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).

Then and Now

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In November 1986 I visited SunYatSen University and gave a public lecture about Urban Modelling. China was a very different world then, no cars, no computers, no email, barely functioning electricity. And of course it was before laptops, networks, hand-held devices and so on. The personal computer had only just been invented. The campus was more or less in the countryside. Despite China opening up in 1979, this was still the old China.

Fast forward 31 years to 2017. The University is now a power house, in the top 10 in China and advancing in the QS university rankings worldwide very rapidly. Since 1986, I have been there a number of times but I never gave any more public lectures until last Tuesday and Wednesday when I more or less repeated what I had talked about 31 years ago. Well not quite, of course; it was the same domain of interest and in the same lineage – but I talked about web-based, large-scale urban models, ideas about big data, smart cities and so on. A world away from those distant years but closely linked intellectually.

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There are no faculty left still working in the School of Geography and Planning from those years but this is not unusual because there is no one left in any of the universities I have worked in before 1990. And it is a little sad that of those who were students then and now senior faculty there, none could remember attending my lecture and I am sure they did not know of it but there were about 130 in the room at the time. I found the building I had lectured in largely because of the poster above which was hand painted for my 1986 visit. Those of you who are Chinese will be able to read this.

Here are the pdfs of the presentations I gave:

Click on these and enjoy.