Monday, November 17, 2014

Smart cities (92 minutes)

“Today, more people live in cities than in the countryside; mobile broadband connections outnumber fixed ones; and machines outnumber people on a new Internet of Things. In this era of mass urbanization and technological ubiquity, what happens when computers take over the city? Urban planning expert Anthony Townsend explores this question in Smart Cities, a broad look at the people and historical forces that have transformed the design of cities and information technologies. From the great industrial metropolises of the nineteenth century to today’s sprawling megacities, wave after wave of new technologies have been invented to address the proliferating challenges posed by human settlements of ever-greater size and complexity. As a new generation of technology barons, entrepreneurs, mayors, and civic coders try to shape our future, Smart Cities explores their motivations, aspirations, and shortcomings, offering a new civics for building communities: together, one click at a time.”

Citizenville (53 minutes)

“A rallying cry for revolutionizing democracy in the digital age, Citizenville reveals how ordinary Americans can reshape their government for the better. Gavin Newsom, the lieutenant governor of California, argues that today’s government is stuck in the last century while—in both the private sector and our personal lives—absolutely everything else has changed. Drawing on wide-ranging interviews with thinkers and politicians, Newsom shows how Americans can transform their government, taking matters into their own hands to dissolve political gridlock even as they produce tangible changes in the real world. Citizenville is a timely road map for restoring American prosperity and for reinventing citizenship in today’s networked age. ”

Step 3 (Assigned Nov 17) – Focus in on the quality of life for a particular type of person (e.g., top 1%, 50% percentile, bottom 25%, etc). Focus in on a day in the life for that demographic. What forces currently make the present (2014) desirable/undesirable for the demographic you chose? What forces in 2054 make futures desirable/undesirable for the demographic you chose? Focus on the living experience in urban or suburban settings.


11 thoughts on “Monday, November 17, 2014

  1. Anothony Townsend’s Book, brings up a good point that things are talking to each other rather than people talking to each other. The technology world is taking over the global enterprises to report claims “drivers can see traffic before it happens”. IBM, one company, is built with no power over the government but hacked his way through the competition. These companies is the epitome of constructing disasters for the government receiving check after check from the government.
    Don’t get resisted by people?
    He says we can use technology to prevent and fix the problem such as a weather modeling tool that can forecast weathers. This will then allow for global collection of weather data helping the world as a whole and thereby playing a part in saving the world.
    Townsend also focuses on the smart cities for a better future. The only thing is that we can assume that government sell the idea well. The
    These companies look at citizens as consumers and the government as a treasure chest. Companies will do anything to take money from the government. Right now, we’re in a situation where we can start our own and build our own smart city technology. We need to start sharing our information to both prevent the ozone, and share weather graphs.
    Urban socializing city, more like a web and less like a cellphone. And it should be less like an extended operating system. Public ownership, the data you put out no longer belongs to the author, comes into play and the vendors see the data as a huge opportunity.
    Build locally and trade globally. I seriously agree that I’ve seen so many apps that are the same, if they were to integrate the efforts, these developers would all be able to make the best app possible; however, wasted efforts is inevitable.


  2. I thoroughly enjoyed these two videos because they made me question my fundamental belief in the power of technology. My dream is to work on a system that truly revolutionizes a process in New York but these videos made me question the drawback to centralizing information. I believe that many processes in cities are not optimized. However, in which way to optimize them continues to bog my mind. Do we aim to benefit the most amount of people or to minimize cost and improve the GDP of a city. Where some might think benefiting the most amount of people would lead to an increase in GDP, the example concerning the digitization of land rights in a developing country, (cant remember which one it was) clearly proves otherwise. In this example, land rights were centralized in a database in the hopes of giving the poor more control of their property. What ended up happening was that external investors bought up most of these land rights since it was now easy to determine who owned what and while the GDP of the region surely increased, it did not benefit the people there at all. If anything, it lead to their land being taken away. These unintended consequences from using technology to improve the standard of living within the city are real and I will be sure to remember them in the future.


  3. Gavin Newsom, first. I was turned off because he said “gamification”, which tripped my techno-utopian alert. But who am I to dismiss arguments with ad hominem attacks, Evgeny Morozov? So, I kept listening. It sounded like his talk was about “running the government like google”, which is… promising but has pitfalls, I guess?

    IMHO, the promise is in the mindset. Particularly the catfish hotel guy at the end. Let’s reward failure and trying things, with measurable models of success. Let’s reward people for doing a good job, not just for sticking around and coloring within the lines.
    The pitfalls are in overgeneralizing based on highly visible artifacts, and blaming people when they don’t meet your arbitrary standards. “We made this data open and people made a bunch of apps.” Great – are they any good? Who made them, and what’s their agenda? How do they get paid?
    It’s tempting to say “the DMV has 40 year old software, what a bunch of dummies, let’s get some smart techies in there and fix it.” But indeed, looks like HP failed. “Your 10 year old niece and nephew are doing this on the weekends” – no, they’re not. They’re making text-based adventure games, at best. The problems here are not mostly technological.


  4. Newsom’s talk at Google “Citizenville, Talks at Google” discussed the issue of government transparency and releasing numerous government datasets. According to researcher Latanya Sweeney, people can be identified with little information (just their zip code, gender, and date of birth), and steps need to be taken to reduce risks involved with releasing large datasets because once multiple datasets are combined together, previously anonymous people can become identified by others (Sweeney, 2002). I wish that Newsom had discussed this aspect of releasing government datasets.

    Sweeney, L. (2002). k-Anonymity: A model for protecting privacy. International Journal on Uncertainty, Fuzziness and Knowledge-based Systems, 10(5), 557-570.


  5. I find the idea of smart cities really interesting. I agree with the assessment that it isn’t just about what the government or big corporations want/think is a good idea, it is also about what the people want. People play a huge role in design and when it is effecting something like the place they are living in, everyone is going to have a say. It is essential to have the people on your side if you plan on making drastic changes to the environment they live in. If you can get them on your side and give them an opportunity to decide what is going on for a few things, they will be more willing to stay on your side in the future.

    I am very conflicted with how I feel about grassroots movements and some of the things that they are coming up with as mentioned in the video. I think I am finding that this video confuses me more than anything. Not that I don’t understand the topic, but it is difficult to have a clear cut opinion on what is going on. Obviously have a smart city that could save lives is a great idea, but what about this other stuff about where to stand on a subway? I feel like this could just make people stop thinking. In my mind smart cities mean something different entirely. It means traffic limits, public transportation control, walking flow control, and upkeep of city– not really controlling what people do.


  6. The Citizenville book brings up lots of interesting scenarios, but I think they are at best just “interesting” concepts to consider, and am skeptical because they don’t really address the potential problems or consequences. Especially the Farmville metaphor – I think I might have biases against gamification so the comparison doesn’t really work for me, but I also don’t think it’s that apt or easy. I think governments have been trying incentive-based programs for a long time, and this is proposing it on a different platform, but I don’t think the technological aspect will change things as much as they think it will. The idea also reminds me a little of crowdsourcing, to which the argument is that not everything the general public comes up with is good. In the first place government officials are experts elected for their expertise, and issues like corruption aside, it kind of sounds like in the future they are proposing there’s not really a need for government if everything is going to be democratized. I’m not opposed to technology incorporation, though. Citizenville raises good points about how obsolete the government is. To that end I appreciate the cautious approach Anthony Townsend takes, and his point that technology is great, but only depending on how you use it. I like how he gives examples of current cities trying to define what a “smart city” is and pointing out some of their problems. I also read somewhere that a danger of smart cities is that the computer or technology running it can be located outside the city, so that the city is essentially “outsourcing its brain”.. which is an interesting point. It makes me wonder about how cities will interact with each other; with that degree of connectivity I think it would be strange not to.


  7. In Smart Cities, Townsend explores interesting ideas as to what should define a smart city. Overall, I agree that having a top down approach isn’t very conducive to effective urban planning and also shouldn’t be what defines the cities of the future. We should definitely explore this idea that by equipping people with the necessary tools they can define the future of their own cities. Among his thirteen tenants of design that he advocates, I found the concept to cross train designers extremely appealing. If designers are able to think quantitatively and qualitatively, like Townsend suggests, their ability to come up with adequate solutions increases. The other interesting concept was to roll out your own network. I agree that something needs to be done about the current state of networks, right now there is a monopoly which has led to lack of innovation and cities are left with adequate networks. Overall, interesting talk about the future of urban planning.


  8. I rather disagree with the idea that cities should be run by the people. Crowdsourcing major decisions seems like a great idea in theory, but complicated in logistics and usually poor in execution. Take android for example. Built on the idea of customization and ownership, built so that the people can personalize every possible variable of their phone, built to allowed people to decide what they want. The result? Visually busy layouts, insane amounts of information overload, poorly functioning operating systems, I could go on. Compare this to Apple. Almost impossible to “hack,” personalization is extremely limited, most decisions are made for the user. The result? Immensely popular, widely accepted as the leader in mobile devices, etc. The only people that Android works for, is people that are educated enough to know how to use it properly. Same with government. Societies where the population are overall well educated and involved, have the luxury of bringing more decisions to the people. America is not that kind of society. We need those with better understandings to make executive decisions. Granted, grand levels of corruption make it possible for someone without understanding to gain power. But I think that’s a different problem.


  9. The topics in Citizenville all seemed very familiar to me as many of the ideas have been swirling around San Francisco news and political circles for years. I have often discussed with friends the irony that several cities provide free wifi but that San Francisco, at the heart of Silicon Valley does not. I did not realize that Newsom had been talking to Google in an attempt to get us free wifi and I wonder if the Chronicle debacle is the only reason why we don’t have wifi in the city.

    Brining innovation into government is incredibly difficult. I think that Code for America has an interesting model, which is to work with city governments to help them implement open data practices and use technology to help them govern while also using technology to help the citizens to have a voice.

    His talk was very enlightening. I did not realize that Reagan had been such a big advocate of sharing public data. I also agree that pay scales should be public. But not because as Newsom suggests because they are civic servants, but because sharing such information would make it more difficult for their to be pay inequities both between genders as well as agism or racism.

    I also like Newsom’s ideas about borrowing from startups and making government iterative and entrepreneurial.

    The new San Francisco Chief Data Officer is Joy Bonaguro


  10. In the Smart cities video, I thought that there were important key points mentioned. I really liked how he encouraged us to think of new and cheap but effective ways of solving disasters. It could be a smart crowdsourcing technology that controls the grid. They can prevent the disasters that will occur. But how are we going to deal with centralizing this system to make it powerful and authoritative. How do we prepare for climatic disasters that will in effect ruin systems and the idea of resilience? We need to look at this in terms of scalability as well. I agree with these statements made because they do in effect change the way we think about design. If we are trying to design a smart city powerhouse, we need to prepare for the worst as well. We need to critically analyze how it will be effective and authoritative. How will it control the city?


  11. In the video on the book Smart cities, the author talks about the quest for utopia and how difficult it is to transform cities with technology. I’ve always thought of technological progress on an individual level and it didn’t seem the case that there had to be conscious pushing of technology for people to use – it seemed to be something very organic. So, it was really cool to hear his point of view, especially about the socio-economic concerns that he had.


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