Thursday, 28 November 2019

Two new projects granted

I am happy to share the good news that two projects have been granted recently.

The first project has been selected as a so-called BMS signature PhD project - a project funded by my faculty to showcase the work being done at BMS. The project will allow Isaac Oulouch to continue and extend his great work on slum mapping in his master thesis. The project will be co-supervised by Monika Kuffer and myself with additional support by Karin Pfeffer and Yola Georgiadou. Peter-Paul Verbeek will be the promotor.

Here's a brief summary of the project, which will go by the name of FRAME-PRO (Framework for responsible and accountable deprivation area mapping in support of pro-poor policies):

Locational data (“geo-data”) has become increasingly available due to technological innovation. This innovation has improved the capability of capturing, storing and processing vast amounts of geo-data, producing results which have commercial and administrative value. For example, such data are essential in the SDG agenda.
While there is a growing awareness of the ethical challenges of geo-data (such as privacy, access to data and surveillance), we require a better understanding of the societal role emerging technologies can play in acquiring geo-data. Building on insights from Philosophy of Technology, we begin with the premise that technologies are not neutral tools but shape the ways in which we perceive and act in the world. In our project, we will answer the question: To what extent do geo-data technologies affect the responsibilities of various stakeholders to improve the lives of the urban poor? The project links to global policy goals of promoting public health (SDG-3), access to water (SDG-6), and building inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable cities (SDG-11).
The PhD project will build a framework to evaluate geo-data technologies (such as geo-information systems, mapping and sensor technologies) through two case studies. Such a framework helps to identify the relevant stakeholders in the geo-data acquisition, to address the distribution of accountability and responsibility in the global use of these technologies. The first case looks into the automated detection of “slums” through satellite and drone images, focusing on the long-term planning and development of mapping practices. The second case concerns the design of GIS for disaster response, to understand how geo-data technologies can help in improving resilience to human-made and climate-related risks in developing countries. These cases will be supplemented by embedded research in various institutions.
The second project will be funded by NWO within the MWI line on Responsible Innovation. Designing for public values in a digital world. It is called "Disastrous Information: Embedding ‘Do No Harm’ principles into innovative geo-intelligence workflows for effective humanitarian action."

I will collaborate with Jaap Zevenbergen, Caroline Gevaert, and Yola Georgiadou. Here's a brief summary:

Most humanitarian scholars ask what geospatial intelligence, from satellite and drone imagery combined with artificial intelligence, can do for humanitarian action. We ask what these technologies do to the core principles—humanity, impartiality, and independence—of the “Do No Harm” humanitarian imperative (Sandvik et al 2017). Upholding humanity and impartiality suggests that not only affected humans and groups/demographics must be protected, but also the privacy and dignity of their “data doubles.” Upholding independence suggests that humanitarian organizations need the capacity to audit donors’, industry’s and digital humanitarians’ geospatial data, tools and algorithms for privacy violations. Empirically, we focus on Malawi. There UNICEF Malawi has an infrastructure comprising rich geospatial data sets, the first dedicated humanitarian drone corridor worldwide, a strong network with Malawi government, donors, and drone industry, as well as a plan to install and replicate in other African countries the first African Data & Drone Academy (ADDA) for Masters students from Malawi and neighboring countries. Conceptually, we draw upon scholarship on Fair, Accountable and Transparent (FAT) socio-technical systems, cultural and organizational theory and privacy by design. We use a mix of experimental (hackathons, mapathons, choice experiments) and qualitative methods (in-depth interviews and focus groups) as well as Q-methodology. We will determine the optimal distribution of technological and regulatory designs for Malawi and an appropriate design for co-creating audit capacity within ADDA’s Master program. The research team combines legal, geo-intelligence, policy & ethics expertise, and decades of collective experience in institutional development and capacity building in the global South.
The best part is that both grants will offer great opportunities for combining the research efforts and to make a substantial contribution on the meaning of high tech in the lives of the urban poor. I am excited, but also a bit scared about the task ahead of us.

We will start hiring a PhD candidate and a PostDoc for the project shortly. The project aims to start in March 2020.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Graduation Ching Hung (Nov 13, 2019)

On Nov 13, 2019, Ching Hung will defend his PhD thesis entitled "Design for Green: Ethics and Politics for Behavior Steering Technologies." You can find the official announcement here, which also includes a summary of his work.

I am proud to have served as daily supervisor on his project. Of course, his thesis includes an interesting chapter about cities and smaller human settlements. This comes with little surprise since urban planning is in good parts concerned with steering human behaviour, although it's not always understood in these terms. In his thesis, Ching does not only examine two communities which are designed on the principles laid down by B. F. Skinner in his utopian novel "Walden Two." He also evaluates the design of Village Homes, a community built in 1982 and located near Davis, California.

B. F. Skinner's work plays a significant role in the thesis. While his approach of radical behaviourism has been contested, Skinner also made the interesting point that meeting global challenges like climate change will require foremost to change human behaviour. Hung's starting point is that we do actually know quite well, that we do need to change - but knowing about the need is not sufficient. Therefore, he turns to the multiple ways in which artefacts and the built environment at large play a role in guiding our everyday activities.

Inspired by the work of C. Mouffe, Hung suggests an approach of agonistic design, where artefacts challenge hegemony. For example, speed bumps challenge the hegemony embodied and facilitates by smooth roads, which invite to drive fast. Green communities, thus, need to be understood as a challenge to the current mainstream, which doesn't support a sustainable lifestyle. To avoid the risk of forcing people to adapt to a particular lifestyle, Hung also argues in favour of small and experimental communities, which also allow for mutual learning.

If you are nearby on November 13, 2019, please feel free to join us in celebrating Ching Hung's stimulating contribution to the much-needed debate, what we are willing to do to meet the challenge of climate change and to avoid the destruction of our planet due to stupid human behaviour.

Friday, 27 September 2019

BRIDE Workshop, Oct 10, 2019 (Amsterdam)

We are happy to announce the first workshop of the BRIDE project. The workshop was originally designed as an internal event. On second thought, we realized that the subjects might actually be interesting for a larger crowd. So, feel free to join us! Here's the blurb: "The BRIDE Workshop seeks to explore the connections between humans and smart infrastructure, specifically related to the MX3D bridge. The workshop will cover Amsterdam's current smart city initiatives, concerns, and goals. Additionally, it will explore the range of how the bridge data will be used from mechanics to 'cityness' and how to make the data visible and useful for users of the structure." For more information about the workshop, please refer to the workshop agenda and register by using this online form. Finally, for more information on the BRIDE project, have a look at our project website.

Friday, 24 May 2019

Philosophy of the City Round-up (May 2019)

The deadline for the annual conference of the Philosophy of the City Research Group is approaching. Don't miss the opportunity to present and discuss your work in Detroit (Oct 3-6, 2019).

Meanwhile, I am looking forward to the Philosophy of the City Summer Colloquium in Lahti and Helsinki (17.–18.6.2019). You can find the amazing program here.

I am also received my copy of Philosophy and the City: Interdisciplinary and Transcultural Perspectives. It's great to see, that the topic is gaining attention within Philosophy!

My paper on Urban Resilience and Distributive Justice just came. - Talking about "Resilience": I am co-organizing a session called "From the ethics of risk to the ethics of resilience - Integrating participatory approaches" with Samantha Copeland (TU Delft) at the DeSIRE conference (University of Twente, June 6-7, 2019).

 Finally, if there are any PotC related news, which you would like me to share my on this blog: Please, let me know.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Boring spaces I: Things to do at Times Square (NYC, Jan 2019)

My hotel was located close to Times Square. I had to go there. I had to see it. I am in Times Square. I am amazed by the quality of the big size video screens. The constantly changing patterns on the screen underline the artificial nature of the place. I visit the place at night. But there is no room for darkness. The square is brighter than most places, I have visited on that grey and cold day. I have to think of Vilém Flusser’s essay on our codified world. Flusser (1997) reminds us that at the beginning of the 20th century the world used to be far less colourful:
Our environments are filled with colours, which by day and by night, in public and in private space, are whispering and screaming to get our attention. ... We are exposed to a constant stream of colours; we are programmed by colours. (Flusser 1997, p. 21, my translation)
But what to do at Times Square? The images on the screen support Flusser's considerations and suggest that I am being programmed to go shopping. I don’t want to go shopping. But what else to do a Times Square? The urban furniture invites me to take a seat. I could sit there and watch the activities on the square. I have to think about James Conlon's reflections about sitting on a bench in Central Park, which is just a few blocks away. He reminds us that watching people in public is, after all, an important part, maybe even the origin of Philosophy:
Socrates began his philosophical work by abandoning astronomy and turning his attention instead to the human diversity collected in the agora. … Only in the city are eyes granted such continuous opportunity for staring, for the sustained and intense observation of human behaviour so basic to philosophy. (Conlon 1999, pp 205-207)
I tend to agree with Conlon, given the fact that most philosophers do actually live and work in - or at least - close to cities. I am actually guilty of doing philosophy in public spaces, where I can experience the being together with strangers. - Yet, these considerations do not seem to apply to Times Square. I can't imagine what to do here; hence, I fail to imagine what other people can do here. I leave Times Square behind. I actually enjoyed being there. I do enjoy the spectacle. Yet, there is nothing much to do, besides enjoying the spectacle. After a while, the spectacle becomes boring.


  • Conlon, James (1999): Cities and the place of Philosophy. In: S. M. Meagher (ed.) (2008). Philosophy and the City (pp. 199-209). New York: State University of New York Press.
  • Flusser, Vilém (1997): Die kodifizierte Welt. In: V. Flusser: Medienkultur. Edited by Stefan Bollmann. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch. – The text was originally published in 1978.


The text is part of the manuscript of my talk “The right kind of boring space” delivered at the Future City Foundation on April 5, 2019. I plan to publish a total of four blogs based on the talk.

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Philosophy of the City Round-up (Feb 2019)

The Call for Papers for the Philosophy of the City Summer Colloquium on Urban Aesthetics has been a great success. Thanks, everybody for sharing!

The Call for Papers for the Philosophy of the City 2019 conference is open till June 1, 2019. I hope that the meeting will receive the same amount of attention.

For your reading list: My colleague Mark Ryan has published an interesting paper on the ethical aspects of smart city projects (Open Access).

As for my activities: I will attend a seminar on Housing and Values at TU Delft on March 13/14, 2019, and will deliver a keynote at the event „The future city: boring or bombastic?“ (Future City Foundation, Amersfoort) on April 5, 2019.

Finally, since it looks like the „Philosophy of the City Roundups“ are becoming a regular thing: Feel free to send me pointers to events, publications, and activities! I am happy to include them in the next round.

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Philosophy of the City Round-up

1. Philosophy of City 2019: We just published our Call for papers for the annual conference of the Philosophy of the City Research Group. You still have time to think about a cool subject for your brilliant talk. Abstracts are due in June 2019. But we expect you to come. OK?

2. Taylor Stone has defended his PhD thesis earlier this week. His pioneering doctoral thesis on Artifical Lightning is available online.

3. If you want to get an update on the BRIDE project: Kars Alfrink, who is working on the project at TUD, just posted an update on his blog.

4. Since we are talking about BRIDE: If you are around in Amsterdam on February 1, 2019, and have some time at 15:00 - we are looking for volunteers to interact with the 3D-printed IoT-enabled MX3D bridge to create our initial data set. Please, send me an email if you are interested.

5. Finally, as a reminder: the Call for the Philosophy of the City Summer Colloquium 2019 is still open and you may still join us for the Social Resilience in Diverse Societies workshop.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Workshop: Social resilience of diverse societies - We are looking for participants!

I got involved in organizing an interactive workshop on "social resilience of diverse societies." The workshop will take place on March 8, 2019, in The Hague. To quote from the invitation:
The workshop “Social resilience of diverse societies” will put together people that are representing various parts of this diverse society coming from two European countries, the Netherlands and Germany. In interactive sessions, we would like to elaborate on the challenges a diverse society faces in times of crises and what coping strategies exist. Building on this, we would like to highlight the opportunities that self-developed coping strategies offer to society and national disaster response strategies. In that way, a “best practice” for an integrative and inclusive disaster and crisis management can be identified and used to serve as a model for policy and decision makers.
We are currently looking for representatives from diverse groups (e.g., people with disabilities or migrant communities) to discuss and strengthen their role in disaster and crisis management. If you are a member of such a group or do know groups which may want to get involved: Please forward our invitation or register here. Please note that the number of participants is limited.