Smart Cities & Platform Urbanism

As cities are harnessing technology to collect data, improve efficiency, and modernize infrastructure, platforms are becoming central to the development of the city's digital twin and a heart for how cities are managed and how citizens can engage with them.

Our Role as Designers in the City

In the age of globalization, cities are becoming places defined through operational systems and procedural flows, and this is forcing designers to change the lens through which we see the city. Clare Lyster notes that historically, urban matters were subject to "geometric, palliative, symbolic and geographic principles" where the city could be read as an architectural object but our agency in today's city and urban design discourse will come from our ability to engage flows and the city's fluid condition.1

Smart cities are implementing technologies to engage with these flows and systems through networks of sensors, integrations with digital apps and platforms, and the Internet of Things. By harnessing technology we are finding new ways to make the city both networked and senseable, and through phones we are changing the way we as designers and occupants of the city interact and engage with our surroundings.

Platforms and the City's Digital Twin

The means for engagement includes the new market for decentralized and distributed platforms that serve urban needs from Lyft, Uber, and Lime addressing mobility to Venmo and Square with our transactions, Google Maps showing us how to navigate efficiently, Amazon delivering our supplies, Netflix entertaining us, and Instagram, Facebook, Houseparty and TikTok connecting us.

The city has become two entities, one grounded in the real world and a digital twin that we access with the phone as our sixth sense. How do our behaviors with these platforms interact with the city itself and how is the transition to smart cities going to enhance the way we interact with urban environment?

This theme is a collection of projects, articles, observations, and links that are related or attempt to contribute to the discussion on smart cities and platform urbanism.


  1. Lyster, C. (2016). Learning from logistics: how networks change our cities. Basel: Birkhauser. doi: 10.1515/9783038210962

Smart Citizens and Our Sixth Sense

My interest in smart cities relates to how we as citizens participate in the city. Participate as active "smart citizens" helping set the course for the future of the city but also engage with all that the city provides from culture and the arts to community and a sense of belonging in the places we call home. The smart city is built on platforms of data collection and service provision but has a long way to go before it starts to engage with the world of digital platforms that make up the city's digital twin.

My research and projects look at how we can use technology and data to inform decisions about the built environment, and how we can better engage as designers and purveyors of the physical streets and buildings as connected with the digital culture that keeps us connected. It looks at the phone as our sixth sense or means for perceiving the city in a new way, enhancing our quality of life, sense of belonging, and desire to enjoy the places we occupy.


This is more of an experiment than anything but I am using this site as a place to host a running list of questions related to each theme. Some are quite simple and other hypothetical, some are the starting place for articles and others potential projects.

  • Who are smart cities for?
  • What are the problems smart cities are trying to solve for?
  • Can big data serve both municipalities for providing efficient infrastructures and services as well as people engaging with the city?
  • What are the benefits and costs of a smart-from-the-start city rather than investing in retrofitting cities as smart?
  • What are government mandated vs corporate models and who is driving the conversation?
  • What is the relationship between the built environment, technological and urban infrastructures and citizen engagement?
  • Does big data make smart cities predictive?
  • Are smart cities more resilient to change and impact?
  • Are smart cities driven by technologies and vendors leading us to an era of platform urbanism?
  • Smart cities collect and process data for efficiency and to attract new growth and business but tend to fail the lower classes and neighborhoods that don’t see infrastructural upgrades, how can smart cities become more equatable for those struggling to access the benefits of a further digitized city?
  • Is the digitization of services and infrastructure improving access for minorities and lower income classes due to pervasive access to the internet through the smartphone?
  • Cities are best served when there is open access to the data collected, what constructs are available for the public to serve the role of finding and solving issues without the need of the local government to solve and service needs?
  • Cities like Boston are trying to flip goals of solution provision from efficiency and cost savings to the favor of citizens and communities by having their interests as a guiding principles as civic services are optimized with new apps and other elements of a smart city solution. New urban mechanics
  • What is ISO-37120 and how will the standardization of smart city indicators impact how designers and leaders define and plan for the future?
  • What are smart city roadmaps and how do they come together?


Photo Credit and Caption: View of Delft canals from the top of the Nieuwe Kerk (photo by Sean Wittmeyer)

Cite this page:

Wittmeyer, S. (2022, 5 July). Smart Cities & Platform Urbanism. Retrieved from

Smart Cities & Platform Urbanism was updated July 5th, 2022.

Citylab - A New Transit Map for Philadelphia Aims to Draw More Riders

A proposal to overhaul wayfinding inside SEPTA’s notoriously baffling rail system would introduce new nomenclature and better signage.

Learning from Logistics

In the 19th century railroads and canals provided both structure and motor for city development. This role has been taken over today by the global flow of data and products, as the author argues. Flow of material and communication is the DNA of contemporary environments.

Demographics of Mobile Device Ownership and Adoption in the United States

In contrast to the largely stationary internet of the early 2000s, Americans today are increasingly connected to the world of digital information while "on the go" via smartphones and other mobile devices. Explore the patterns and trends that have shaped the mobile revolution below.

'Dream Cities,' by Wade Graham

When you purchase an independently reviewed book through our site, we earn an affiliate commission. Thomas More's "Utopia," which appeared 500 years ago, in 1516, may have changed the world. But few of its readers, I suspect, have read the whole thing.

The Works

How much do you really know about the systems that keep a city alive? The Works: Anatomy of a City contains everything you ever wanted to know about what makes New York City run. When you flick on your light switch the light goes on--how? When you put out your garbage, where does it go?

Smart Cities

Transformation through digital innovation is becoming an imperative for every city. The 'Smart City' concept promises to solve the most urgent queries of progressive urbanization in the area of mobility, energy, water supply, security, housing deprivation, and inclusion.

Decoding the City

Edited volume on data-driven urbanism together with Senseable City Lab Director Carlo Ratti. The book focuses on research approach of the Senseable City Lab and includes essays from guest authors including Fabien Girardin, Luis Betttencourt (Santa Fe Institute), Andres Sevtsuk (City Form Lab), Francisca Rojas and a group of authors from the Barabasi Lab.

The Stack

A comprehensive political and design theory of planetary-scale computation proposing that The Stack-an accidental megastructure-is both a technological apparatus and a model for a new geopolitical architecture. What has planetary-scale computation done to our geopolitical realities?

Sentient City

Alternative ideas for a "smart" city, from a park bench that enforces time limits by ejecting the sitter to "electronically assisted" plants that encourage conservation. Our cities are "smart" and getting smarter as information processing capability is embedded throughout more and more of our urban infrastructure.

Open Source Architecture

Open Source Architecture is a visionary manifesto for the architecture of tomorrow that argues for a paradigm shift from architecture as a means of supporting the ego-fueled grand visions of "starchitects" to a collaborative, inclusive, network-driven process inspired by twenty-first-century trends such as crowd-sourcing, open access, and mass customization.

Cerdà and the Barcelona of the Future / Reality versus Project

A look at Ildefons Cerdà’s great urban-planning project for Barcelona’s city extension, the Eixample, which established the guidelines for the unimaginable transformation of the city.

Inscribing a Square

The mental image of the city has become complex. Since mobile phones have become geo-social devices, location-based data is increasingly shaping the way we experience public space.Until recently, the physical and the virtual spaces have been separate domains, now they are tightly packed together into what Malcolm McCullough calls the "Ambient Commons" - the collectively shared domain of environmental information.Media art practices have played an important role in shaping this development.

Shared Cities Atlas

The 'Shared Cities Atlas' applies the new, global 'sharing paradigm' in architecture and public sphere to a site-specific situation in seven cities in Central Europe. Mapping current practices of sharing and new fields of action in case studies, it contextualizes the phenomenon in research papers, data, and photography.

Platform Capitalism

What unites Google and Facebook, Apple and Microsoft, Siemens and GE, Uber and Airbnb? Across a wide range of sectors, these firms are transforming themselves into platforms: businesses that provide the hardware and software foundation for others to operate on.

Smart cities

Reliable information about the coronavirus (COVID-19) is available from the World Health Organization ( current situation, international travel). Numerous and frequently-updated resource results are available from this search. OCLC's WebJunction has pulled together information and resources to assist library staff as they consider how to handle coronavirus issues in their communities.

From Running and Fiction to Baking and Videogames: Social Networking Goes Niche

Sidney Drill downloaded the fitness app Strava a few years ago to log her runs. It's now a central part of how she networks online, especially with the coronavirus pandemic limiting her ability to socialize with friends. The 26-year-old Philadelphia sales professional says Strava offers something she can't get on Facebook or other mainstream social networks.

Garbage Pickups Tell a Tale of Two Cities, With Part of Manhattan Shrinking

Need to know more about coronavirus in New York? Sign up for THE CITY's daily morning newsletter . As many New Yorkers began to stay away from work, school and restaurants, city sanitation workers picked up more household trash last month than they did the previous March, statistics show - except, primarily, in parts of Manhattan.

Parking Lots Have Become a Digital Lifeline

With cafes and libraries closed, Americans without internet access are sitting outside them to get free and fast connections. As the sun set on a recent evening in Rutherfordton, N.C., the author Beth Revis drove her green S.U.V. into the parking lot of a closed elementary school and connected to the building's free Wi-Fi.

Death of the office

In the spring of 1822 an employee in one of the world's first offices - that of the East India Company in London - sat down to write a letter to a friend.

Google ends plans for smart city in Toronto

Google's sister firm Sidewalk Labs has scrapped a plan to build a smart city in Canada, citing complications caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. For several years it had pursued ambitions to build a digital-first city in Toronto "from the internet up". Chief executive Dan Doctoroff blamed "unprecedented economic uncertainty" for abandoning the plan.

South Korea to Make 5G and AI Centerpieces of ‘Korean New Deal’

South Korea will make artificial intelligence and wireless communications centerpieces of what it is touting as a “New Deal” to create jobs and boost growth after the coronavirus pandemic subsides.

Porches, Yards, Driveways, Parking Lots: Where the Neighborhood Is Now

How we come together when we can't go very far. Picking fruit out of a yard in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles. Credit... Kendrick Brinson for The New York Times We walk the dogs across the meadow in the rain. We don't talk much.

Drive-throughs and drive-ins were fading. Coronavirus made them a lifeline

To venture out in Southern California during the COVID-19 pandemic is to encounter a landscape dressed in an unfamiliar coat. Freeways bear unimaginably light traffic. Playgrounds are wrapped in caution tape. The simple act of picking up a loaf of bread at the supermarket is now a dystopic obstacle course of Plexiglas shields, social distancing markers and masked shoppers circling one another like repellent magnets.

India made its contact tracing app mandatory. Now people are angry

India's digital contact tracing app is controlling the behaviour of millions. One evening in the first week of May, Jyoti Bandooni, left her home for her weekend grocery run at the nearby supermarket. For Bandooni, 24, who lives with her parents in suburban Delhi and works in events management, it had become second nature to go shopping after six weeks of lockdown.

Can symptoms surveys nail down future Covid-19 hotspots?

Dry cough. Fever. Chills. The symptoms of Covid-19 have become global public knowledge. And as countries try to get a handle on the disease, you may have already been asked to disclose your own online. A growing number of online studies, apps, and trackers are polling the public about their health.

Roaming 'robodog' politely tells Singapore park goers to keep apart

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Far from barking its orders, a robot dog enlisted by Singapore authorities to help curb coronavirus infections in the city-state politely asks joggers and cyclists to stay apart. The remote-controlled, four-legged machine built by Boston Dynamics was first deployed in a central park on Friday as part of a two-week trial that could see it join other robots policing Singapore's green spaces during a nationwide lockdown.

San Francisco Shifts From Trashing Homeless Camps To Sanctioning Them Amid COVID-19

subscribe to Coronavirus Daily podcast San Francisco is set to enact a homelessness solution that it once thought unthinkable: city-sanctioned open-air encampments. For years, San Francisco police have ordered tents removed from city streets, even at times slashing them with knives themselves.

A Make-or-Break Moment for Cities

Shaping the transformation of the past few decades has been a collection of planning ideas loosely called "new urbanism." It's hard to remember that terms such as mixed-use development and adaptive reuse and transit-oriented development and infill construction were once heterodox ideas promoted by a handful of maverick planners.

A Full-Bodied Red, With Notes of…Ultrasound?

A good wine is magical on the palate. But at the microscopic level, it is complex chemistry. A Spanish enological firm, with the help of a research group at the University of Murcia, is looking to add ultrasonic pulses to the winemaking process, with an aim of gleaning more from the grapes that make the vintage while saving the winemaker time and energy. Agrovin, a Castile-La Mancha–based maker of products for winemakers, is on the way to finding out what its newly-developed ultrasound treatments can do in vineyards. Using what is basically a large container wired for high-powered, low-frequency sound, Agrovin plans to shake up the grapes by bombarding them with noise.

Amazon to sell smart locks so it can slip packages into your home

(Reuters) - Inc () has plans to drop off packages directly into shoppers' homes. The world's largest online retailer on Wednesday announced Amazon Key, a lock and camera system that users control remotely to let delivery associates slip goods into their houses.

The US Postal Service Is Working on Self-Driving Mail Trucks

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds-and if the United States Postal Service has its way, the robots won't stop them, either. Yes, the agency you know best for bringing you junk mail addressed to whomever lived in your apartment before you has caught robofever.

Alphabet's Sidewalk Labs just unveiled a software that designs whole neighborhoods

When it comes to designing a neighborhood, you might say it takes a village. Urban planners, architects, developers, and city officials all have to work together to create a space that will serve its community best. And all of these stakeholders generally mean increased time, cost, and a fragmented process that leaves constituents to wonder, "what actually is the best option available?"

Sidewalk Labs abandons Toronto smart city during pandemic

Alphabet subsidiary Sidewalk Labs has abandoned its ambition to create a smart neighbourhood in Toronto amid "unprecedented economic uncertainty" caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Sidewalk Labs CEO Daniel L Doctoroff announced in an article posted to Medium today that the current economic climate meant the company was unable to move forward with developing the neighbourhood for its partner Waterfront Toronto.

Sidewalk Toronto: Post-It Note City

In the shadow of an elevated freeway near Toronto's Port Lands, a former fish processing plant has been painted cerulean blue and converted into a test lab for a networked urban development project where physical and digital infrastructures will be optimized to support a "people-centered" neighborhood.

A City Is Not a Computer

"What should a city optimize for?" Even in the age of peak Silicon Valley, that's a hard question to take seriously. (Hecklers on Twitter had a few ideas, like "fish tacos" and "pez dispensers.") Look past the sarcasm, though, and you'll find an ideology on the rise.

Live interview with architect Carlo Ratti as part of Virtual Design Festival

Architect Carlo Ratti spoke to Dezeen in this Screentime conversation sponsored by Enscape as part of Virtual Design Festival. Italian architect Ratti is the founder of international design and architecture studio Carlo Ratti Associati and is a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology ( MIT), where he directs the SENSEable City Lab.

Reading List | Reading Cities

Reading List This list is condensed and edited from a much longer reading list - "Here's What You Can Read If You'd Like to Think About Cities In Exactly the Way That I Do" - that I published on Medium.

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Primer What is a Smart City? "Smart cities are places where information technology is wielded to address problems" - Anthony Townsend Keep reading... →
Article The Smartphone as urban mediator and ‘sixth-sense’ A new platform for recognizing and acting upon the signals of the city. Article presented at the 14th Meeting of the AESOP Thematic Group on Planning and Complexity, Bamberg, Germany Keep reading... →
Urban Scale Our Gardens: Ames Our Gardens: Ames is a circular model for how urban sprawl and agricultural industry can find synergy rather than displace each other by integrating new urban agricultural practices between the homes of the community. Keep reading... →