Tuesday 12 September 2023

Philosophy of the City 2023: 10 years of PotC (Brooklyn)

The programme of our meeting in Brooklyn has been published - and as always, the list of speakers and topics is amazing! We will not only celebrate the 10th anniversary of our research group but also the official launch of our spectacular Philosophy of the City Journal.

If you want to join us, you can still register. More information can be found on the PotC Research Group's website.

I will also be honourd to deliver my Co-director's Address. Here's the abstract:

Urban Technologies - revisited

I introduced the concept of "urban technologies" in a paper in 2018. The guiding idea was to demarcate the intersection between Philosophy of the City and Philosophy of Technology. In my Co-Director's address, I will revisit the concept by providing a brief overview of the past and current discussions on the interplay between technologies and cities before discussing two aspects of my proposed concept.

The first aspect concerns my understanding of "urban technologies" as a hermeneutical lens rather than an ontological category. That is to say that I would like to avoid defining criteria for something to be an "urban technology." For example, exploring "cars" as urban technologies seems reasonable since they obviously influenced what cities look like today. Yet, obviously, "cars" are not only used in cities. Along these lines, I would like to use an example from my current work on cities and informal settlements in the Global South to ask: Are satellites urban technologies?

The second aspect, which I would like to highlight and discuss, is my proposal to consider something as an urban technology because the technology has been shaped by cities. While I find it plausible and, maybe, even necessary to consider the mutual shaping of cities and (urban) technologies, the mechanisms of how cities shape technologies are far less obvious. Thus, I would like to explore how we can better grasp the multiple ways in which cities play a role in our understanding of technologies.

Wednesday 2 August 2023

Final BRIDE event on August 23, 2023, in Delft

 All good things must come to an end. On August 23, 2023, we will celebrate the closing of the BRIDE project with a smaller academic event at the TU Delft. Please join us and register at


I look forward to looking back at four intense years of work on smart urban infrastructure.

Tuesday 10 January 2023

Welcome to 2023!

It has been a while since my last post. Needless to say, a thousand things have happened. Let's start with a quick summary of what you may have missed...

The Philosophy of the City conference in Turin (Italy) was awesome! I enjoyed reconnecting with some of my fellow philosophers of the city & meeting some new faces.

One of the conference's highlights was the official announcement of the Philosophy of the City Journal. Yes, we do have our own journal now. I guess that makes us an official subdiscipline. If you want to be part of the Inaugural Issue, please consider submitting your work before 31st March 2023. (This, of course, especially applies to all the good people presenting at the Turin meeting.)

There is another publication venue for people working on cities, technologies, and design: I have been an associate editor of the new Journal of Human-Technology Relations and will take care of papers on urban design and urban technologies.

The Philosophy of the City Research Group also decided to get back on the regular schedule and to hold one annual conference and one summer colloquium per year again. We will start with the celebration of 10 years of PotC RG in October 2023 in Brooklyn. So, we will be back to the place where everything started. Expect a Call for papers coming out soon. In 2024, we will start with our summer colloquia again.

I am also very happy that Remmon Barbaza joined the board of directors to take over from Ronald Sundstrom, who stepped down after many years of great dedication and commitment to the community.

As you may have noticed, the group also has a new website, which still is very much in the making. Sadly, we lost access to our old site. Thus, we had to move and create something new.

Personally, I am also struggling with our group's future use of social media. We still have a presence on Facebook, which may explain why we have yet to join the Twitter exodus. And, yes, there is a LinkedIn group. But being a Philosopher of Technology, none of these platforms feels right. Any suggestions are welcome! - In any case, the current struggles are part of why I came back to update the blog. You will also find me at @mnagenborg@h-net.social.

While Shane Epting has been a busy bee with writing and promoting books (no. 4 is out in March, and he does a promo tour like a rock star now), I at least started to think about my next bigger project with the working title "Mapping and measuring cities." You can learn about my current research through the recording of a public lecture I did in Hamburg last year.

While the main focus in 2023 will be on education, I also have some news and plans related to research. Sadly, the BRIDE project will come to an end soon. Yet, the good news is that the amazing Sage Cammers-Goodwin is about to finish her PhD thesis! Stay tuned.

Wednesday 30 March 2022

Philosophy of the City update - April 2022

It has been a while... and some great videos came out. For example, here's a great clip about the MX3D bridge in Amsterdam:

The really, really important news is, of course, that there will be a Philosophy of the City conference: 20.–22.10.2022 Turin, Italy. You can find the CfP here and submit your abstract here. (We are still struggling with the Philosophy of the City website. Sorry!)

To be on the safe side: Let me repeat... Philosophy of the City. October 20-22, 2022. Turin, Italy.

Of course, there are also new things to read, like the wonderful special issue "Philosophy of the City" of the East Asian Journal of Philosophy (edited by Sanna Lehtinen and Tea Lobo).

Tea Lobo also was so kind to invite Sage Cammers-Goodwin and me for an interview for her vlog:

Shane Epting most likely also has a new book out. He did two last year. Hence, the writes books quicker than I do blogs ;) - Check out his publications on his super-cool new website with great pix.

Last, but not least, we will host a Datathon on May 13, 2022. The event is part of a small grant, which we received for a BRIDE legacy project from DesignLab. At the event, we would like to learn how people make sense of smart city-data. So, if you want to play with the data from our bridge and help Sage Cammers-Goodwin with the final part of her PhD project, feel free to register online.

That's all folks! I am sure that I overlooked something. Sorry!


Wednesday 24 November 2021

Philosophy of the City update

One of the typical pitfalls of blogging is that one starts to fall behind and never comes back to writing, because there is so much catching up, which needs to be done. At least, this is what happens to me. And I want to break the curse today. So, here's a brief update on current publications and a bit about the Philosophy of the City Research Group.

Let's start with the Philosophy of the City Research Group: As you may already have notice our website is down. As things currently stand, we will not be able to reclaim our domain before Spring 2022. Hence, we have a new domain: www.philosophy-of-the-city.org

For now, the URL will take you to the "About us" section of our last conference website. Expect a new website to pop up soon-ish, which is likely to include information about our first "back to meatspace" conference in fall 2022, which will take place in Europe.

There are also some publications from our ongoing research projects, which I would like to mention: Sage Cammers-Goodwin and Naomi van Stralen published Making Data Visible in Public Space, which contributes to the BRIDE project. And from FRAME-PRO, we have to report a joint publication on Earth observations and statistics: Unlocking sociodemographic knowledge through the power of satellite images for which Isaac Oluoch contributed a wonderful ethics section.

With BRIDE we are also preparing a panel for the next edition of the Computer, Privacy, and Data Protection-Conference (CPDP) in Brussels (Jan 27, 2022), where we will discuss who can and should take responsibility for IoT in public spaces. You can find out more about the panel on the CPDP website.

We also received an additional grant from DesignLab to work on a legacy project for BRIDE. Expect a hands-on hackathon on smart urban infrastructure to happen in Spring 2022.

Finally, and a bit off topic, we are hiring a postdoc for the Disastrous Information-project. In the project, we are exploring how the use of AI and Maschine Learning shapes humanitarian aid practices. The postdoc position will help us to get a better grip on the existing and desirable legal and institutional design for making responsible use of geo-AI in Malawi and its neighboring countries. If you are interested or you know someone who might be interested: Here's the job ad.

Wednesday 5 May 2021

May 17, 2021: Join us to celebrate 24 hrs of Philosophy of the City

It's been a while since the last update of this blog. However, I don't want to miss the opportunity to invite all readers to join the Philosophy of the City Research Group on May 17, 2021, to celebrate 24 hours of Philosophy of the City. Please visit the conference website for more information and registration.

A bit of additional background information: As you may recall, the Philosophy of the City Research group decided to cancel all conferences and summer schools for 2020 and 2021, since we believe in the added value of international meetings. We didn't wanted to miss out on the diversity of perspective that you commonly will find at a PotC event.

However, in Fall 2021, the board of directors decided to hold a global virtual event. Not so much to replace a "real" conference, but to work on something together with our colleagues from across the globe. Thus, the idea of 24 hours of Philosophy of the City was born. And we are delighted that we received a sufficient number of good submissions from various timezone to embrace the adventure.

In all seriousness, I do not expect anyone to join us for 24 hours. But if you join us for a while, it might be great to know that you just became part of a worldwide initiative.

Friday 30 October 2020

Technology and the City panels @ PHTR conference

To celebrate the publication of our edited volume Technology and the City: Towards a Philosophy of Urban Technology, we will host two sessions at the Philosophy of Human-Technology Relations Conference (4-7 November 2020).

In the first panel (Nov 5, 12:15), EL Putnam, Kevin Mintz, Taylor Stone, and Ryan Mitchell Wittingslow will present and reflect upon their contribution to our book. You will find the abstracts below. The session will be chaired by Pieter Vermass, the current president of the Society for Philosophy of Technology and one of the co-editors of our book.

The second session (Nov 5, 14:15) will be a workshop organized by Sanna Lehtinen, Taylor Stone and myself which aims to identify future urban technologies which will shape and will be shaped by life in the city. Ideally, the exercise will lead us to the first outline of a future research agenda for the philosophical exploration of urban technologies. Of course, the presenters from the first panel will join us.

Needless to say, there are more sessions and presentations at the Philosophy of Human-Technology Relations Conference (4-7 November 2020), which are of relevance for our domain: For example, on Saturday, Nov 7, 12:30, a panel on "City & Architecture" will feature talks by Tea Lobo, who also contributed to the book project, and a presentation by our colleagues from the Designing for Controversies project. The session will also feature a talk by form PSTS-student Hidde Kamst, who wrote a wonderful thesis on citizen-participation in smart cities initiatives. I am also looking forward to the workshop on "Designing Frictions for Active Technological Environments" co-organized by our co-editor Margoth González Woge and yet another PSTS alumni, Samantha Valenzuela.

I hope to meet some of you at the event! We will continue our series of launch events for the book in December 2020. And here are the abstract for the City and Technology session:

EL Putnam: Locative Reverb - Artistic Practice, Sound Technology, and the Grammatization of the Listener in the City

There are various ways that artists use technology in exploring the relation of sound to the urban environment, which has different impacts on the listener in relation to place. The rising prominence of these works is connected to a broader sonic turn in urban studies and art, underscoring a rising emphasis on the influence of sound on multisensory experience. Using Bernard Stiegler’s consideration of technology as pharmakon (or the condition of duality in which something is both poison and cure, bringing both benefit and harm), and his definition of technological grammatization, how artistic use of technology mediates the relationship of the urban environment to the listener through sound is studied through a pharmacological approach in order to nuance the possibilities of artistic critical engagement, emphasising how this can include unintended consequences of re-enforcing certain listener behaviours. At the same time, considerations of how artistic repurposing of listening technology can provide new modes of urban engagement are taken into account, where sound offers the impetus for what Brandon LaBelle (2017) refers to as sonic agency.

Kevin Mintz: Universally Designed Urban Environments - “A Mindless Abuse of the Ideal of Equality” or a Matter of Social Justice?

In “Justice and Nature,” Thomas Nagel rejects the claim that social equality requires the universal design of urban environments to accommodate people with disabilities. Universal design is a movement in architecture and other arenas to minimize the need to provide individual accommodations for people with disabilities by designing environments that are accessible to a wide range of individuals. I advance that Nagel inappropriately categorizes universal design as a matter of humanitarianism or charity. He miscategorizes universal design in this way because he wrongly assumes that the inaccessibility of public facilities results from an impairment itself rather than the inaccessible design of urban environments. I argue that for people with disabilities to receive equal access to a city, universal design must be a central consideration in urban policy and construction. I also suggest that assistive technologies are necessary to the realization of universal design. These technologies are critical to facilitating responsible design, and relational autonomy for people with disabilities. In situations where universal design is impractical, cities should aim to retrofit facilities for disability access as a matter of justice whenever feasible. My presentation will further address how my argument has implications for urban design in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Efforts to promote social distancing also provide opportunities to improve the accessibility of public facilities and urban modes of transportation for people with disabilities, particularly theme parks, restaurants, and airplanes.

Taylor Stone - Dark Acupuncture and the Possibilities of Responsible Urban Innovation

Building on the contributions of Technology and the City, this presentation will explore if – and how – the philosophy of human-technology relations can contribute to urban planning and design, and vice versa. This will be discussed mainly via my contribution to the volume, which outlines strategies for incorporating environmental values into nighttime lighting. One strategy refines the planning theory urban acupuncture to foster positive experiences of darkness, offering new possibilities for urban lighting. Beyond serving as a provocative moral and aesthetic argument, this creates opportunities to work with designers on the realization of responsible lighting strategies. To exemplify this possibility, two collaborative projects will be presented that translate the concept of dark acupuncture into site-specific design proposals. The first is a lighting master plan for a park in the Netherlands. The plan focuses on wayfinding and the re-design of light-dark transition zones (specifically adjacent highway underpasses), to create a dark habitat within a densely urbanized region. The second is a design concept for a pedestrian bridge in Jakarta, Indonesia. To draw attention to the impacts of light pollution, the bridge lighting has been re-designed to resemble an unpolluted night sky – meant to convey an environmental message via an immersive experience. To conclude, generalizable insights will be sketched regarding the interaction between the philosophy of human-technology relations and urban design. In particular, a future direction for the philosophy of urban technologies will be proposed: taking ideas off pages and into the streets.

Ryan Mitchell Wittingslow - Authenticity and the “Authentic City”

Thanks to the transformative power of information and communication technologies, smart cities purport to offer managers and bureaucrats a more harmonious and efficient means of reducing traffic, managing assets, and increasing public safety. However, I am dubious of these utopian sentiments. Indeed, I argue that the benefits that smart cities purport to provide cohere poorly with a number of our shared phenomenological intuitions about the relationships(s) between authentic experience and technologised society. While many of these intuitions are, strictly speaking, pseudo-problems, they deserve our attention. The belief that technologised urban spaces somehow corrode our potential for authentic experience is one that carries enormous power, as Charles Taylor argues, authenticity is nothing less than the contemporary moral ideal. Consequently, it indelibly colours the relationships that we forge with our artefacts. These issues will only grow more pressing as our ‘dumb cities’, already so opaque to experience, give way to hyper-technologised ‘smart cities’. However, it is possible to design our way out of these pseudo-problems. Assuming we accept my argument that the distinction between authenticity and the device paradigm is premised upon a certain kind of category error, there is no categorical or definitional reason why it is not possible for urbanised, technologised spaces to feel authentic, whether by virtue of their aesthetic properties, or because they facilitate ‘authentic’ behaviour. Indeed, I argue that ‘inauthenticity’ is an aesthetic rather than an ontological category (much like ‘ugliness’, or ‘boring-ness’), with feelings of inauthenticity serving as evidence of a basic failure of design.