At a time when cities are tackling both the digital and environmental transitions, it is important to analyse how these processes affect urban governance. The Chair focuses on the changes currently affecting public policy implementation, residents’ ways of life, the composition of urban capitalism and the construction of urban tech markets, corporate strategies and their regulation, social mobilisation, etc. With this Chair, we aim to position Sciences Po and the Urban School at the heart of research and public debate on the digital transformation of cities.
Patrick Le Galès, dean of the Urban School, and Guillermo Martin, the School’s executive director, have overall responsibility for the Cities and Digital Technology Chair. The academic head of the Chair is Antoine Courmont, political scientist and urban data specialist. An academic committee sets the research agenda.
The Chair’s governance structure includes the academic committee of about 15 researchers and a partner committee. These committees meet twice a year.
The Chair aims to open up new fields of research by exploring the interaction between technology and local governance, around two main themes:
- The relationship between technology and cities or regions: what does tech do to the city, and conversely, what does the city do to tech?
Analysing the relationship between digital technology and cities involves addressing fundamental issues such as the evolution of the urban form in the era of the digital city, the spatial and social inequalities that technology can induce, the relationships between urban and rural areas, and the redrawing of territorial boundaries.
- Urban data policy
The aim is to examine what the increasing use of data does to urban policy-making and identify how data is changing practices of stakeholder coordination. It is also to understand how new players are emerging in urban governance because of their capacity to collect, process and analyse data, and finally, to examine data flow governance strategies and their impact on organisations.
To this end, exploratory research based on empirical case studies has been conducted in various areas of public policy (mobility, energy, and monitoring), in different regions (Europe, Africa, the US, and Asia) and on several topics (platform, data, organisations, urban firms, startups, etc.).
Examples of the Chair’s research topics:
- The effects of Waze on road traffic policies (A. Courmont)
- Building the Safe City: Chinese global ICT firms, surveillance, and city security (A. Artigas)
- The value of data: an analysis of closed-urban-data-based and open-data-based business models (B. Carballa Smichowski)
- The making of Paris’s Smart and Sustainable City strategic plan (O. Zaza)
- Data: a new form of user representation in urban planning? The case of the Place de la Nation in Paris (A. Courmont, N. Rio)
- The medium-sized smart city: corporate strategies (M. Aboulker)
- Mapping the invisible: the digitalisation of informal transport systems and the mutation of urban transportation governance, a comparative study of Nairobi and Accra (C. Berthier)
- Strategies of urban firms vis-à-vis the smart city (M. Picaud)
- Digital technology and the security of cultural events (M. Picaud)
- Building a metropolitan energy policy: data for planning and creating new services (P. Gabillet)
- What open data is doing to municipal government. Developing metropolitan data policy (A. Courmont)
Dissemination of knowledge
The research results stemming from the Digital Cities Chair are disseminated:
- within academia: publications (books, journal articles, working papers, notes and conference papers)
- among practitioners and the general public: annual conferences, presentations to our partners’ staff, presentation of study findings to and feedback from a practitioner from the sector, production of short educational videos, strategic notes, newsletters, etc.
Among the Chair’s main publications is Gouverner la ville numérique (Governing the Digital City), published by PUF in late 2019. This edited volume brings together original research on the various issues digital technology raises for urban governance.
The results of past research have also been presented at forty university conferences and seminars in France (École des Ponts Paristech, Mines ParisTech, EHESS, Université Paris Est, and Sciences Po Bordeaux) and internationally (UCLA, New School, Copenhagen Business School, Hamburg University, etc.).
They have also been disseminated through professional papers and public lectures given to various audiences (SNCF, CNIL, AFD, RTE, CDC, Groupe BPCE, Cerema, Waze, Métropole du Grand Paris, etc.).
Three annual symposia have been held:
- In 2018, the Platform and Territories symposium brought together 21 speakers from international universities and more than 120 participants. The day ended with a round-table discussion between representatives from Uber and the Paris City Council.
- In 2019, the Data, Platform & Cities roundtable featured presentations from Alex Rosenblat, who conducted a four-year ethnographic study of Uber drivers in the United States, and Bianca Wylie, a campaigner against Google’s Sidewalk Labs project for a data-driven neighbourhood in Toronto.
- In 2020, the Cities under surveillance? Urban spaces, security, and digital technology roundtable examined the development of security technology in urban spaces, questioning its effects on the government of populations and territories.
New courses at the Urban School
Digital technology is a priority area of development at the Urban School.
In connection with its research programme, the Chair has developed new courses on tech-related topics at Sciences Po, within the Urban School’s various degree programmes and as part of the executive education associated with the School. Group projects have also been created thanks to our sponsors: AREP, APUR, Cisco, RTE, Tactis, EPT Grand Orly Seine Bièvre, Lime, Syntec, among others.
In the spring of 2019, with the support of the Chair, the Urban School launched a course called Imagining Urban Futures. The cross-cutting, six-lecture course aims to question imaginary urban futures from different disciplinary perspectives (futurology, design, video games, science fiction, anthropology, etc.). Its teaching objectives are to open up the field of possibilities to students, to develop their ability to anticipate the future and to deal with uncertainty.
Our plans for 2020-2022
Research: data-driven restructuring of urban governance
Enquiry into the restructuring of urban governance will be pursued from a data perspective, by jointly studying the transformation of local authorities and of public policy around three research themes:
1) Data, urban capitalism, and policy change
- To what extent is urban capitalism being reconfigured around data accumulation?
- How do these changes destabilise public institutions? How are
- What are the effects on public policy?
2) Digital technology and urban security / Safe cities
- How are public/private and local/national relations being reconfigured?
- Development of the private security market
- How does this contribute to socio-spatial change and social and territorial inequalities?
- What are the effects on behaviour?
- Connection with the 2024 Olympic Games
- Joint research with the CNIL
3) Digital transition and environmental transition
- The materiality of digital infrastructure and socio-spatial inequalities
- What are the links between the energy transition and digital infrastructure?
- Link to the creation of the Master in Governing Ecological Transition in European Cities
This research will involve comparative analysis between companies (tech companies and traditional urban industrialists), between territories (metropolis/medium-sized city, France/Europe/USA/Asia) and between policy sectors (transport/mobility, security/surveillance, energy, water).
Education: training tomorrow’s urban tech managers
The Chair’s ambition is to position the Sciences Po Urban School as the leader in education for the new urban professions that have emerged with digital technology. Chief digital officers, chief data officers, smart city managers, and urban data scientists need both to grasp the socio-political challenges of digital technology and to acquire a detailed understanding of local governance.
To this end, we wish to strengthen urban technology education through several initiatives:
- Creating a MOOC;
- Setting up Introduction to Code workshops for all students at the Urban School;
- holding an annual event on urban tech professions for our students and practitioners in the sector;
- strengthening links with the Sciences Po incubator.