Skip to main content

The real-time city? Big data and smart urbanism


‘Smart cities’ is a term that has gained traction in academia, business and government to describe cities that, on the one hand, are increasingly composed of and monitored by pervasive and ubiquitous computing and, on the other, whose economy and governance is being driven by innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship, enacted by smart people. This paper focuses on the former and, drawing on a number of examples, details how cities are being instrumented with digital devices and infrastructure that produce ‘big data’. Such data, smart city advocates argue enables real-time analysis of city life, new modes of urban governance, and provides the raw material for envisioning and enacting more efficient, sustainable, competitive, productive, open and transparent cities. The final section of the paper provides a critical reflection on the implications of big data and smart urbanism, examining five emerging concerns: the politics of big urban data, technocratic governance and city development, corporatisation of city governance and technological lock-ins, buggy, brittle and hackable cities, and the panoptic city.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3









  • Allwinkle, S., & Cruickshank, P. (2011). Creating smart-er cities: An overview. Journal of Urban Technology, 18(2), 1–16.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Amin, A., & Thrift, N. (2002). Cities: Reimagining the Urban. London: Polity.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bates, J. (2012). “This is what modern deregulation looks like”: Co-optation and contestation in the shaping of the UK’s Open Government Data Initiative. The Journal of Community Informatics, 8(2). Accessed 6 Feb 2013.

  • Batty, M., Axhausen, K. W., Giannotti, F., Pozdnoukhov, A., Bazzani, A., Wachowicz, M., et al. (2012). Smart cities of the future. European Physical Journal Special Topics, 214(1), 481–518.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bowker, G., & Star, L. (1999). Sorting things out: Classification and Its consequences. Cambridge: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Boyd, D., & Crawford, K. (2012). Critical questions for big data. Information, Communication and Society, 15(5), 662–679.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Caragliu, A., Del Bo, C., Nijkamp, P. ( 2009). Smart Cities in Europe. Series Research Memoranda 0048. VU University Amsterdam, Faculty of Economics, Business Administration and Econometrics.

  • Dodge, M., & Kitchin, R. (2004). Flying through code/space: The real virtuality of air travel. Environment and Planning A, 36(2), 195–211.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dodge, M., & Kitchin, R. (2005). Codes of life: Identification codes and the machine-readable world. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 23(6), 851–881.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dodge, M., & Kitchin, R. (2007a). The automatic management of drivers and driving spaces. Geoforum, 38(2), 264–275.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dodge, M., & Kitchin, R. (2007b). Outlines of a world coming in existence’: Pervasive computing and the ethics of forgetting. Environment and Planning B, 34(3), 431–445.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dutton, W. H., Blumler, J. G., & Kraemer, K. L. (1987). Wired cities: Shaping future communication. New York: Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  • Farber, D. (2013). Counting the internet of things in real time. C|Net, July 30th. Accessed 18 Sep 2013.

  • Ferro, E. & Osella, M. (2013). Eight business model archetypes for PSI re-use. Open Data on the Web workshop. Accessed 10 May 2013.

  • Feuer, A. (2013). The Mayor’s Geek Squad. New York Times, March 23rd. Accessed 9 May 2013.

  • Florida, R. (2004). The rise of the creative class. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gitelman, L., & Jackson, V. (2013). Introduction. In L. Gitelman (Ed.), “Raw data” is an oxymoron (pp. 1–14). Cambridge: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Graham, S., & Marvin, S. (1999). Planning cybercities: Integrating telecommunications into urban planning. Town Planning Review, 70(1), 89–114.

    Google Scholar 

  • Greenfield, A. (2006). Everyware: The dawning age of ubiquitous computing. Boston: New Riders.

    Google Scholar 

  • Greenfield, A. (2013). Against the Smart City (The City is Here for You to Use). New York: Do Projects.

  • Hancke, G. P., de Carvalho e Silva, B., & Hancke, G. P, Jr. (2013). The role of advanced sensing in smart cities. Sensors, 13(1), 393–425.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hannah, M. (1997). Imperfect panopticism: Envisioning the construction of normal lives. In G. Benko & U. Strohmayer (Eds.), Space and social theory (pp. 344–360). Oxford: Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  • Haque, U. (2012). What Is a City that It Would Be ‘Smart’? Volume #34: City in a Box.

  • Hill, D. (2013). On the smart city: Or, a ‘manifesto’ for smart citizens instead. City of Sound, 1st Feb 2013. Accessed 5 Feb 2013.

  • Hollands, R. G. (2008). Will the real smart city please stand up? City, 12(3), 303–320.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ishida, T., & Isbister, K. (2000). Digital cities: Technologies, experiences, and future perspectives. LNCS: Springer. 1765.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Johnson, J.A. (2013). From open data to information justice. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Midwest Political Science Association, April 13, 2013, Chicago, Illinois. Accessed 16 Aug 2013.

  • Kitchin, R. (2013). Big data and human geography: Opportunities, challenges and risks. Dialogues in Human Geography.

  • Kitchin, R., & Dodge, M. (2011). Code/space: Software and everyday life. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Kloeckl, K., Senn, O., & Ratti, C. (2012). Enabling the real-time city: LIVE Singapore! Journal of Urban Technology, 19(2), 89–112.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Komninos, N. (2002). Intelligent cities: Innovation. Routledge: Knowledge Systems and Digital Spaces.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kourtit, K., Nijkamp, P., & Arribas-Bel, D. (2012). Smart cities perspective—A comparative European study by means of self-organizing maps. Innovation, 25(2), 229–246.

    Google Scholar 

  • Laney, D. (2001). 3D Data management: Controlling data volume, velocity and variety. Meta Group. Accessed 16 Jan 2013.

  • Lauriault, T.P. (2012). Data, Infrastructures and Geographical Imaginations: Mapping Data Access Discourses in Canada. PhD Thesis, Carleton University, Ottawa.

  • Lyon, D. (2007). Surveillance studies: An overview. Cambridge: Polity.

    Google Scholar 

  • Manyika, J., Chiu, M., Brown, B., Bughin, J., Dobbs, R., Roxburgh, C., et al. (2011). Big data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity. McKinsey Global Institute.

    Google Scholar 

  • Marz, N., & Warren, J. (2012). Big data: Principles and best practices of scalable realtime data systems. Manning: MEAP edition.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mattern, S. (2013). Methodolatry and the art of measure: The new wave of urban data science. Design Observer: Places. 5th November 2013. Accessed 15 Nov 2013.

  • Mayer-Schonberger, V., & Cukier, K. (2013). Big data: A revolution that will change how we live, work and think. London: John Murray.

    Google Scholar 

  • Miller, H. J. (2010). The data avalanche is here. Shouldn’t we be digging? Journal of Regional Science, 50(1), 181–201.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mims, C. (2013). Coming soon: the cybercrime of things. The Atlantic, August 6th. Accessed 15 Nov 2013.

  • Morozov, E. (2013). To save everything, click here: Technology, solutionism, and the urge to fix problems that don’t exist. New York: Allen Lane.

  • Paganini, P. (2013). Israeli road control system hacked, causes traffic jam on Haifa highway. The Hacker News, October 28th. Accessed 13 Nov 2013.

  • Rial, N. (2013). The power of big data in Europe. New Europe, May 24th. Accessed 27 May 2013.

  • Ribes, D., & Jackson, S. J. (2013). Data bite man: The work of sustaining long-term study. In L. Gitelman (Ed.), “Raw data” is an oxymoron (pp. 147–166). Cambridge: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rosenberg, D. (2013). Data before the fact. In L. Gitelman (Ed.), “Raw data” is an oxymoron (pp. 15–40). Cambridge: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schaffers, H., Komninos, N., Pallot, M., Trousse, B., Nilsson, M., & Oliveira, A. (2011). Smart cities and the future internet: Towards cooperation frameworks for open innovation. In J. Domingue, et al. (Eds.), Future Internet Assembly (pp. 431–446). LNCS: Springer.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Shepard, M. (2011). Sentient city: Ubiquitous computing, architecture, and the future of urban space. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Singer, N. (2012). Mission control, built for cities: I.B.M. Takes ‘Smarter Cities’ Concept to Rio de Janeiro. New York Times, 3 March 2012. Accessed 9 May 2013.

  • Smolan, R. & Erwitt, J. (2012). The Human Face of Big Data. New York: Sterling.

  • Sui, D., Elwood, S., & Goodhild, M. (Eds.). (2012). Crowdsourced geographic knowledge: Volunteered geographic information in theory and practice. Dordrecht: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  • Townsend, A. (2013). Smart cities: Big data, civic hackers, and the quest for a new utopia. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

    Google Scholar 

  • Townsend, A., Maguire, R., Liebhold, M. & Crawford, M. (no date) A planet of civic laboratories: The future of cities, information and inclusion. Institute for the Future, Palo Alto.

  • Zikopoulos, P. C., Eaton, C., deRoos, D., Deutsch, T., & Lapis, G. (2012). Understanding big data. New York: McGraw Hill.

    Google Scholar 

Download references


An early version of this paper was originally presented at the ‘Smart Urbanism: Utopian Vision or False Dawn’ workshop at the University of Durham, 20–21 June 2013. Many thanks to the organisers and attendees for constructive feedback.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Rob Kitchin.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Kitchin, R. The real-time city? Big data and smart urbanism. GeoJournal 79, 1–14 (2014).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: