Digital Cities 6: Concepts, Methods and Systems of Urban Informatics

Last Call for Papers
Submission deadline extended to 30 April 2009

Digital Cities 6: Concepts, Methods and Systems of Urban Informatics
Workshop at the 4th International Conference on Communities and Technologies
Penn State, USA, 24th June 2009

April 30th, 2009 Workshop position papers due
May 18th, 2009 Author notifications sent
June 24th, 2009 Workshop

Keynote speaker

We are happy to announce that Professor Carlo Ratti, Director of the SENSEable City Lab at MIT (, will deliver the keynote presentation at Digital Cities 6.

The real-time city is now real! The increasing deployment of sensors and hand-held electronics in recent years is allowing a new approach to the study of the built environment. The way we describe and understand cities is being radically transformed – alongside the tools we use to design them and impact on their physical structure. Studying these changes from a critical point of view and anticipating them is the goal of the SENSEable City Laboratory, a new research initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

1 Theme

Transport grids, building complexes, information and communication technology, social networks and people form the bones, organs, muscles, nerves and cell tissue of a city. Studying the organisation and structure of these systems may seem straightforward at first, since there are visible artifacts and tangible objects that we can observe and examine. We can count the number of cars on the road, the number of apartments in a building, the number of emails on our computer screens and the number of profiles on social networking sites. We could also qualify these observations by recording the make and model of cars, the size and price of apartments, the sender and recipient of emails and the content and popularity of online profiles. This approach would potentially produce a large amount of data and render a detailed map of various levels of a city’s infrastructure, but a large quantity of detail does not necessarily result in a great quality (and clarity) of meaning. How do we analyse this data to better understand the ‘city’ as an organism? How do the cells of the city cluster to form tissue and organs, and how do various systems communicate and interact with each other? And, recognising that we ourselves are cells living in cities as active agents, how do we evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of the processes we observe in order to plan, design and develop more livable cities?

A macroscopic perspective of urban anatomy does not easily reveal those meticulous details which are necessary to help us understand and appreciate what Anthony Townsend calls the urban metabolism (Townsend, 2000), that is, the nutrients, capacities, processes and pace which nurture the city to keep it alive. Some of the fascination with human anatomy stems from the fact that a living body is more than the sum of its parts. Similarly, the city is more than the sum of its physical elements. Trying to get to the bottom of a city’s existence, urban anatomists have to become dissectors of urban infrastructure by trying to microscopically uncover the connections and interrelationships of city elements. Yet, this is anything but trivial for at least three reasons. First, time is a crucial factor. Many events that trigger urban processes involving multiple systems result in a timely interrelated response. A dissection by isolating one system from another, would cut the communication link between them and jeopardise the study of the wider process. The city comprises many of these real-time systems and requires approaches and tools to conduct real-time examinations. Second, the physical city is increasingly complemented with a virtual layer that digitally augments and enhances urban infrastructures by means of information and communication technology including mobile and wireless networks. This world, which Mitchell (1995) called the ‘city of bits,’ is invisible to the human eye, and we require instruments for live surgery to render the invisible visible. Third and most importantly, the ‘cells’ of the urban body, the lifeblood of cities, are the city dwellers who have a life of their own and who introduce human fuzziness and socio-cultural variables to the study of the city. The toolbox of what could be termed anthropological urban anatomy thus calls for research approaches that can differentiate (and break apart) a universally applicable model of ‘The City’ by being sensitive to individual circumstances, local characteristics and socio-cultural contexts.
Exploring these three challenges, this workshop looks at concepts, research methods and instruments that become the microscope of urban anatomy. We want to discuss urban informatics systems that provide real-time tools for examining the real-time city, to picture the invisible and to zoom into a fine-grained resolution of urban environments that reveal the depth and contextual nuances of urban metabolism processes at work.

2 Topics

Relevant workshop topics include but are not limited to the following:

• Civic and community engagement strategies to support urban planning
• Public sphere, participation and online deliberation systems
• Urban e-government, e-governance, e-participation, e-democracy approaches
• u-City: Ubiquitous computing, pervasive technology, wireless internet and mobile applications
• Locative media, navigation and space
• Urban informatics design and development methods and epistemologies
• Multi-format user-generated content (narratives, photos, videos, multimedia)
• Neogeography and 3D virtual environments for urban design and planning
• Simulations to reproduce and analyse complex social phenomena and city systems
• Social networking, collective intelligence and crowd sourcing in the urban context
• Environmental, economic and social sustainability
• Citizen science
• Access, trust, privacy, safety and surveillance
• Implications for residential architecture and the design of cities and public spaces
• Ethical considerations scrutinizing the assumptions behind urban informatics

3 Organisation and Submission Details

This is a full day workshop. We will start off with a keynote address by an eminent speaker. Rather than formal conference-style paper presentations, we will follow the successful peer interview format and ask each participant to interview another contributing author. Pairs will be assigned in advance to prepare questions and engage with the paper. After lunch, there will be a range of group activities and a closing plenary discussion at the end. The workshop can accommodate a maximum number of between 25 to 30 participants including presenters in order to provide an environment that is conducive to debate and interaction.
We are interested in three types of contributions:

Concepts: Essay style papers discussing theoretical and conceptual ideas and innovation within a cross-disciplinary framework.

Methods: Papers reporting on novel approaches in the area of urban informatics, e.g. network action research, shared visual ethnography, urban probes, cross-disciplinary methods, etc.

Systems: Reports of systems and case studies that ground findings in practice and experience.

Prospective participants are asked to submit a position paper (2-4 pages total, in English, ACM SIGCHI 2-column format, same as for the C&T full papers) related to one of the workshop topics. Each submission should also include a short biography stating the author’s background and motivation for attending the workshop. Workshop position papers are due on April 30th, 2009 and will be reviewed and selected by the organisers with the support from an international program committee. Accepted authors will be notified by May 18th, 2009 – to leave enough time to qualify for the early bird conference registration. The acceptance of a workshop position paper implies that at least one of the authors will register for both the workshop and the Communities & Technologies 2009 conference. The workshop takes place on June 24th, 2009. After the workshop, selected contributors are invited to submit a full paper by October 1st, 2009. Full papers will undergo double blind peer review before being published. Arrangements for an edited book or a special issue of a relevant international journal are currently underway.


4 Bibliography

Each Digital Cities workshop has produced an edited volume containing selected workshop papers and other invited contributions as follows:

Digital Cities 5 — Foth, M. (Ed.) (2009). Handbook of Research on Urban Informatics: The Practice and Promise of the Real-Time City. Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference, IGI Global.

Digital Cities 4 — Aurigi, A., & De Cindio, F. (Eds.). (2008). Augmented Urban Spaces: Articulating the Physical and Electronic City. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.

Digital Cities 3 — van den Besselaar, P., & Koizumi, S. (Eds.). (2005). Digital Cities 3: Information Technologies for Social Capital (Lecture Notes in Computer Science No. 3081). Heidelberg, Germany: Springer.

Digital Cities 2 — Tanabe, M., van den Besselaar, P., & Ishida, T. (Eds.). (2002). Digital Cities 2: Computational and Sociological Approaches (Lecture Notes in Computer Science No. 2362). Heidelberg, Germany: Springer.

Digital Cities 1 — Ishida, T., & Isbister, K. (Eds.). (2000). Digital Cities: Technologies, Experiences, and Future Perspectives (Lecture Notes in Computer Science No. 1765). Heidelberg, Germany: Springer.

5 Organisers

Marcus Foth
Senior Research Fellow, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia

Laura Forlano
Kauffman Fellow in Law, Yale Law School, New Haven, USA

Hiromitsu Hattori
Assistant Professor, Department of Social Informatics, Kyoto University, Japan

Vancouver becomes the third city of Autodesk’s Digital Cities Initiative

The more regular readers of this blog might remember the article on the last URISA symposium. It seems that the conference has been the origin of a closer collaboration between the City of Vancouver and Autodesk, who now announced Vancouver to be the third city of the Autodesk Digital Cities Initiative (click here for the official press release).

The first two partners of the initiative have been Salzburg, Austria and Incheon, Korea. With Vancouver, Autodesk has chosen the first pilot city in Northern America and it seems to be a win-win situation to me:

As you can see in the first image, which dates back to 1980, Vancouver has always been at the forefront of using 3d city models in planning and its planners are “early adopters”, open to innovative digital technology. Today, a lot of 2d and 3d data is available and stored in an Oracle spatial database. The only tool missing was an open platform to bring the different standards from CAD to BIM and GIS together and here, Autodesk’s new CityGML-based products fit very well.

For Autodesk, Vancouver is an interesting use case because the city has a high growth rate (2000-2005: 5.6 %) and a lot of development has taken place over the last years. Despite the current economic crisis, Vancouver is undergoing another boost and will gain additional international attention because of the Winter Olympics 2010.

The high growth rate and the demands of the Olympic Game impose a lot of urgent issues to the planning department. According to city planner Dan Campbell’s presentation at the URISA conference, the planning department is looking for new ways to complement the use of its 3d city model for visualization by additional analyses:

According to Dan Campbell, the partnership with Autodesk’s Digital Cities Initiative has the potential to facilitate public participation in planning and to enable sustainable design. An “intelligent” and also attractive 3d city model can make it easier for people to understand planning issues and can capture visual and emotional aspects better than traditional tools.

Images: Dan Campbell: City of Vancouver 3D, Presentation at the URISA symposium “The new dimension in gis – 3D analysis” January 22, 2009, Burnaby.

Doug Eberhard (Autodesk) promoting CityGML

Last week, I had the chance to see Doug Eberhard, Senior Director of Autocad and head of the Digital Cities Initiative, speaking at the conference “The new dimension in GIS – 3D Analysis“, hosted by the British Columbia section of URISA. His focus were 3D city models and he promoted their future not only for visualization but also for analysis. According to him, the process and people behind need to catch up with the technology, i.e., processes and methods are needed for a collaborative workflow. All these issues are explored in the Digital Cities case studies with Seoul and Salzburg being the first two.

Interestingly, Mr. Eberhard showed lots of examples from LandXplorer (though without mentioning the name of the product) and gave a lot of credits “to the Germans”. Furthermore, he highlighted that CityGML and its interface ADE allow to incorporate extensions for analyses and that has huge potential from his point of view.

LandXplorer screenshort of Berlin (source:

Apparently, Autocad is promoting LandXplorer and CityGML now, which I find very encouraging. You can download an abstract of Mr. Eberhard’s talk at and if you like to see another presentation by Doug Eberhard, he will be at AGIT (Salzburg) as well as Geoweb (Vancouver).

Should we include 3d city models in this blog?

I am wondering if we should include the topic of virtual 3d city models or – as they are called lately – digital cities in our blog. After some considerations I think that we should include this topic for two main reasons.

First of all the authors of this blog come from research in landscape and environmental planning and we tend to have an all-embracing understanding of landscape. This means that the word ‘landscape’ is an concept which includes topography, vegetation and wildlife, land-use, housing, climate, etc.. In this all-embracing concept cities are part of the landscapes around us.

Secondly we do not do landscape visualization just for the fun of visualizing a landscape, but because we think that landscape visualizations can support planning descisions and communication processes in planning processes. Thus we have an aim, a goal why we visualize and this goal is the driver for visualizing rural landscapes, as well as suburban landscapes or cityscapes. I think that we will benefit if we are looking at concepts from landscape and city visualization/modelling at the same time and relate the visualization concepts to the underlying planning tasks.

Another reason to include digital cities from my point of view is that I am currently working on a project which deals with virtual 3d city models and visualization of the cityscape. The project is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Germany and deals with the usability to support communication and information in urban land management by using virtual 3d city models as integration media for heterogeneous data. For more information hava a look at (only in German)