Smart Cities and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Photo by Drew Graham on Unsplash

With the introduction of Big Data, supercomputing and artificial intelligence, not only have technology and industry-related fields changed in a major way but indeed many other aspects of how we approach the world as a society. One of these aspects is the conceptualization and creation of cities and urban spaces.

What is a smart city?

The automation and enhancement of urban services and spaces happen when groundbreaking technologies and instantaneous data collection are incorporated in the processes of (re)creation and (re)envision of cities. In this process, the city gets infused with the so-called “intelligent design.” Smart cities are a consequence of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

For a discussion about smart cities, you can watch the following Ted Talk by Professor Saskia Sassen, who is a Robert S. Lynd Professor at Columbia.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (check out the book by Professor Klaus Schwab in the links below), also called the Digital Revolution, is a seismic change in all human endeavor. This change is mainly originated in relation to data; how data gets collected, processed, analyzed, and used is bringing an exponential shift in industry, science, art, and it is all converging in urbanization in a mass scale; within thirty years, 68% of the world population is expected to live in urban areas (you can read the UN report here).

Photo by Robin Sommer on Unsplash

According to, there are three main components of smart cities: “… sensors, networks, and mobile-based engagement. This trio, enabled by the Internet of Things (IoT), forms the backbone of any smart city concept and gives rise to the myriad of initiatives that can boost efficiency and improve lives”. According to the blog, “The technology disrupting urban living today undoubtedly has the potential to improve quality of life”. The blog makes reference to Barcelona and Montreal as two cities that are incorporating Data Science to solve urban challenges.

Similarly, mentions how “Rapid urbanization is leading to smarter cities that improve the lives of citizens through technology.” To read both blogs you can follow the links below:

Smart cities: good decision-making vital for turning technology into real solutions

Smart cities: A cheat sheet

A Word on Big Data for the Interdisciplinary field of Urban Cultural Studies

More and more geographers, anthropologists, linguists, historians, sociologists, political scientists, and other fields of human and behavioral sciences make use of massive amounts of data to gain new insights into their own field. This has been in part motivated by the large amount of computational power available to researchers, but mainly it has been the data itself that has allowed for this revolution. The four ‘Vs’, or the characteristics of the data in the field of Big Data: volume, variety, velocity, and veracity, are the guiding principles for data collection that are already impacting our very lives.

This is only possible because the field of Big Data has pushed the boundaries of privacy, confidentiality, and ownership of information. With these new ways of collecting data, a caveat must be mentioned: large amounts of data may be de-humanizing in several ways, and the researcher must always keep in mind that behind the sets of numbers and information there are always human beings on the line. Hence, I believe that there are also new opportunities of re-defining research in this new era and humanizing it in a way that it is respectful of the lives of the people behind it and that is useful for the common good.

How will smart cities and the fourth industrial revolution carry on our cultural legacies and mold and shape our very own identities? The answer to these questions will soon be knocking at our door.


If you are interested in smart cities, consider looking at the following resources:

CFP–new Journal of Urban Cultural Studies launched

Visit the new Journal of Urban Cultural Studies site here.

Call for Papers

The Journal of Urban Cultural Studies is a new peer-reviewed publication cutting across both the humanities and the social sciences in order to better understand the culture(s) of cities. The journal is open to studies that deal with culture, urban spaces and forms of urbanized consciousness the world over.

Although we embrace a broad definition of urban cultural studies, we are particularly interested in submissions that give equal weight to: a) one or more aspects of urban studies (everyday life, built environment, architecture, city planning, identity formation, transportation…) and b) analysis of one or more specific forms of cultural/textual production (literature, film, graphic novels, music, art, graffiti, videogames, online or virtual space…) in relation to a given urban space or spaces.

Essays of 7,000-10,000 words (including works cited and notes) should be sent by attachment to the Editor at JUCS is also open to proposals of special issues by guest editors working individually or in teams of two. All citations in other languages should be translated into English for the journal’s international reading public, in addition to including the original text.

While the journal does not publish book reviews, we do publish review essays—which should discuss 3-5 recent books on a shared topic or theme (or place) and run from 2,500 to 4,000 words. Review essays of urban-themed installations or other works of art are also welcome. These essays will be reviewed in house. Given our visual focus, we are interested in original, unpublished artwork on the topic of cities and in publishing articles accompanied by images where appropriate.

We encourage a variety of approaches to the urban phenomenon—the strengths of the editorial board run from urban geography to literature and film, photography and videogames, gender and sexuality, creative economy, popular music, Marxist approaches, fashion, urban planning, anthropology, sociology, Deaf culture, built environment, philosophy, architecture, detective fiction and noir, and more…

[Museum Exhibit, Paris] The Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine takes on Urban Mobility

Fellow Readers/Bloggers:

If you are heading to Paris before the end of August you might want to check out the current temporary exhibit at the Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine. This museum used to be known as the Musée des monuments francais [c cédille] and is situated in the Palais de Chaillot, which sits across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower.
The exhibit is called “Circuler. Quand nos mouvements faconnent [c cédille] nos villes,” or “Flow. When Movement Shapes Our Towns,” (their translation). By way of introduction, the museum’s website offers the following short text, of interest as it shows the ambitious nature of the ideas the exhibit tries to get across to visitors:

[begin quote]

Our lives are made up of moments of activity and inertia, comings and goings, arrivals and departures. Space within towns and between towns is organized to support this constant movement. From the earliest days almost, towns were structured to allow for both the gathering of men, and their accumulated wealth, and, at the same time, to facilitate movement and encourage meetings and interaction.

The exhibition offers the visitor the opportunity to follow the development of urban design through the ages and explore the urban spaces and buildings which are a consequence of man’s movement across the land. The exhibition incorporates both real-world movement, dating back thousands of years, together with today’s virtual movement. Streets and squares, roads, motorways or railways, ports, caravanserail, stations and terminals, compact cities and sprawling towns – these are just some of the places and concepts, born out of our desire for movement, which punctuate the history of our land. The exhibition takes the visitor on a playful and sensory journey, presented as a theatre set. Reconstructed roads, computer generated images, films, soundtracks composed by Louis Dandrel and Bernard Lubat, transport the visitor through time and space, leading him to reflect on his environment and future. While the 20th century was characterised by a sort of “transport war” strongly influenced by the myth that progress equalled speed, the start of this century represents a time to question our travel and movement patterns. The exhibition makes numerous novel suggestions about how man can organize his life of motion. In this exhibition, Jean-Marie Duthilleul illustrates how town development should achieve a subtle balance – a balance that needs to be constantly adjusted – between movement and stillness, between places you stay in and places you pass through. When you design a town, you are designing a system to accommodate groups of people and allow for interaction. Thus the town is the result of a constant dialectic between mobility and immobility.

[end quote]

As has become common for temporary exhibitions, a celebrity of sorts has been designated as ‘commissaire’ of the exhibit: not really curators, they lend their prestige, fame, or institutional gravitas to the exhibit, in addition to any design input or writing they may contribute. For this one, architect Jean-Marie Duthilleul, who has an interesting professional connection to the subject: he has had a hand in designing dozens of train stations, both new and remodels. (A partial list of his projects can be found on the French-language Wikipedia, here.) For this reason, one of the stronger points of the exhibit is in fact the material on French train stations near the beginning of the tour. Another strong point worth highlighting here has nothing to do with train stations: near the end of the tour, the curators have prepared some very interesting ways to map how often, where, and when Parisians use their cell phones using data from Orange’s cell network (a corporate sponsor of the exhibit, btw). Visitors can observe mappings of cell-phone use in the city on certain important dates like New Year’s Eve, during the Fête de la Musique, etc. Adjusting some parameters the same data can be used to trace the routes and distances inhabitants take through the city–which, if one had more control over the datasets, would allow for potentially very rich ways of visualizing how urban spaces are used by various subsets of users. (Including mappings that would be akin to the bubble-map of Budapest bicycle use posted below).

Does the exhibit work, in the sense that it might successfully convey important observations and assertions from mobility and urban studies to a mass audience? Meh, in my view it’s a mixed bag. It’s certainly an interesting exhibit for visitors who go in with a particular affinity for the topics and in seeing how they handled, but it may not generate much excitement or enthusiasm in those who don’t. At times it’s too abstract and misses opportunities to engage the visitor, and at others it’s too focused on gadgetry and downright naively utopian. Still, I think it’ll be of interest to readers of this blog–check it out and post your thoughts here!

Digital Humanities and Cities: Hypercities project

There are some really interesting collisions happening in the growing interdisciplinary area of the Digital Humanities.

This one concerns urban cultural studies in particular.

Check out the developing Hypercities project:

Built on the idea that every past is a place, HyperCities is a digital research and educational platform for exploring, learning about, and interacting with the layered histories of city and global spaces.  Developed though collaboration between UCLA and USC, the fundamental idea behind HyperCities is that all stories take place somewhere and sometime; they become meaningful when they interact and intersect with other stories.  Using Google Maps and Google Earth, HyperCities essentially allows users to go back in time to create and explore the historical layers of city spaces in an interactive, hypermedia environment.

There’s also a “Digital Cultural Mapping” NEH Summer Institute at UCLA during Summer 2012.