nature of work? In relation to living in the city, the questions were: How are smart city technologies actively promoted by vested interests? How do smart technologies transform the spatiality and spatial behaviour of individuals? These were supplemented with a host of related secondary questions.

To provide answers to these questions a multi-method approach was undertaken to explore smart urbanism in two key locales, Dublin, Ireland and Boston, United States, with some fieldwork conducted in secondary sites. Methods included interviews, ethnographies, audits of data and city systems, content and discourse analysis, and constructing genealogies. In addition, the project explored new methodologies for making sense of data, code and smart cities in general (algorithm archaeology; tracing data threads; halfway ethnographies), used an auto-ethnography approach to examine the politics and praxes of city dashboards by building the Dublin Dashboard, and utilised a participatory approach, working and co-learning with stakeholders, makers, and institutions. A range of different smart city technologies were examined including intelligent transport systems, smart lighting, bike share, energy supply, urban dashboards, coordinated emergency management response, locative media, as well as urban testbeds.

The research has produced a number of key conceptual and empirical findings concerning the datafication of cities and citizens, open and big data, the creation of software-enabled technologies, the nature of smart urbanism, the political economy of smart cities, urban policy making, the politics and praxes of specific smart city technologies, and related ethical concerns. Key conceptual advances relate to data assemblages, code/space, automated management, smart citizenship, algorhythms, timescapes, ethics, slow computing, civic hacking, and spatial media. In addition, the project has been at the vanguard of setting the agenda for the emerging fields of digital geographies and critical data studies.

The project has had a marked academic and societal impact. At the close of funding, the project had produced three monographs, three edited books, with four more in press or preparation, a journal special issue, 29 journal articles, 29 book chapters, 15 other publications, and 39 working papers, with others in press or progress. The team have delivered 129 invited and keynote talks across the social sciences, humanities and sciences. 124 presentations have been delivered to policy makers, industry, civic society and the scientific community at both national and international level. The project (co)organized 10 workshops and 25 seminars. With respect to society, the project has significantly shaped the policy and practice of municipalities, actively contributed to a number of government and agency advisory boards, and advised several agencies, professional organizations, and other stakeholders. The project work has received 60+ media citations (TV, radio, newspapers).