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IM927 Digital Cities: Interdisciplinary Perspectives

Digital Cities

15/20 CATS
Module Convenor - Dr Tessio Novack

The module is aimed at introducing interdisciplinary perspectives on current challenges faced by cities and urban science, in order to develop a critical understanding of the role of digital technologies, big data and urban analytics for promoting sustainable urban development in “smart city” initiatives worldwide. This is achieved through a series of invited talks featuring both academic and professional experts, which is accompanied by a discursive seminar.

Note: Some of the details below are provisional and will be updated as soon as all talks are confirmed.

Indicative Syllabus

Week 1 – Introduction to Digital Cities: Urban Challenges, Urban Analytics and City Science

Introduction to the module and the programme of lectures for the following weeks, explaining their relationship with current debates and trends in city sciences, urban analytics and global urban agendas.

Week 2 – Data Philanthropy

Cities are awash with data that provide partial and fleeting glimpses into human activities and their contexts. Unlike many of those traditional sources of data that have been used to provide insight about population attributes and human behaviour, data are often located within the commercial sector and have limited degrees of access. Data Philanthropy provides a model for the more egalitarian access to such data.

Week 3 – Complex Networks

Complex networks are everywhere, from the Internet, to social networks, and the ecological interactions in ecosystems. These networks represent the organisation of complex systems and are the medium in which information, diseases or failures propagate. This lecture introduces the field of Network Science and how it has been utilised to model different problems in our society. Recent results related to the identification of the most influential spreaders in social networks, the modelling of epidemic processes, and with respect to power grid dynamics will be presented. Many applications related to traffic flows in cities and diagnosis of mental disorders will also be discussed. Finally, we will discuss the future of Network Science and the current challenges.

Week 4 – Urban Transportation

We will discuss how the digital transformation and the availability of data affect urban transportation. For this, we will consider the local case of the West Midlands. After introducing the recent transport-related challenges, it will be shown how actual initiatives currently under way change the ways passengers access public transportation, the modal mix and its dynamic integration, and other recent topics.

Week 5 – The City of the Future

The digital transformation touches upon a range of layers in the urban landscape. Cities, however, are complex and integrated systems. This lecture will discuss how the holistic, simultaneous digital transformation of various life aspects affects, or may affect, the city of the future.

Week 6 – Reading Week

Week 7 – Urban Resilience

Many cities have felt the impact of natural disasters and leaders have now committed to implement mitigation and adaptation measures to minimize these impacts. The lecture will discuss some of these measures that might be supported by digital technologies and urban analytics, including: better urban planning, quality infrastructure and improving local responses to extreme events.

Week 8 – Urban Planning

Cities are increasingly seeking to find sustainable solutions to urban challenges. The lecture will discuss challenges for using digital technologies and urban analytics to foster citizen participation, Big Data, and other techniques in urban governance and planning towards making decision-making processes more democratic and inclusive, whilst attending to inequalities and differential capabilities of different social groups.

Week 9 – Platforms of Sense and Computation in the Urban South

Underlying the deployment of digital infrastructures in contemporary urbanisation processes is continuous patterning and connection among things of different ontologies and times. As such, roads, buildings, pipes, wires, animals, viruses, humans feel each other out, and this process is conjoined as more than one and less than two—each folding the other in without being completely subsumed. Each occasion of sensing, of apprehension always proposes for the world a surplus of patterned potential, a surplus of sensibility, a way of taking the combinations of the past and finding within them the potential of the recombinant—for sociality is always a matter of recomposing, recombining; whether it works or not. This sense of the recombinant has long constituted a platform of value creation and value extraction for those urban residents “left out” of the normative modalities of production, accumulation, and regularization. Practices of “popular computation” continuously reshaped transactions, reciprocities, and collaborations across increasingly heterogeneous social and built fabrics, all the time proliferating demonstrations of what bodies and things could do with minimal investments. All of these practices of what we might have called autoconstruction increasingly come to constitute the underlying asset for forms of managing uncertain futures that will never belong to the residents themselves—from pay as you go services, to fees for recycled materials, to the conversion of a barrio into cheap sex motels, to gentrification, to enforcing household expenditures through conditional cash transfers, to leveraging the killing of drug addicts to make new connections with local political bosses. Given these conversions and intensified “financialization of autoconstruction”, are there other ways to work with this process, turning it into a platform of opacity or affordance for the endurance of long-honed recombinant capacities?

Week 10 – Module Conclusion

This lecture will be delivered by the module convenor in an interactive mode to wrap up the discussions along the term and discuss the topics for the student essays.


Each students has to write an essay proposal (500 words; formative). Based on this, the final essays then vary in length, depending on the number of CATS a student wishes to complete: 2,000 words (15 CATS), or 3,500 words (20 CATS).

Illustrative Bibliography

Batty, M. (2013). Big data, smart cities and city planning. Dialogues in Human Geography, 3(3), 274–279.

Coaffee, J., & Lee, P. (n.d.). Urban resilience : planning for risk, crisis and uncertainty. Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Fraser, B. (2015). Digital Cities. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK.
Glaeser, E. L. (Edward L. (2011). Triumph of the city : how our greatest invention makes us richer, smarter, greener, healthier, and happier. Penguin Press.

LeGates, R. T., & Stout, F. (2015). The City Reader (Routledge Urban Reader Series). Routledge.

Marvin, S., Luque-Ayala, A., & McFarlane, C. (n.d.). Smart urbanism : utopian vision or false dawn? Routledge.

Sennett, R. (1996). Flesh and stone : the body and the city in Western civilization. W.W. Norton.

Townsend, A. M. (2013). Smart cities: big data, civic hackers, and the quest for a new utopia. WW Norton & Company.

Learning Outcomes

The module aims to encourage students to be able to:

  • Understand the main challenges faced by today's cities and critically reflect on the role of digital technologies and urban analytics to support sustainable urban development;
  • reflect on current urbanisation trends and challenges from a global perspective that takes into account the differential realities of cities across the global North and South;
  • understand different disciplinary perspectives and methods in research on cities and their relation to big data, urban analytics and digital technologies;
  • develop communication skills that allow them to take part in interdisciplinary discussions with their peers, academics from a range of disciplines, and practitioners from industry and government;
  • demonstrate a critical appraisal of the potentials and challenges for digital technologies, big data and urban analytics to tackle urban challenges within "smart city" projects.

Important Information on Admission

CIM Students – Please complete the optional module choice forms distributed during the induction programme and get approval from your personal tutors during the Personal Tutor Meeting. Please then submit your approved form to Gheerdhardhini (CIM PG Coordinator) in room B0.04 by Week 0: Wednesday, 25th September by 17.00 GMT.

External Students

  • Computer Science – Please register your interest in the CIM module with the PG Administrator in your home department – Ms Sharon Hayes – by Week 1: Wednesday, 2rd October, 17.00 GMT.
  • Life Sciences – Please contact the CIM PG Coordinator (Gheerdhardhini) via email (, to request your optional module choice by Week 1 : Thursday, 3rd October, 17.00 GMT.
  • All other external students - Please contact the CIM PG Coordinator (Gheerdhardhini) via email (, to request your optional module choice by Week 1 : Wednesday, 2nd October, 17.00 GMT.


  • Please be advised that you may be expected to have access to a laptop for some of these courses due to software requirements; the Centre is unable to provide a laptop for external students.
  • Please be advised that some modules may have restricted numbers and places are allocated according to availability.
  • Please note that a request does NOT guarantee a place on the module and is subject to availability.
  • Gaining permission of a member of CIM teaching staff or a member of staff from your home department or filling in the eVision Module Registration (eMR) system with the desired module does NOT guarantee a place on that module.
  • Requests after the specified deadline will not be considered.
  • CIM PG Coordinator will get back confirming your place in the module by 27th September 2019 (For CIM students), or 4th October 2019 (For Life Sciences students).
  • Only after confirmation of a place from CIM PG Coordinator can students’ home departments confirm their registration on eVision/MRM. Registrations by students who have not received confirmation of a place from CIM will be rejected via the system.

NOTE – The above-mentioned deadline for registration includes for the optional modules running in Term 2 as well. Although, we accept registrations again in the first week of Term 2, this will be based on availability only.

We are normally unable to allow students (registered or auditing) to join/leave the module after the second week of it commencing.