Robo-taxis,auto-mobility, and the right to the city

Today is the day Amsterdam is implementing 30km/h on the majority of its streets. So a good occasion to reblog this article here. Vox writes that San Francisco’s robotaxi experiment is getting out of hand >> In San Francisco – and in other US cities too – self-driving taxis operated by companies like GM’s Cruise and Alphabet’s Waymo are clogging the city streets and are becoming a nuisance if not downright dangerous for emergency vehicles. In a podcast interview between Vox host Sean Rameswaram and Liz Lindqwister, a data journalist at the nonprofit news startup the San Francisco Standard, it […] Read More

The limits of ‘the city as a platform’

The Conversation has an interesting piece called “WeWork approached physical space as if it were virtual, which led to the company’s downfall”. In the article, the author argues that dreams of cities as cybernetic systems – while old – have their limits. The author suggests that this cybernetic logic of essentially seeing cities and computers as the same in terms of ‘informational flows’, is what led to the downfall of WeWork: “Earlier in the twentieth century, offices were thought of as, essentially, industrial buildings. […] But during World War II, executives witnessed the military use giant mainframes for logistics and […] Read More

Special issue in Mediapolis: Creative Urban Methods

I am very happy and proud to announce that the special issue in Mediapolis Journal on Creative Urban Methods, that I co-edited with my [urban interfaces] colleagues Sigrid Merx, Nanna Verhoeff & Coco Kanters, and with the invaluable help of Elle Zwinkels, is out now!  See our own introduction here: In addition to our own introduction, this special issue contains contributions by: Gillian Sonnad and Noortje van Amsterdam Karin van Es and Marcel Broersma Inte Gloerich and Gabriele Ferri Anastasia Hacopian Jan van Duppen, Augusto Anéas, Aileen Harvey, Sandra Jasper, Laura Kemmer and Claudia Muniz

Landlords in Washington DC accused of using software to keep rent high

Ars Technica reports about a lawsuit filed against 14 DC landlords who are accused of having colluded “with a property management software firm to keep rent prices high in a city with a housing affordability crisis.” The software company RealPage suggests rental prices to landlords, based on the data that they feed the software company. Sounds like a very risky data feedback loop to me anyway, but apparently these 14 landlords in DC joined forces with the company to keep rent prices artificially high on the platform. Effectively they formed a housing cartel. Just another warning that despite rhetorics of […] Read More

Short-lived platform transport services

This news item by Vice on the quick rise and demise of Revel scooters in NYC makes me think about temporarily as a theme that I’ve been interested in for a long time. As digital media technologies and urban culture intersect, we often see a mismatch between their temporal cycles. The fast-moving ways of the tech industry, with their extremely short cycles and aggressive grab-all strategies for taking over markets, is at odds with the much longer development and maintenance cycles of most urban infrastructures, such as housing and public transport. It artists that many urban tech companies simply do […] Read More

Street-level experiences of the ‘platform society’

I love this series of portraits by Rest of World called Life as a Gig Worker. While a political economy perspective of platform labor tends to focus only on harms and exploitation, this more ethnographic perspective shows that marginalized people are smart and creative, and that they will find workarounds for restoring their agency and dignity. It adds a healthy emic on the ground perspective to the view from above in many studies. Being trained as an anthropologist myself, this truly resonates. It reminds me of a perhaps lesser-known book by James Scott called Weapons of the Weak, where he […] Read More

Predictably, predictive policing software terrible at predicting crime

The Markup writes: The software product formerly known as PredPol but rebranded into Geolitica, has been right in predicting crime a paltry <1% in an investigation about its use at the police department in Plainfield, New Jersey. We examined 23,631 predictions generated by Geolitica between Feb. 25 to Dec. 18, 2018 for the Plainfield Police Department (PD). Each prediction we analyzed from the company’s algorithm indicated that one type of crime was likely to occur in a location not patrolled by Plainfield PD. In the end, the success rate was less than half a percent. Fewer than 100 of the […] Read More

LAPD chasing Pokémon in the city ignored traffic rules and robbery

This one is sad and funny at the same time: 404 media shares a video from a 2017 incident involving police in LA being too busy with playing Pokémon Go to pay attention to either a robbery happening nearby or basic traffic rules. Two Los Angeles Police Department officers who ignored a robbery in progress in order to catch a Snorlax and Togetic in Pokémon Go also rolled through a stop sign, sped through residential neighborhoods and zoomed over speed bumps, tailgated various cars, and drove the wrong way down a one-way road in order to catch ‘em all, video […] Read More

Platforms cheating gig workers out of earnings

Another one on the ‘gig economy’: Ars Technica writes that in New York Uber and Lyft have agreed to pay $328 million after “cheating drivers out of hundreds of millions of dollars”. In addition to the usual observations that platform companies are not compliant (and knowingly do) with local or state legislation, what is interesting in this case is also the role of the app interface itself: Uber misrepresented the deductions made to drivers’ pay in their terms of service, telling drivers that Uber would only deduct its commission from the drivers’ fare, and that drivers were “entitled to charge […] Read More

Platform flex work is human rights issue

Vice writes that Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty, has sent letters in August 2023 to Amazon, DoorDash, and Walmart, demanding they address allegations that their wages are so low that they trap workers in poverty. The companies have responded with the usual ‘technological exceptionalism’ argumentation that platform based work is fundamentally misunderstood. Yet another example of how digital tech in the city leads to exacerbated inequality, now in the domain of labor. link to original article on Vice >>

The micro-politics of location-sharing

Vox had an interesting read about location-based mobile media and the question “Should we know where our friends are at all times?” With constant tracking and check-ins, our everyday lives have become hybrids of online and offline. In anecdotally describing how location-sharing has become, in the words of one of the respondents “so, so common among basically everyone I know”, the author addresses a number of pertinent issues. One of these is the tension between safety and security, and sociability and a sense of proximity. another is the constant negotiation over access to one’s private life and whereabouts, and the […] Read More

ClimateOS: a smart urban tools for green and sustainable cities

A bit of brighter news, in The Guardian, a “Swedish tech startup helping cities go green”: This article in The Guardian reports on the tech startup ClimateView that have created a kind of dashboard for Green and Sustainable Cities, called ClimateOS (link to Sweden indicators). Company pitch: ClimateView is a Swedish company that accelerates city transitions through a science-based framework, process and platform. According to the CEO of ClimateView, Tomer Shalit, “Cities account for more than 70% of global CO2 emissions. They are clearly critical to climate action, but they are also complex and highly interconnected systems – and they really […] Read More

On discriminatory algorithmic policing

The Intercept has a lengthy feature on the various ways in which data-driven algorithmic policing reinforces racism in police work, esp. among the LAPD who have a mixed track records already… The article is based on the rich empirical insights from a new book, “Predict and Surveil: Data, Discretion, and the Future of Policing” (reviewed here and here) by sociologist Sarah Brayne. Brayne was given unique access to everyday police routines and was able to observe up closely the intricacies of what their actual work with data and algorithms looks like in practice. Braynesays this is “a manifestation of the […] Read More

Dutch students with a migration background targeted by fraud algorithm

Dutch National news outlet NOS reports that students who have a (non-western) migration background assist to be disproportionately targeted by a fraud detection algorithm. This algorithm is developed and deployed by Dienst Uitvoering Onderwijs (DUO) a national agency responsible for financing students. This is stated by 30 lawyers who represent accused students. Out of the 376 students they serve, 367 are students with a migration background. Apparently, the algorithm was developed, tested and deployed with built-in biases. Students for instance who are living at an aunt’s or brother’s place are seen as higher risk. Culturally, these tend to be students […] Read More

CfP: “Urban Civic AI: (Re)Imagining Public Values in Artificial Intelligence”

With colleagues Luke Hespanhol (University of Sydney) & Nanna Verhoeff (UU) I am co-editing a special issue on what we call “Urban Civic AI” >> Artificial intelligence (AI) has been increasingly embedded in urban infrastructure and services. From predictive policing to public health control, from autonomous vehicles to social profiling and credit systems, the spread of machine learning (ML) and algorithmic decision-making (ADM) is set to profoundly transform urban life, administration, and the relationships between government, industry and civil society. It also points to the emergence of a future where governance and planning of cities are potentially conducted by intelligent […] Read More

credit: Andrej Antonic, Bernice Ong, Wenqing Xia

Upcoming event: “Critical city-making: exploring design approaches for imagining smart urban futures” 4-5 July 2023, UU (Utrecht) & AUAS (Amsterdam)

Together with colleagues at Utrecht University and the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, I am organizing this event: Symposium & Workshop “Critical city-making: exploring design approaches for imagining smart urban futures” 4-5 July 2023, UU (Utrecht) & AUAS (Amsterdam) Organizers:  Michiel de Lange, Nanna Verhoeff, Sigrid Merx: [urban interfaces] research group, SIG “Inclusion in the Datafied City” focus area Governing the Digital Society, Open Cities Platform @UU Martijn de Waal: Civic Interaction Design lectorate @AUAS; This event is co-organized with the Centre of Expertise Creative Innovation and its SPRONG Network ‘Learning in Transitions’. About the event In recent years there has […] Read More

Wired: “The Out-of-Control Spread of Crowd-Control Tech”

Wired last month had an article that critically examines the use of what is euphemistically labeled ‘crowd control tech’ but in fact is an ongoing militarization of the urban realm all over globe fueled by the US weapons industry. The author speaks from personal experience about the harm that these supposedly benign arms can do: they were shot in the face while covering a protest outside the White House in 2020. “The theory behind all less-lethal crowd-control devices, from the simple billy club to the infrared laser dazzler, is that they allow security forces to suppress a riot without committing […] Read More

Public camera surveillance is biased (confirmed by empirical study)

The Conversation reports on a recent study about CCTV and bias in crime investigations, under the header “The camera never lies? Our research found CCTV isn’t always dependable when it comes to murder investigations” The authors of that study write: “…the evidence we gathered during our study of British murder investigations and trials reveals how, like other forms of evidence such as DNA and fingerprints, CCTV footage requires careful interpretation and evaluation and can be misleading.” “Instead of providing an absolute “truth”, different meanings can be obtained from the same footage. But understanding the challenges and risks associated with CCTV […] Read More

Dutch national urban sensor registry has to build public trust

According to a recent press release by the national government, a sensor registry is being worked on. Too bad they the actual register itself cannot be currently accessed. In any case, the stated purpose of this first attempt at a national registry for sensors used in urban public spaces is to enhance public transparency, and avoid doubles and promote reuse. This second wij to me sounds a bit tricky, as it may lead to ‘mission creep’ with additional usage scenarios being stacked onto a single initial purpose. Amsterdam municipality already has such a registry, albeit incomplete.

Publication: “Materials and modes of translation: Re-imagining inclusive “zero”-waste futures”

While I’m at it, this publication came out in 2022. It is co-authored with several colleagues, but to be honest, Tamalone & Corelia did by far most of the writing work, while Maartje de Goede has been key in setting up the participatory design process. It is available Open Access here >> van den Eijnden, Tamalone, Corelia Baibarac-Duignan, Michiel de Lange, and Maartje de Goede. 2022. “Materials and modes of translation: Re-imagining inclusive “zero”-waste futures.”  Frontiers in Sustainable Cities 4. doi: 10.3389/frsc.2022.958423.