Digital Cities 9 Workshop on Hackable Cities Programme

Digital Cities 9 Workshop

“Hackable Cities: From Subversive City Making to Systemic Change”

27 June 2015, University of Limerick


The Digital Cities workshop series started in 1999, and is the longest running academic workshop series that has followed the intertwined development of cities and digital technologies. Earlier years have seen papers presented at Digital Cities to appear as the basis of key anthologies within the field of urban informatics, smart & social cities and civic media.


This year again we are part of the C&T event to further discuss these relevant themes, gain new insights and work collaboratively towards a new publication, and explore opportunities for cooperation in research programs for instance in the H2020-framework.



This workshop is organized by


Michiel de Lange (Utrecht University, The Mobile City)

Nanna Verhoeff (Utrecht University)

Martijn de Waal (University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, The Mobile City)

Marcus Foth (Queensland University of Technology)

Martin Brynskov (Aarhus University)


For any questions, please email us at


For any last minute inquiries or emergencies you can call us at + 31 6 2115 7660 (Martijn de Waal)




The workshop takes place at:


University of Limerick

Engineering Research Building




Workshop Programme Overview


9:00-10:30             Session 1 Hacking the City with Data

10:30-11:00            Coffee break

11:00-12:30            Session 2 Strategies to Engage Citizens

12:30-14:00            Lunch

14:00-15:30            Session 3 Participatory Citymaking

15:30-16:00            Coffee Break

16:00-17:30            Session 4 Towards Systemic Change

Social Gatherings


We plan to have an informal dinner and drinks on Friday night June 26th and Saturday night June 27th. Email us at and we will let you know where we will meet.

Preparing for the workshop

Everyone please read one assigned paper thoroughly as a referent (see below in the program overview), and at least the other papers in your session as well.


Instead of each author presenting her/his own paper, it is the referent who begins with a five minute introduction. We kindly ask you to prepare a brief introduction of the paper you are assigned to (what was it about / what was the main issue?), followed by a discussion of one or two highlights in the paper. In addressing these highlights, please pay attention to: 1. How does the paper relate to the session’s theme? 2. What strikes you as interesting and why? and 3. How does the paper exemplify the overarching topic of city hacking? If you want, you could use 2 or 3 slides to make your point.


This introduction by the referent is followed by a response from the author (5 mins. max.). (S)he can choose to directly address the issues brought up by the referent, or by highlighting one or two themes from the paper that (s)he finds most relevant in relation to the theme of the group session. We then have 5 more minutes for a group discussion about the paper. The session then proceeds with a more general shared discussion of ca. 20-30 minutes.

Workshop Theme

“Hacking” has long been part and parcel of the world of media technologies. From HAM radio amateurs to US west-coast computer culture, users have been figured as active creators, shapers, and benders of media technologies and the relationships mediated through them (Levy 2010; Roszak 1986; Von Hippel 2005). In general what the term refers to is the process of clever or playful appropriation of existing technologies or infrastructures, or bending the logic of a particular system beyond its intended purposes or restrictions to serve one’s personal or communal goals.


Whereas the term was mainly used to refer to practices in the sphere of computer hardware and software, more recently “hacking” has been used to refer to creative practices and ideals of city making: spanning across spatial, social, cultural, and institutional domains, various practices of “city hacking” can be seen in urban planning, city management, and tactical urban interventions. Worldwide, we have seen various artistic and political movements making use of digital media to appropriate urban places as the locus for theatrical interventions, often politically charged. A prominent book on the future of “smart cities” makes an appeal for “civic hackers” (Townsend 2013). Urban governments around the world have embraced “hackathons” as a new way for the development of urban services. Numerous events with titles like “Hack Your City” (e.g. Sheffield) or similar, have been organized. Municipalities have opened up datasets and created urban APIs or SDKs that allow clever hackers to build apps and services.

What these examples have in common is that the term “hacking” is used to evoke a participatory alternative to top-down ICT implementations in cities. The term “hacking” suggests a novel logic to organize urban society through social media platforms. It suggests a move away from centralized urban planning towards more inclusive process of “city making”, creating new types of public spaces. This logic of “hacking” is touted as slightly subversive, innovative, and is associated with collaboration, openness and participation. As such it is applied to various domains of urban life. The term can be used to highlight critical or contrarian tactics, to point to new collaborative practices amongst citizens mediated through social media, or to describe a changing vision on the relation between governments and their citizens.


Discourses about “hacking the city” are not unproblematic. While the term suggests cities have embraced a new “hacker ethic” of decentralized organization, reputation-based meritocracy and playfulness, at the very same time many “smart city” policies reinstate modernist ideals of centralized overview and pervasive control. As the notion is ported from the field of software development to civic life and organization, it is used ambiguously, loaded with various ideological presumptions. For some, “urban hacking” is about empowering citizens to organize themselves around communal issues and empowering them to perform aesthetic urban interventions. For others it raises questions about governance: what kind of “city hacks” should be encouraged and which ones are unwelcome, and who decides about that? Can city hacking be curated? For yet another group it is a masquerade for neoliberal politics in which libertarian values appear in the discursive sheep’s clothing of participatory buzzwords like “Web 2.0”, “collective intelligence”, “crowdsourcing”, “open source ethics”, or “sharing economy”. Furthermore, a key question that remains largely unanswered is how “city hacking” may mature from the tactical level of smart and often playful interventions to the strategic level of enduring impact.



9:00-10:30 Session 1 Hacking the City with Data (Moderator: Martijn de Waal)


Cities are opening up data repositories, programming interfaces and service development kits to the public in the hope that this spurs hackers to create innovative apps and services. Although the idea of data as a new type of commons is promising, urgent questions about data literacy and the blackboxing of algorithms governing their use remain to be answered. How can data help citizens to become city hackers?


Paper Referent
Welcome by Michiel de Lange and Marcus Foth
12 Cristina Ampatzidou. Between Agency and Governance: strategies for hackable citymaking Hanna Niemi-Hugaerts
1 Richard Beckwith, John Sherry and David Prendergast. Data Flow in the Smart City (for hackable city workshop) Cristina Ampatzidou
7 Annika Wolff, Daniel Gooch, Umar Mir, Gerd Kortuem and Jose Cavero. Removing barriers for citizen participation to urban innovation Richard Beckwith,
6 Hanna Niemi-Hugaerts and Andrea Botero. Beyond open data and APIs – cities becoming hackable and a bedrock at the same time Annika Wolff


11:00-12:30 Session 2 Strategies to Engage Citizens (Moderator: Michiel de Lange)


How can people engage with their cities and with other people using digital media technologies? So-called “smart technologies” are built for efficiency and address citizens in often rational calculative ways. By contrast artistic and playful interventions approach smartness and cityness in terms of messiness, serendipity, publicness, non-instrumentality, and affective relationships. They open up the city as an open hackable space, unleash people’s creativity, and forge relationships with environments and other people.


Paper Referent
14 Irina Anastasiu. Civic Engagement and Participatory City-Making: A Fly-Through towards Systemic Change Luke Hespanhol
3 Luke Hespanhol and Martin Tomitsch. Power to the People: Hacking The City With Plug-In Interfaces for Community Engagement Irina Anastasiu
4 Viktor Bedö. Urban Game Design: Prototyping as Hacking Anton Nijholt.
2 Anton Nijholt. Mischief Humor in Smart and Playable Cities Viktor Bedö



14:00-15:30 Session 3 Participatory Citymaking (Moderator: Marcus Foth)


Complex urban issues involve a variety of stakeholders each with their own agenda. How can digital media technologies be used to allow different people to have a say in their city, to forge new collectives, to (re)define the issues at stake, to negotiate with others, and actually become hackers of urban systems? What does this mean for the different roles of these stakeholders?


Paper Referent
9 Marco Trisciuoglio, Davide Tommaso Ferrando and Wenwei Yu. Re-mediating citizens Aisling Joyce
11 Fiona McDermott. Working in Beta: Lessons from Dublin City Council Marco Trisciuoglio,
5 Rosemarie Webb, Gabriela Avram, Javier Burón García and Aisling Joyce. Transforming Cities by Designing with Communities. Doug Schuler
16 Doug Schuler. Hacking Atlas Fiona McDermott



16:00-17:30 Session 4 Towards Systemic Change (Moderator: Michiel de Lange)


How can “city hacking” mature from the tactical level of event-driven and often playful interventions to the strategic level of enduring impact? And when is city hacking successful in terms of achievements and deliverables? In this session we explore elements like temporality, sustainability, and ownership in “city hacking”.


Paper Referent
15 Ingrid Mulder and Peter Kun. Hacking, making, and prototyping for social change Cristina Ampatzidou
13 Joel Fredericks, Glenda Caldwell, Marcus Foth and Martin Tomitsch. The City as Perpetual Beta: Fostering Systemic Urban Acupuncture Ingrid Mulder
17 Martijn de Waal, Michiel de Lange, Cristina Ampatzidou, Matthijs Bouw The Hackable City. A Research Manifesto Joel Fredericks and Marcus Foth
Final round table discussion on Hackable Cities, led by Marcus Foth




Session 1

Cristina Ampatzidou (Embedded Researcher Amsterdam Hackable Metropolis). Between Agency and Governance: strategies for hackable citymaking

The ambiguity in the definition of ‘hacking’ has given rise to a plethora of interpretations of this word to describe all kinds of innovative and creatively subversive, technology-based interventions that re-imagine our cities, either organised by governments and institutions, such as hackathons, or initiated by groups of citizens, now called civic hackers. However the strategies used by both to create a ‘hackable city’, share many similarities. Based on a series of observations from the project Amsterdam Hackable Metropolis, this paper presents a systematic categorization of hackable citymaking strategies that are being used by community members, activists or entrepreneurs as well as local governments interested in launching and maintaining civic initiatives to make their neighborhoods more hackable. Furthermore it addresses the ideological ramifications of their applications in the context of urban development and management, and the tensions between individual agency and institutions of governance.

Richard Beckwith, John Sherry and David Prendergast (Intel Labs). Data Flow in the Smart City

Smart Cities enabled by internet-based monitoring promise to be sites of new forms of citizen action. Citizens will be able to use data for their own purposes to create their own value. Data in turn will flow along with its associated values and create a new “economy of data”. There is monetary value in data, to be sure, however, the value of these data is more than monetary. Data will flow within an economy to establish values based on new methods of collectivization, accountability, and control. Systems involved both in sharing and sheltering data will enable a range of services, the impact of which can be deeply felt. These (perhaps not so) simple facts suggest that smart city design needs to consider not just measurement and data but also the social implications of city-wide deployment, data openness, and the possibility of unintended consequences.

Annika Wolff, Daniel Gooch, Umar Mir, Gerd Kortuem and Jose Cavero (Department of Computing and Communications, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK). Removing barriers for citizen participation to urban innovation

The potential of open data as a resource for driving citizen-led urban innovation relies not only on a suitable technical infrastructure but also on the skills and knowledge of the citizens themselves. This paper describes how a smart city project in Milton Keynes, UK, is supporting multiple stages of citizen innovation, from ideation through to citizen-led smart city projects. This approach encounters challenges when engaging with citizens in identifying and implementing data-driven solutions to urban problems. The majority of citizens have little practical experience with the types of data sets that might be availa- ble, nor possess the appropriate skills for their analysis and utilisation for ad- dressing urban issues, or finding novel ways to hack their city. We go on to de- scribe the Urban Data School, which aims to offer a long-term solution to this problem by providing teaching resources around urban data sets aimed at rais- ing the standard of data literacy amongst future generations. Lesson resources that form part of the Urban Data School have been piloted in a primary and two secondary schools in Milton Keynes.

Hanna Niemi-Hugaerts and Andrea Botero (AALTO UNIVERSITY). Beyond open data and APIs – cities becoming hackable and a bedrock at the same time

This article describes the challenges many cities are facing when becoming an enabler of open data driven digital service development. The article will explain and reflect upon some of the strategies being experimented by the city of Helsinki after the first wave of city hackathons, developer communities and app challenges. These reflections are based on the first author’s personal involvement through her work in boosting the use of open data in Helsinki. As a case study it will introduce and reflect upon the efforts of the City of Helsinki to become a bedrock for third party services based on open data. The article will also discuss the impact of open data in the future of digital urban services.



Session 2

Irina Anastasiu (Urban Informatics Reseach Lab Queensland University of Technology). Civic Engagement and Participatory City-Making: A Fly-Through towards Systemic Change

Today’s notion of a Smart City is significantly different from what we imagined it would be approximately twenty years ago, when the term has first been coined. It has evolved from a strictly technical vision of efficiency towards one where technology allows us to both optimise the city and serve greater, social causes. Researchers have begun to postulate for Human Smart Cities, where citizens are agents of change or at least active contributors to the Smart City, instead of being spectators upon which change is being inflicted. They can initiate or participate in projects that shape their city. This paper provides a contextual review of city-making projects from several perspectives, aiming at a more systematic and thorough picture of what has organically emerged in different parts of the world. The contribution of this paper is threefold. First, it offers an investigation into these initiatives that shows what they have done right in getting closer to the goal of systemic change, so it can be used as a learning for future projects. Second, it raises fundamental questions on participatory city-making to push it further on it’s path to maturity. Lastly, the contextual review will contribute a taxonomy framework that can help classify and categorise projects and initiatives in the fields of urban interaction design, urban prototyping, place hacking, and civic and citizen engagement, that can serve as a reference for future research.

Luke Hespanhol and Martin Tomitsch (Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning – Design Lab). Power to the People: Hacking The City With Plug-In Interfaces for Community Engagement

This paper presents a discussion about the design and development of bespoke “city hacking” initiatives focused on community engagement. We draw from the literature in the field to propose a definition of plug-in interfaces as portable interactive technology deployed directly to public spaces on a temporary basis. We then present a series of short-term cross-sectional field studies where we make use of two distinct plug-in interfaces to contrast different design scenarios against three core contextual constraints: (1) technology familiarity of the interfaces; (2) level of integration of the interfaces into the built environment; and (3) nature of pedestrian activity ordinarily unfolding in the urban precinct. We then discuss the observations from the studies and derive some initial findings regarding the utilisation of plug-in interfaces as tools for community engagement campaigns with rapid deployment and quick turnaround.

Viktor Bedö. Urban Game Design: Prototyping as Hacking

Urban game design is a form of hacking as urban games temporarily alter the afordance of urban sites through introducing new rules and breaking old ones. They generate and explore alternative uses of urban space that were not intended by planners or authorities, are installed with little efort by leveraging existing urban infrastructure. In this paper I will outline how urban games can be elevated from the tactical level of temporary interventions to a knowledge generating design tool for iterative urban design processes.

Anton Nijholt (University of Twente). Mischief Humor in Smart and Playable Cities

In smart cities we can expect some human behavior that is not necessarily very different from human behavior in present-day cities. There will be shopping, travelling, social gatherings, but also demonstrations, flash mobs, and organized happenings to provoke the smart city establishment. Smart cities will also have bugs that can be exploited by smart city dwellers or smart city hackers. On the other hand, smart cities can also offer their data to civic hackers in order to expect useful applications for their city dwellers. Humor is an important aspect of our daily life activities and experiences. In this paper we will explore how humor can become part of smart and playable cities. We do this by investigating the role of humor in game environments. In games we have accidental humor, for example because of bugs, and we have humor that occurs because a gamer wants it to happen. This latter can be done by looking for bugs, not following the rules of the game, or by intentionally trying to create situations that lead to humorous events in the game. This certainly may include humor at the expense of others. We investigate how such views on game humor can find analogies in humor that can appear and can be created in smart and playable cities.




Session 3

Marco Trisciuoglio, Davide Tommaso Ferrando and Wenwei Yu (Politecnico di Torino). Re-mediating citizens

In the last five years there has been an increasing number of studies and researches concerning the relationships between digital cities and the citizens behaviours. This paper lays between the Serge Salat’s book, Cities and Forms. On Sustainable Urbanism (Paris, 2011) and the one Christian Rudder’s one, Dataclysm: Who We Are When We Think No One’s Looking (New York, 2014). The French scholar Salat reassesses the potential of urban morphology in treating the topic of sustainability, while the young American mathematician Rudder demonstrated the power of BigData when reading them in a unconventional (and social) ways.

The BigData-based City is still a physical city, while its citizens could play a different role in comparison with the past times, but they should overcome the idea of a SmartCity led by the technological business and open a new era of participation (starting from the re-tooling of digital instruments, softwares, applications).


Fiona McDermott (The University of Limerick). Working in Beta: Lessons from Dublin City Council

Conceived of as a means of bypassing the normal lengthy and bureaucratic process of implementing trial projects, Dublin City Council (DCC) Beta is a so-called ‘bottom-up’ initiative as part of the City Council’s Architects’ Division to experiment, innovate and quickly test ideas directly ‘on the street’. It takes a new approach to city-making by trial running small ideas for public feedback in a given area of the city, with a view to serving different areas’ needs while testing projects for a wider use across Dublin City. By adopting trial-and-error principles, DCC Beta aims to encourage, support and facilitate experimentation and innovation to improve spaces and services in the city.

‘Beta Projects’ typically stem from issues and opportunities as identified by members of the public, for which solutions and concepts are then prototyped and tested. Characteristically, the projects themselves are flexible to change, planned quickly and trialed on low budgets. Feedback from the public as generated via social media and full-scale interventions in the specific test areas, plays a pivotal role in the outcome of projects.

This paper will analysis the workings of DCC Beta as a case study for ways in which cities are seeking more participatory, inclusive, descentralised alternatives to ‘top down’ planning. It will examine the mechanics of ‘Beta Projects,’ illustrating how a project is initiated, what the key processes are, what the role of the citizen is throughout the project and how the outcomes of completed projects are measured and evaluated. Through the detailing of a number of ‘Beta Projects’, the paper aims to question how such an initiative can increase the potential for more active and citizen-led urban developments in a social context of growing demand for greater democratic authorship and ownership of the built environment.

Rosemarie Webb, Gabriela Avram, Javier Burón García and Aisling Joyce
(University of Limerick). Transforming Cities by Designing with Communities

Since the autumn of 2010, The Adaptive Governance Lab at the School of Architecture at University of Limerick has been working collaboratively with local government officials and community activists on action research projects co-designing with communities in neighbourhoods, villages and city districts in various locations in Ireland. The collaboration model developed is a genuine example of “hackable city making”, where the local communities are involved in designing specific solutions for improving liveability in their areas, with the involvement and support of local government collaborators.

The group behind The Adaptive Governance Lab works together to collaboratively develop design processes which can assist local government in managing changes in the fabric of communities and in the natural and built environment of these places, using methodologies that have been modified to suit the objective of linking bottom up and top down planning. Strategic mapping and community events planning, as well as a ‘Designing with Communities’ structure have emerged from the process. The accumulation of 5 years of practice has lead to a desire on the part of both the instigators of the Adaptive Governance Lab and the partners with which they work to better define the timeframe, the methodologies, the commitments required from participants, the financial costs associated with the process, the advantages and disadvantages of engagement as well as the replicability of the process across cultures and governmental systems.

This has lead to the development of a partnership between the Adaptive Governance Lab, the Interaction Design Centre and Fab lab Limerick with an assemblage of local actors in

Woodquay, Galway, coming from various backgrounds, such as local government, artists and craftspeople, residents and others connected to the area and business people.

Our paper documents that ongoing process, defines the emerging structure of the work, reflects on the value and risks of the process that has been carried out to date in terms of its usefulness as an urban management tool and proposes ways in which the framework can be adapted to fit into the developing community engagement structures of local government in Ireland.

Doug Schuler (Public Sphere Project). Hacking Atlas

In this paper, we focus on a variety of sites where urban hacking can take place. The final paper will include sections on The City, Hacking and Holistic Hacking; A Hacking Atlas (which contains the descriptions of the various sites); and Conclusions. The final paper could include a case study on Shell No!, a holistic hack currently in progress in Seattle to prevent Arctic drilling.



Session 4

Ingrid Mulder (Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering, Delft University of Technology) and Peter Kun (Creating010, Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences Rotterdam). Hacking, making, and prototyping for social change

Societal challenges ask for a new paradigm in city­making, which connects top­down public management with bottom up social innovation (e.g., Bria, 2014; Brynskov et al., 2014; Loorbach, 2014; Mulder, 2014). Not only are new strategies, ideas, and ways of organisation needed to cope with societal challenges, but also co­creative partnerships demonstrating a sustainable relationship to make a transforming society happen (Mulder, 2014). The biggest challenge is to embrace a new collaborative attitude, a participatory approach that addresses the interplay between the (many) different urban stakeholders and considers them as active participants in the new city­making process. In the current work, we explore how (co­)creative activities, such as hacking, making, and prototyping may bring city­making activities further than the generalized smart city ‘visions’.

Joel Fredericks (University of Sydney), Glenda Caldwell (Queensland University of Technology), Marcus Foth (Queensland University of Technology) and Martin Tomitsch (University of Sydney). The City as Perpetual Beta: Fostering Systemic Urban Acupuncture

Applying the concept of perpetual beta to cities proposes that the process of city making is continual and never complete. This paper presents an urban acupuncture framework for undertaking localised small-scale community engagement activities through pop-up interventions. Pop-up interventions ‘hack’ public space by temporarily changing the feel of a place to promote awareness around civic issues. We argue that the use of pop-up interventions has the potential to provide more inclusive forms of community engagement by combining digital and physical media. The proposed framework employs pop-up activism to facilitate a bottom-up approach that encourages citizens to actively identify topics for discussed. Two pop-up interventions in different locations in Australia are discussed in the paper to assess in what way a systemic level of impact can arise from different processes of city hacking that are facilitated through a distributed, decentralised, yet concerted and regular local approach. We argue that a concerted process of implementing small urban interventions can contribute to an ongoing commitment to participatory city making. Further work will show how each local intervention can contribute to systemic change beyond the boundaries of their individual locale and – taken together – across different urban environments of the city.

Martijn de Waal (Amsterdam University of Appplied Sciences), Michiel de Lange (Utrecht University), Cristina Ampatzidou (University of Groningen), Matthijs Bouw (One Architecture) A Hackable City Research Manifesto

The growing use of digital media platforms in our everyday urban culture has great consequences for what we call ‘citymaking’, the ways in which we design, program, decide upon, experience and appropriate our build environments. These new platforms may on the one hand empower citizens in new ways to organize themselves around all kinds of issues, bringing about a sharing economy, a participation society or a civic economy. Yet, such a future is far from assured. As critics have pointed out, these very same developments – sometimes sold under the guise of the smart city – may also threaten to subsume all social relations under the functionalist and commercial ‘city as a service’- logic of technology companies. This Hackable City Research Manifesto takes the practice of hacking as a heuristic lens to discuss these developments from both a descriptive as well as a prescriptive approach to draw up a research agenda that should provide answers to these two important questions: What opportunities as well as challenges does the rise of digital media platforms pose for an open, democratic process of collaborative citymaking? And how can citizens, design professionals, local government institutions and others creatively use digital media platforms in collaborative processes of urban planning, management and social organization to safeguard the quality of life, and make our cities more resilient, just and liveable?








Martijn de Waal

Martijn de Waal (1972) is a writer, researcher and strategist, working in the field of digital media and (urban) culture. He is currently a senior researcher at the Play & Civic Media group at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences.

He has worked with and for various clients and organizations such as The Netherlands Architecture Institute, Open Society Foundation, The Architectural League of New York, Lift@Home, Kitchen Budapest, The Mondriaan Foundation and Dutch Public Broadcasting.

Formerly he was part of the New Media, Public Sphere and Urban Culture research group at the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Groningen, and connected to the department of mediastudies at the University of Amsterdam. In 2009 he was a visiting scholar at MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media.

His most recent book are The City as Interface. How Digital Media Are Changing the City (NAi010 Publishers, 2014) and De Platformsamenleving (The Platform Society), co-authored with Jose van Dijck en Thomas Poell (Amsterdam University Press, 2016)