Monday, 31 December 2018

Philosophy of the City Round-up

Philosophy of the City Research Group

LinkedIn group

The Philosophy of the City Research Group has expanded its communication channels. We are now also running a LinkedIn group. Feel free to join us! You can also find us on Twitter and Facebook. Feel invited to inform us about new publications and events through one of our channels or by email.


The Philosophy of the City Research Group will host two panels at the Eastern Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association (New York, January 7–10, 2019). You can find the details on page 13 and 17 of the conference programme.

The Call for papers for the Summer Colloquium 2019 on Urban Aesthetics is still on. The meeting will take place from June 17 till 19, 2019, at the University of Helsinki (Finland).

Finally, you should expect the CfPs for our Annual Conference in January 2019. The Annual Conference will take place in Detroit (Oct 2019).

Recent activities

Our paper on The Scope of Earth-Observation to Improve the Consistency of the SDG Slum Indicator came out. I plan to extend the section on the ethics and politics of 'slum detection' into a full paper and presented on these aspects at the annual conference of the NordSTEVA in Oslo.

Finally, I got involved in preparing a workshop on societal resilience, which will explicitly focus on so-called vulnerable groups, which too often are only understood as "weak links" in the resilience literature. In the workshop, we will explore how these groups contribute to urban resilience.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Symposium "Politics & technologies of the city" at OZSW conference 2018

OZSW conference 2018

The annual conference of the Dutch Research School for Philosophy (OZSW) will be held at the University of Twente on November 9 and 10, 2018. The conference will feature a symposium on "Politics & technologies of the city," which I have co-organised and will chair.

About the symposium

While the 21stcentury has been named the century of the city until very recently the city has remained an under-researched subject within Philosophy. More preciously, since the rise of the modern nation-state, political philosophy became more interested in states and the interplay between states. Within Philosophy of Technology, too, the city hasn’t become a dedicated subject of its own rights. Only recently, philosophers started to pay close attention to (a) the shifting role of cities as political actors and (b) the vision of the “smart city.”

In our symposium, we will combine contributions from Political Philosophy and Philosophy of Technology to stimulate a discussion about urban politics and the role of technology in the lives of urban dwellers.

What is the Point of “Urban Justice”? - Access to Human Space

Author: Bart van Leeuwen (Radboud University, The Netherlands)

For some time now, the philosophical reflection on the meaning of social justice has broadened its scope from the domestic realm to the global realm. Global justice theory is timely, given the process of neo-liberal globalization, a widening of the global income gap and the fact that political philosophy traditionally has been focusing on the nation-state. However, the process of globalization also developed into a different direction: it went hand in hand with devolution, urbanization and the formation of global or world cities. A number of recent books written by social scientists acknowledge this by dealing with social justice on the level of a societal unit very different than the global or the national one, much closer to our life worlds and also more of less disregarded by mainstream political philosophy, namely the city (Brenner, Marcuse and Mayer, 2012; Dikeç, 2007; Fainstein, 2010; Harvey, 2009; Marcuse et al, 2009; Mitchell, 2003, Soja, 2010). Amongst the themes discussed here are: neoliberal-capitalist displacement and dispossession, gentrification, a reliance on market processes and an obsession with economic growth, the disregarding of the rights of homeless people, lack of citizen input, lack of tax base sharing (esp. in the US), lack of affordable housing, lack of public services in certain quarters, social and ethnic segregation and so on.
The recent publications in which these theme’s figure suggest that “the city” is indeed a relevant unit of social justice.
The main question that I want to explore in this paper is how these themes and questions should be framed theoretically. Do these recent books show or indicate that conceptual innovation is needed here — do we need an urban theory of justice — or is it a matter of applying existing theories of social justice to the urban context and if so, which kind of theory would be most appropriate?
First we will explore the question to what extent urban justice simply is a function of the aggregate level of state justice. Before we think about the contours of a theory of urban justice, we first have to be clear about the kind of normative questions that are related to the urban frame (§ 2). Next we will home in on the more substantial question of the paper, namely what kind of theory would be most fitting. After outlining some shortcomings of two existing approaches to urban justice (§ 3), I will argue in favor of a recognition-theoretical approach to urban justice. This approach to the just city is promising because it allows the articulation of a conception of human space. Human space is a normative conception of space that is structured by different patterns of recognition, namely care, respect and esteem, and that is embodied both by physical structures, institutions and intersubjective relations between individuals and groups (§ 4). This approach might be promising, but it does not produce ready-made answers to the central moral challenges of cities today such as segregation, gentrification and homelessness. What can be shown, however, is that it is able to articulate what is at stake in these challenges from the moral-political point of view (§ 5).

Infrastructures as Structuring Practices

Building on Sartre´s concept of praxis, I will address the question, how do large scale human-technology ensembles structure the conscious and unconscious actualization of human praxis?
In his “Critique of Dialectical Reason,” Sartre emphasizes the dialectical relationship between human beings and world. For the later Sartre, praxis is a transformative process in which human beings satisfy their needs and serve their interests by changing the material or mental conditions they are situated in as human beings in order to preserve their future selves. But these needs and interests themselves only become obvious because they are products of close interactions with material and/or mental conditions. The most important aspect for Sartre is, that human beings change their material conditions in such a way, that the world itself becomes the passive residue of these very needs and of the strategies that were employed in order to satisfy them.
This concept of praxis can help to understand the intricacies of human-technology relations. Since Sartre considers praxis to be a transformative act in which human beings materialize their ends in the world, he also considers technical artifacts to be such frozen and materialized ends of praxis as well. Technologies play a major role in this process since they mediate material conditions and needs in a very specific way. As means, technical artifacts open up different practical fields. A practical field is a set of possible practical interactions, that is mediated as such under material or immaterial conditions and future ends. But since technical artifacts are considered to be materialized ends, their employment changes the way the transformative praxis is actualized.
Sartre believes that alongside every praxis a form of habituation takes place through which successful strategies and utilizations of technical artifacts are passed on through time. Every success or failure leads to rules and norms which are again materialized in the way further praxis is actualized through technical artifacts. Sartre calls this form of habituation hexis, greek for disposition. In this hexis not only strategies but also norms and moral values are preserved.
Sartre’s thoughts may not only be employed for individual technical artifacts but also for large technical systems like infrastructures. Considering the role of infrastructures as lifelines of society, they can be regarded passive residues of human needs. They constantly provide users and experts with past decisions and strategies. Sometimes old structures under cities influence the way modern cities have to be planned and built. Infrastructures not only do this because they are fortified structures but because their design provides specific ways of how planning and building praxis can be actualized.

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace: Liberal Democracy and the Smart City

Author: Ryan Mitchell Wittingslow (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, NL)

In his poem, “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace”, Richard Brautigan proposes governance by machines. Instead of democracy, he writes, we will have a “cybernetic ecology” where animals and computer co-exist in “mutually programming harmony”. The cost of this service is but a small thing. We need only offer our liberty to Brautigan’s titular “machines of loving grace”.
Although it’s been a long time since 1967, the utopian impulse that the poem articulates—the notion that we will be fitter, happier, and more productive if we allow ourselves to be administered by intelligent machines—remains compelling. Within the domain of urban design and planning, this impulse has recently expressed itself in a suite of proposals concerning what is called the “smart city”: that is, using information and communication technologies to autonomously manage municipal systems with the aid of sensors and actuators managed by artificial intelligences. Pilot programs are already underway in a number of Dutch cities, including Eindhoven, Utrecht, and Assen.
At least among philosophers, some of the flaws inherent in this view are well known. Machine learning algorithms possess politics just like any other artefact. The mere fact that these algorithms demonstrate some degree of autonomy by no means implies that they do not inherit the cultural and epistemic biases of their creators and users. There are, however, other concerns associated with optimising the panopticon. To that end, I will argue three things.
First, I will argue that liberal democracy is inherently, and necessarily, both slow and inefficient. This inefficiency is not a flaw. While the collectivist nature of liberal democracy means that decisions are almost always rendered less quickly than in authoritarian forms of rule, this very slowness helps guarantee that new policies and new behaviours are given sufficient deliberative scrutiny. It is upon these profoundly inefficient deliberative and aggregative procedures that the legitimacy of liberal democratic systems is premised.
Second, I will argue that the introduction of smart systems into liberal democracies threatens the integrity of these procedural norms. Although the use of artificial intelligences to swiftly and opaquely replace deliberative decision-making processes could produce positive outcomes in certain domains, it also directly compromises the necessarily slow, methodical, and dull processes that typify liberal democratic governance. This, I argue, poses an indirect challenge to the legitimacy of both democratic decision-making and the legitimacy of the institutions that help constitute that decision-making process.
Third and finally I will argue that the predictive nature of smart systems abrades uncomfortably against liberal democratic justitial norms such as the presumption of innocence, freedom of will, and notions of human dignity. Furthermore, decision-making artificial intelligences themselves pose a challenge to the rule of law, in that they cannot be subject to the laws they enforce. This, I claim, poses a profound challenge to the legal and political achievements upon which liberal democracy is premised.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Urban technologies at Philosophy of the City conference 2018

The programme of this year's Philosophy of the City conference has been uploaded to The meeting will take place in Bogota (October 11-13, 2018). Besides my own presentation on "Elevators as urban technologies," there will be a couple of talks zooming in on the role of technology in the city, including:

Given my own teaching in engineering programmes at the University of Twente, I am particularly thrilled about the following workshop:
Of course, I am also excited about catching up with the other people in the PotC community and about my very first visit to Bogotá!

Friday, 13 July 2018

New guest post at sicherheitspolitik-blog

I just co-authored a short piece on the use of machine learning at I am still working on the final paper. Feedback is welcome!

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Public Lecture: Ekim Tan, Play to plan

In June 2018, the very first Philosophy of the City Summer Colloquium will take place in Twente. While the Colloquium itself is a closed workshop, we are happy to offer a public keynote lecture by Ekim Tan (Play the City, Amsterdam). The lecture will take place in the DesignLab (room: IDEATE) and will start at 17:00 on June 12, 2018. For more information about the colloquium, please refer to the Philosophy of the City Research Group's website. And here's the extended abstract for Ekim's talk:

New generations of city officers will speak the language of games and they will play to plan their cities. We, the experts working for the city, need to adapt our methods to fit a new generation of policymakers and citymakers that are born into a world that not only contains, but is re-shaped by, the likes of Minecraft, Pokemon Go and Foursquare on a daily basis. Interactive maps, mixed realities, 3D environments, and multiplayer settings are the new mediums through which an entire generation perceives the urban world. Imagine a future where cities are modelled, tested, designed, and reshaped through interactive, collaborative games. At Games for Cities, we are working towards creating this future.”
Dr. Ekim Tan, co-initiator Games for Cities


Replacing the single-handed and static approach of the modernist city planning by a flexible form of shaping cities with multiple stakeholders is more than half a century age old question. In an era where cities witness high pace of social changes and technical advancements, this search for dynamic planning remains a major concern. Perhaps best concrete example of this search close to home is the so-called the new ‘Omgevingswet’: the Dutch building law seeks flexibility, collaborative development and digital integration for planning city development.

City Gaming is a systemic approach to cities. It is an open, multiplayer and learning environment. Participants gather to strategize ideas, plans for the city. City Gaming is recently becoming an applied discipline which did not exist as a practice in the 20th century. Yet it relies its knowledge in works of Buckminster Fuller’s World Peace Game, 1967 [simulating an alternative world order through a game without national borders and free trading rules], Constant Nieuwenhuys’ New Baylon 1956-74 [aspiring to a utopian city continuously re-created as a giant game where communal psychodramas were generated through open-ended lived processes], Robert Venturi and Dennis Scott Brown’s Learning from Las Vegas, 1977 [seeking for the logic and beauty in the ordinary], Christopher Alexander’s New Theory of Urban Design 1987 [searching for a meaningful holistic city design without any topdown interference but organic improvisations], Yuval Portugali’s City and Self-organization 2000 [proposing a systemic understanding of cities where both bottomup and topdown agents earn influence alternately in shaping them].


The information age has accelerated the process of urbanisation, rather than reducing its pace. Cities are the engines of the global economy and contribute significantly to poverty alleviation, but risk becoming seething cauldrons of social inequality. Today, numerous large-scale city development schemes fail, as they fail in creating well-informed and participatory processes. In reaching inclusive city developments, City Games have a critical role to play: they are effective in integrating the intelligence of larger groups and individuals, both expert and non-expert. They can make data, interests and conflicts tangible for participating groups. Through simple and playful language of games, conversations are freed from jargon. Informed decisions by communities, across disciplines and by local governments become possible. Stronger even, if implemented systematically, city game-like methods carry the potential to work as the antithesis of the backdrops of populism we are witnessing where facts become vague, inaccessible and easy to manipulate for crowds.

Exploring hidden potentials of city games from research to implementation is what makes Play the City and its partners tick. When cultivated carefully in urban processes, games lift the practice of conventional city planning: collaborative decision-making, unlocking conversations and building trust, designing better city development rules based on human behaviour, making abstract scientific research accessible for larger groups are action areas where City Games already enhance city-making practice. This is relatively a new field of knowledge currently flourishing in the Netherlands and followed with big interest internationally. As the city gaming is evolving into a valid discipline, we propose to work on a platform engaging city gaming community, developing a common language, exchanging knowledge, reaching out to communities, local governments and other experts, and supporting the young talents. We want to create a dedicated public program with longer-term engagement and investment for developing this unique city knowledge and generation practice. In collaboration with cultural, education and governmental organizations, it will be possible to claim the space city gaming deserves parallel to the traditional practices of urban planning and architecture. This program aims to reach to those who feel interested and responsible for their city and like to play and interact with other humans.

Claiming and Flourishing a True City Innovation

The Netherlands have a long-standing experience with working in multi-stakeholder environments and therefore understand the tools and the processes necessary quite thoroughly. Dutch word ‘Polderen’ and the ‘Polder model’ enjoy a high degree of respect worldwide when it comes to a balanced and inclusive city development. Also, within the Dutch urban planning tradition, we find ‘scenario testing’ as a critical strategy development method. It is not an accident that the City Gaming as a young field of knowledge finds a fertile ground to flourish in the Netherlands. Tygron’s Next Generation Planner, Redesire, Scenarios- the Game, Metropoly, Ministry of Food, In the Loop, Energy Safari are only a few amongst many promising city gaming methods developed here.

Growing international interest in City Gaming can be tracked through works as Modelling the Future -Sydney, Community Plan-it, Participatory Chinatown -Boston, Betaville -New York. Recently we observe established knowledge institutions adjust their curriculum to make room for games: the University of Cambridge is hiring a Professor of Lego for Urban Design, MIT Medialab’s recently developed Cityscope, ETH Zurich’s brand new education track ‘Action! On the Real City’. Exciting practices include the mayor of Hamburg who relies on a city game, Finding.Places in settling refugees in local neighborhoods, Helsinki’s entire planning crew playing games for an inclusive city agenda, Bristol’s long-term investments in playable city policies.

In coming we want to channel the energy of our community for investigating, imagining and visualizing futures where city gaming grows to a regular system replacing traditional city planning as we know it. How would a world work where city gaming has become the regular [analog and digital] medium for designers, developers, investors, to meet, propose, test, agree and implement urban initiatives? How could we get there? How to popularise city gaming to become a natural medium for communities, politicians, scientists, planners and designers to meet and address daily urban challenges? How could existing specialized games grow into an ecology of game system? Could existing games communicate with each other and strengthen their intelligences? Could individual games be linked and reinforce one another through their datasets and player communities? Last but not least what would be drawbacks of a world playing to plan its cities, communities and buildings?

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

PhD position on smart urban infrastructures at the University of Twente

In Summer 2018, our project "Bridging data in the built environment" (BRIDE) will officially start. The project brings together scholars from TU Delft (Neelke Doorn, Gerd Kortuem, Aimee van Wynsberghe) and the University of Twente (Peter-Paul Verbeek, Nirvana Meratnia) and the great team of MX3D to work together on a 3d printed IoT-enabled bridge to be placed in Amsterdam. We get additional support from the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions, the IoT Privacy Forum, the Foundation for Responsible Robotics and other parties.

In Twente, we are looking for a PhD candidate for a joint doctoral project at the intersection of computer science and Philosophy of the City. I (Michael Nagenborg) will be the daily supervisor of the project.

We are looking for a candidate with a master degree in Computer Science with a strong background in Internet of Things (IoT), especially in (big) data analytics, with a demonstrable interest in urban research (e.g., Philosophy of the City) and the willingness to engage in research-by-design methodology.

Applications are due by May 31, 2018. You can find the official advertisement on the website of the University of Twente.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about the positions. And please help us to spread the word!

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Philosophy of the City Summer Colloquium 2018: Sneak preview

While we are updating the Philosophy of the City website, here's a sneak preview of the talks and the papers to be discussed at the Colloquium... There is a limited number of seats reserved for guests, who will not present but may engage in the discussions. If you want to participate, please register at our website.

Philosophy of the City Summer Colloquium 2018: Technology and the City

University of Twente (NL)

Monday, June 11, 2018

Local keynote 1: Philip Brey (University of Twente): Technological Transformations of the City and Its Functions


Tuesday, June 12, 2018


Master students’ panels:

  • Selen Eren (University of Twente): The Techno-Political Order of Smart Cities: An analysis through the Arendtian understanding of politics
  • Zeynep Yavuz (University of Amsterdam): Probing the Limitations of Digital Representations: The City as Humanistic Experiment
  • Lorenzo Olivieri (University of Twente): Smart cities and the colonization of everyday life: playful moments for the information cage
  • Denise Suzanne Antoinette Maria Op den Kamp (University of Twente): Smart Infrastructure – A Research on the shaping agency of the WiFi sensors project in Enschede

Public keynote lecture

Ekim Tan (Play the City, Amsterdam): Play to plan

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Local keynote 2: Peter-Paul Verbeek (University of Twente)Technopolis and technopolitics: smart cities and the digitalization of democracy


  • Udo Pesch (TU Delft): The Relevance of Arendt’s Work for Understanding Public Space
  • Ryan Mitchell Wittingslow (University of Groningen): Authenticity and the „Authentic City“
  • Shane Epting (University of Nevada Las Vegas): ICT and Water Resource Management for Urban Sustainability
  • Taylor Stone (TU Delft)Towards a Darker Future? Designing Environmental Values into the Next Generation of Streetlights
  • Sanna Lehtinen & Vesa Vihanninjoki (University of Helsinki): Aesthetic Perspectives to New Urban Technologies – Conceptualizing and Evaluating the Technology-Driven Changes in the Urban Experience

Thursday, 19 April 2018

A brief update

Having been ill for quite some time in March, I slowly start to catch up. Here's a brief update:

1. The Philosophy of the City Summer Colloquium on Technology and the City is taking shape. We have selected a total of 22 papers. The programme will published soon on Note that there will be a limited number of places available for people not presenting. The maximum number of participants will be limited to 40.

2. Our book project ("Towards a Philosophy of Urban Technologies") is also making progress. We are currently reviewing the chapters submitted and will inform the authors by Mid-June about the outcome of the review process.

Finally, the Philosophy of the City Conference in Bogota is also on the agenda. We are currently spreading the call and hope to receive a great number of wonderful proposals by June 1, 2018. Again, the Philosophy of the City website is the place to go and have a look at the Call.