About Michael Batty

I chair CASA at UCL which I set up in 1995. I am Bartlett Professor In UCL.

Data and the City

Questioning what bigness means in terms of Big Data and the City is a key quest in understanding what the massive increase in data volumes means to understanding the urban challenges that lie ahead and our future planning of the city to alleviate the many problems that currently beset them. Kitchin, Lauriault, and McArdle’s book Data and the City is “…the first edited collection to provide an interdisciplinary analysis of how this new era of urban big data is reshaping how we come to know and govern cities, and the implications of such a transformation. This book looks at the creation of real-time cities and data-driven urbanism and considers the relationships at play. By taking a philosophical, political, practical and technical approach to urban data, the authors analyse the ways in which data is produced and framed within socio-technical systems. They then examine the constellation of existing and emerging urban data technologies. The volume concludes by considering the social and political ramifications of data-driven urbanism, questioning whom it serves and for what ends” (from the Routledge web site).

I have a paper in the book about big data: Batty, M. (2017) Data About Cities: Redefining Big, Recasting Small, in Kitchin, R., Lauriault, T. P., and MaArdle, G. (Editors) Data and the City, Routledge, London, 31-43, that you can download here in its original form.

The Age of the Smart City

In this paper (downloadable here), I argue that the smart cities movement is simply the latest stage in the massive dissemination of digital computation that began with its invention some 70 or more years ago. In fact, the key thesis in the paper is that digital automation is simply the outcome of dramatic transition from a world without machines to one with, that digital technologies are the natural end-state of a process of automation that marks the ascent of man in general. This became evident with the rapid super-exponential change in technologies marked by the first industrial revolution which lead to the invention of the steam engine, then proceeding at pace through electrical and then into the digital revolution. In this context, I argue that the smart cities movement is the essence of the sixth Kondratieff wave. In developing this, I relate these waves of technological innovation to the prospect of all waves speeding up and collapsing into a singularity while in parallel, continuing into a regime of permanent creativity at the individual level

This paper also reflects on how the smart city can be defined and the difficulties in providing a coherent framework for its understanding and analysis. To an extent, smart cities are simply one feature of the city and to generate any collective and comprehensive understanding, ideas and technologies defining it must be related to every other perspective on the city. In this paper, I allude to the notion that the world population will stabilise during this century – that the demographic transition will work itself out and when we look back from the distant future, we will see this period as one in which the world moved rapidly from a non-urban regime to an urban one. In an earlier paper, I elaborated this argument in a commentary entitled “When all the world’s a city” which you can download here and can be read alongside the new article (also accessible on Research Gate).

China Urban Development at UCL

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Fulong Wu and his colleagues from the Bartlett School of Planning together with Peking University with several sponsors (see web site)  ran a great meeting Friday and Saturday 5-6 May in UCL which gathered together some 200 researchers and academics studying urban development in China is all its aspects. The web site contains the programme and a variety of contributions from Zipf’s law for Chinese cities to notions about state intervention and the crisis of debt pervading China’s cities and economies.

Conscious of the fact that I have spent 7 weeks in Hong Kong so far this year, where I have spoken about smart cities many times to groups at HCUHK, HKU and PolyU as well as SunYatSen University, I contributed a short talk on a key issue about smart cities in China, making the point that apart from cultural and economic differences which pervade all global comparisons of cities, the development of new IT in Chinese cities is not so different from cities in the west in general and the UK in particular. Bigger phones exist in China, more people (almost everyone) use them on the subways but the same old problems of implementing top down inspired plans to implement new IT in cities are the same everywhere. The experience to date of such large scale corporate ventures has not been good in the west and I expect it will be no better in China.

It’s hard, many IT plans fail but cities in China and elsewhere are built largely from the bottom up – they are complex systems – and how we deploy new technologies is really the driving force of the smart cities, in fact the driving force of the city in all its manifestations. Here is my very short PowerPoint as a PDF – so you can load it and click on the active links,. But for the real experience of the diversity and quality of the meeting, go to the web site and follow the titles and links there to get a sample of how rich the meeting was.