Algorithmic Transparency

“Algorithmic governance is made possible by vast increases in computing power and networking, which enable the collection, storage, and analysis of large amounts of data. Cities seek to harness that data to rationalise and automate the operation of public services and infrastructure, such as health services, public safety, criminal justice, education, transportation, and energy. The limitations of local government make private contractors central to this process, giving rise to accountability problems characteristic of policy outsourcing.” (2018, Brauneis, Goodman) Algorithmic governance will be increasingly important in the way decisions are made in cities. This has led to a debate on the transparency of the algorithms and the potential biases built into it. As discussed in the Right Way to Regulate Algorithms: “The purpose of data-driven algorithms like this one is to make policing more objective and less subject to individual bias. But many worry that the biases are simply baked into the algorithms themselves.” New York will be the first city that will scrutinise the potential biases in algorithms and that will develop policies on how to regulate access to underlying assumptions. According to the New Yorker: “Once signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio (dec 2017 red.), the legislation will establish a task force to examine the city’s “automated decision systems”—the computerised algorithms that guide the allocation of everything from police officers and firehouses to public housing and food stamps—with an eye toward making them fairer and more open to scrutiny.”

Sources:
Algorithmic Transparency for the Smart City, Robert Brauneis & Ellen P. Goodman
The Right Way to Regulate Algorithms, by Chris Bousquet, Stephen Goldsmith
The New Yorker: New York City’s Bold, Flawed Attempt to Make Algorithms Accountable
Picture: Kolitha de Silva CC BY 2.0

Smart Informal Territories lab

Client: City of São Paulo Year: 2009-2013
Project: Smart Informal Territories Lab Heliópolis (SITlab) works with the Prefeitura de Cidade de São Paulo, the local community and various ‘NGO’s’ on upgrading projects for the Favela Heliópolis where an estimated 190.000 people live without formally having an address. Inclusive planning instruments are essential for the upgrade of living standards and to solve underlying causes. The legalization of housing could help inhabitants to break out of a socio-economic spiral that is largely caused by having no legal address and by the extreme high costs of living in an ‘illegal city’. With SITlab Heliópolis the Universidade Presbiteriana MacKenzie São Paulo, Parsons the New School for Design and the Academy of Architecture in Amsterdam work on plans and co-creative planning tools for the Favela that could be applied in other similar conditions in Brazil.

Start-Up Incubators

According to Emily Badger from the AtlanticCities.com: Co-working spaces are often treated today as a novelty, as a thoroughly modern solution to the changing needs of a workforce now more loyal to their laptops than any long-term employers. But the idea is actually as old as the public library.

One of the world’s first and most famous libraries, in Alexandria, Egypt, was frequently home some 2,000 years ago to the self-starters and self-employed of that era. “When you look back in history, they had philosophers and mathematicians and all sorts of folks who would get together and solve the problems of their time,” says Tracy Lea, the venture manager with Arizona State University’s economic development and community engagement arm. “We kind of look at it as the first template for the university. They had lecture halls, gathering spaces. They had co-working spaces.”

This old idea of the public library as co-working space now offers a modern answer – one among many – for how these aging institutions could become more relevant two millennia after the original Alexandria library burned to the ground. Would-be entrepreneurs everywhere are looking for business know-how and physical space to incubate their start-ups. Libraries meanwhile may be associated today with an outmoded product in paper books. But they also happen to have just about everything a 21st century innovator could need: Internet access, work space, reference materials, professional guidance.

Why not, Lea suggests, put these two ideas together? Arizona State is planning in the next few months to roll out a network of co-working business incubators inside public libraries, starting with a pilot in the downtown Civic Center Library in Scottsdale. The university is calling the plan, ambitiously, the Alexandria Network.

Participating libraries will host dedicated co-working spaces for the program, as well as both formal classes and informal mentoring from the university’s start-up resources. The librarians themselves will be trained by the university to help deliver some of the material. The network will offer everything, in short, but seed money. “As we develop this pilot and start to scale it out,” Lea adds, “we would like to be able to direct people on how to find those resources.”

Libraries also provide a perfect venue to expand the concept of start-up accelerators beyond the renovated warehouses and stylish offices of “innovation districts.” They offer a more familiar entry-point for potential entrepreneurs less likely to walk into a traditional start-up incubator (or an ASU office, for that matter). Public libraries long ago democratized access to knowledge; now they could do the same in a start-up economy. “We refer to it as democratizing entrepreneurship,” Lea says, “so everyone really can be involved.” Source: theAtlanticCities.com Picture: New York Public Library Reading Room

Disaster control

Hurricane Sandy has made it ever more clear: disaster control or emergency managment should be a priority in urban development and urban managment. People keep moving to urban areas, which become vulnerable when it comes down to natural disasters. Not in the least because they are often situated along coastlines and in delta’s. Here the impact of heavy weather and flooding this could cause is a primary concern. Disaster control or emergency managment requires some basic but elaborative concepts which are described by the ‘Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHS)‘ of the U.S.A. These include among others: Emergency Sheltering Provision, Dam Safety Preparedness and a Hazard Analysis Program. Emergency Sheltering requirements foresee in the provision of safe havens for large populations. These shelters require good accessibility and large scale sanitary infrastructure for example. Dam Safety Preparedness regulates the condition of the Dams in New York State. According to the DHS ‘There are approximately 400 high-hazard (Class C) and nearly 800 moderate-hazard (Class B) dams that pose a threat to jurisdictions in the event of a dam failure. Approximately 70 of the high-hazard dams produce hydroelectric power’..The Hazard Analysis Program ‘Hazny’, ‘is an automated hazard analysis program. HAZNY asks questions concerning hazards that you face and, based upon your responses, rates and ranks each hazard. It includes guidance on organizing a team approach in conducting the hazard analysis’. Planning and controlling cities in order to secure safety is a Smart approach but not new at all. The lay-out of many historic towns worldwide has been based on the concept of security, though disaster control in those days was primarely related to military defense. Safety and emergency managment has been on top of the urban agenda sinds 9/11, Hurricane Sandy is stressing again the necessity for a Smart infrastructure to cope with natural disasters. That might prevent New York against flooding and another blackout.

Picture above: ADA Security Checklist for emergency Shelters. On top: New York Magazine cover, photograph by Iwan Baan.