City as Software

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City as Software is the idea that a city is a malleable, writable system capable of being edited and changed by its citizens. Adam Greenfield wrote that seeing a city as software would allow "people a fundamentally new way to engage and co-author the environment they inhabit."[1] Examples include cities that have open data sets that allow citizens to interface with a city's data. Some cities release data and encourage developers to build applications on top of it. This type of process speeds up error correction, detection and understanding in a city. It also provides government officials and city workers a way to utilize data from citizens without hiring additional workers or stretching themselves too thin. The idea behind a City as Software is that the city becomes a site of evolotion, of error detection and improvement that is detected and corrected by everyday citizens instead of a handful of people employed on behalf of the city.

Open Government advocate Max Ogden points out that governments are good at providing data, but they are not close enough to the problems of the city and community to understand how to create the best interface for that data. Thus, a government's job should be to provide open data, and a citizen's job should be to build on top of that data and make it useable to the city.

An example of open government data was given on UrbanOmnibus. "Developers have written mobile transit trackers some cases, software has been created that “You provide citizens with a variety of congenial ways to initiate trouble tickets, whether they’re most comfortable using the phone, a mobile application or website, or a text message. “ apply the usual variety of visualizations to the live data, allowing patterns to jump right out. Which city department has the best record for closing out tickets most quickly, and with the highest approval rating? What kind of issues generally take longest to address to everyone’s satisfaction?" [2]

Ogden created a smell map of Portland, Oregon that allowed citizens to geotag and report smells around the city. The data that came back provided insights not only into the particular regions of the city, but environmental hazards as well. When the city understood the power of placing data reporting into the hands of citizens, they commissioned Ogden to build another version of the app that allowed citizens to report toxic smells. This helped the city to isolate and identify toxic spills and environmental issues that individual city inspectors didn't have the ability or resources to measure.(ask Max Ogden for article or website link) (

Ogden also created an API for the City of Portland called PDXAPI. The API took normally difficult to use data and parsed it out so that it could be easily browser and used in a number of citizen-oriented applications.


  1. Comment on Frameworks for Citizen Responsiveness: Towards a Read/Write Urbanism by Adam Greenfield in response to Fred Scharmen - July 7, 2010 at 1:02 pm.
  2. Frameworks for Citizen Responsiveness: Towards a Read/Write Urbanism